Questions You Should Ask Before Self Censoring

When I was in graduate school, a friend asked me to write for the University newspaper. Having finished my first short story class, I was excited at the possibility of regularly writing. The guy I was seeing at the time, a guy I thought was the one and only, a guy who faded into the background, cringed in disgust when I shared the news that I had been assigned my own column.

“I don’t want people to talk to me about what you write,” he said.

“I’ll do it anonymously,” I soothed.

The paper ran one piece by me under a pseudonym. I wrote about how female college students at the land grant institution in the South shouldn’t worry so much about getting married. Focus on what interest you, I urged. Turned out the editorial staff took themselves as seriously as the staff of the Wall Street Journal. No anonymity for their writers.

“What should I do?” I asked one of my girlfriends.”I want to do it but I made a promise I would quit if they wanted to use my name.”

“You shouldn’t write it,” she advised, deep in the throes of her own romance, one that turned into marriage.

The next week I pulled out. I explained to my contact I couldn’t publish under my name. So much for focusing on what interested me. I was on a long road of self denial, a road that took five of so years to spool me away from him and into the arms of writing.

Fast forward another ten years.

I write a blog post about an injustice in my midst. The situation affected my family but also the children of others. I kept the identities of the perpetrators hidden, though anyone familiar with the context of my ruminations could have sussed out the major players. The powers that be were preying on a group of non-Caucasian, non-native English speakers. As the writer of the bunch, I wanted to use my vantage for good. Or least to sound off. Let’s face it, I’m not Batman, at least not yet.

I shared a draft of the post with the one person who would be most likely to object.

Don’t post that read the unsurprising reply.

When I probed deeper, the warning was people will shun you for telling the truth. This was a more alarming reason than garden variety embarrassment. They took it one step further: people will shun those associated with you. Is that what you really want?

You’ve probably heard variations of this.

Don’t make waves.

No one likes a tattletale.

If you don’t have anything nice to say…

I didn’t post the blog entry.

I wrote this one instead. To ruminate on the irony that a banned writer can also self-censor. To remind myself that all writers have real bodies and relationships that inform our lofty ideals.

To remember that writing can inform, embarrass, endanger, or alert. We need writing or the silence would deafen us all.


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