As a writer, I don’t believe in censorship. Of any kind. I think that one of the most ridiculous episodes in our journalistic history was and continues to be when grown men and women broadcast the news saying things like “Today so and so was heard to say the “n-word”.
The word is nigger. We all know that but we are pretending that we don’t hear it or that if we use a nickname it will go away.
But it won’t.
Mark Twain used it in his classic story of Tom Sawyer and because of that some people want his books banned. Was he trying to be disrespectful? No, he was using the language that was common for the day. The words nigger, just like cracker, and faggot have a place in our country’s history and to forget that is to deny our history of words and language.
Having said that, however, I do, with all my heart believe that words should always be used appropriately. The words nigger and cracker and faggot are considered disrespectful. I get that. I don’t use them in my daily speech and I counsel my children not to use them.
But if one of my characters wants to use them and it is appropriate for his or her scene, I’m going to use them in my writing.
A while back, I wrote an essay ranting against some improper medical treatment I had received. I was hurt. I was angry and I was in tremendous pain. My language was more than colorful in that little piece as I railed against my Doctor and the callousness of the medical establishment.
Not more than a few hours after it was posted, I received some email from my mother. “Wendy,” she admonished me, “a lady doesn’t use that kind of language.”
I was shocked that instead of seeing the piece for what it was, an angry outcry, all she could see was the few words that for her held offense. She was not seeing the forest for the few blighted trees.
Well, guess what? This lady writer does and will continue to use “that kind of language”. If, and here is the ever present caveat, if it is appropriate which in this case, I felt it was. The language was fine. There were not enough hot-red, angry words out there to describe my pain. I used the roughest, loudest, and most shocking language I could to convey my outrage. The essay said what I wanted it to say.
My mother wanted me to take the post down.
I did not.
For the most part, I tend to write of happy things, children, chickens, and life lessons. For the most part I’m a happy person. But if I am trying to convey a thought, a character, a scene – as a writer I’m going to use everything that’s available in my writer’s toolbox to make it work.
There is a time and a place for everything and my job as a writer is to find that time and place and to make it work in my writing. Often it’s not easy because some people (and there will always be some somewhere) are going to find offense, especially when you are trying to convey anger or other strong dark emotions.
Does it mean I back down? No, as long as I am confident in the appropriateness of my words for that situation, my words will stay.
A features writer, interviewer, and columnist, Wendy Thomas has been published in national magazines, newspapers, e-zines, and blogs.
Wendy discusses marketing writing at Savvy B2B Marketing.
Her current project is to blog about life living with 6 kids and a flock of chickens.