Censorship exists in many forms, one of which happens to be self-censorship, or reviewing ones self for objectionable or unacceptable material and suppressing it, which in turn is worse than censorship by others. What we artists, writers and average citizens tend to do quite often is self-censor, for fear of being censored or ostracized by the standing social, political or even cultural institutions we’ve set up in society.
Although some may disagree with my views and interpretation of self-censorship, I believe that it’s still one of the biggest obstacles that holds one back from freely expressing ones self, and illiciting the change one wishes to see happen. It is what some would call playing it safe and going along with the status quo.
What we fail to realize is that when we hold back on expressing our opinions we might also be suppressing an idea or thought that could possibly turn out for the better. We might not see it in more ‘liberal’ societies, but in some places, freedom of expression is severely curtailed by the power of the government or other influential bodies in power. For instance, in a society where it is taboo to discuss domestic abuse, an artist who wishes to reflect this issue in their work may water down their original piece or even refrain from presenting it all. Or even a journalist who has healthy criticism for their governing body shies away from publishing material, solely because the state punishes or ostracizes ‘dissenters’ that speak out against how things are run.
The censorship that results from societal pressure is one driving force when it comes to what topics are discussed, but self-censorship is another force that harms discussion and expression from happening, thus effectively keeping a community stuck in the status quo.
To get past this phenomenon, I think it’s important to realize that maybe being bold and presenting an idea or sparking healthy discussion is a good thing. That perhaps we could allow change to occur by putting out our ideas and allowing society to see the possibilities, rather than worrying about the consequences. Some of the greatest leaders were punished or even killed for their views, but they didn’t allow self-censorship to stop them from expressing how they felt to the world, thus sparking change in what they saw as injustices.
I’m talking about this because I’ve noticed how our communities and societies have learned how to live in fear of what the government or group of people with power might think of certain expressions of opinion. This is especially prevalent when we as citizens speak out against injustice here on our own soil, and those that occur elsewhere as a result of our interference. I’ve seen how we teach our children that it’s better to conform, and eventually self-censor than it is to speak out and get into trouble. That it’s better to hide who we are than show what we’re made of.
It is precisely this mindset facilitated by every coming generation that makes social change even harder to come by.
One of the best examples in America is how different people responded to the racial and even religious tensions that occurred when certain events took place affecting millions.
After 9/11, many Muslims felt the need to hide their religious identities for fear if being hurt or ostracized, and those who might have otherwise stood up for their identities and proved society wrong didn’t express their views. This made discussing religion and to some degree race quite difficult to discuss for awhile. Press was afraid to take the “unpopular” viewpoints or even discuss the Muslim-American narrative.Years later however, we now see more and more people speaking out against the stereotypes and misconceptions that plagued American society for years after 9/11, because we eventually stopped censoring ourselves.
Furthermore, in many places, speaking of racial relations between Blacks and Whites was considered somewhat taboo for lack of acceptance that racism is still here in our communities. This is where our most recent and ongoing example comes into play.
Before the Ferguson movement sprung forth and encouraged many people to stand up and discuss racial tensions, discussions on racism weren’t as prevalent as today. I feel that part of it is the suppression of expressing what an entire group of stigmitized peoples felt was an injustice-the killing of innocent men and women all in the name of racial stereotyping and racism.
Further still is an issue I faced recently with my school paper. I wrote a feature story in which the party involved had issues with administration, particularly in that they felt their organization was lacking in support of the program being offered (I won’t go into detail for privacy reasons). What ended up happening was me watering down my own work to keep admin happy, and destroying the chance for this organization to gain some of the necessary support they needed to provide the services to deserving students.
It might not seem like a big deal when having objectively read the story, but my responsibility was to publish the conflict occuring and I blew it. I self-censored instead of using my freedom of press.
If anything can be taken away from this long-winded personal analysis of how I see self-censorship, is that it suppresses change from occurring, and facilitates the fear keeping a community and individual from expressing ones self and changing society for the better. It stands as a roadblock for many and in some instances it is never overcome.
However for others, once somebody sparks the flame, censoring of ones own views goes up in flames, and only then are communities willing to speak out for change. Unfortunately I learned this after the damage was done.