The Issue of Language Censorship in the U. S. and Its Impacts

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Language significantly influences how people feel and what the world perceives, thus there always has been and always will be attempts made to control it. Unfortunately the people planning to censor language don’t understand that people will not stop using words because they have been banned, instead they will coin new words that mean exactly what the banned words meant.

In December 2017, reports circulated that officials in the White House or, the Trump administration, had decided to ban about seven words at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “The CDC, under the auspices of its new Trump-appointed leadership, sought to ban seven words and expressions from official reports and documentation.” (Luu 2018) The words that were speculated to have been changed included words such as ‘science-based’, ‘evidence based’, ‘entitlement’, ‘fetus’, ‘transgender’, ‘vulnerable’ and ‘diversity’. It appears that the words were in fact altered in official documents by none other than the employees of the CDC in order ensure that their project passed under the radar, subsequently dodging budget cuts. The employees believed that if they changed the words from ‘politically-charged’ terms to vaguely worded terms, then their projects would get funded. (Latson 2018)

Many other organizations have been found to self-sensor to avoid finding themselves in the wrong side of the government. According to Luu (2018) “It appears this euphemistic meddling is not just a trend in the HHS. NPR reports a drop in the number of grants awarded by the National Science Foundation containing the phrase “climate change” in the title or summary, as many organizations are forced to self-censor in order to not offend official state sensibilities in the present political climate.”

This incident was not the first time altered words have been found in U.S government documents which is a rather troubling thought. As a survey has found that self-censorship is slowly becoming prevalent on the United States, which in many cases, symbolizes institutionalized fear and is typical of a totalitarian society. Conferring, Corey Robin, a professor of political science at Brooklyn College sates that fear-driven self-censorship is a totalitarian characteristic but it can also be found in democratic society. Violent governments are undeniably at a better position to effectively instill fear amongst its people. “The process of self-censorship was incredibly insidious: It wasn’t just that you stopped talking about certain things with other people — you stopped thinking them yourself. Your internal dialogue just dried up.” This was a statement shared by psychoanalyst who lived during Uruguay’s military dictatorship in the 1970s. As such, one of the most significant drawbacks of restricted speech is that when civilians actively avoid discussing off-limits and controversial topics, then innovation, creativity and ideas start to disappear too.

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There is a big difference between limiting derogatory speech and restricting controversial topics completely. Racial slurs have significantly vanished from colleges because such words have been unofficially barred; which is one of the biggest wins in contemporary America. However, it is worrying that debates about affirmative action rarely take place now. This is evidently the result of self-censorship, which undermines the progress of affirmative action and that of colleges.

A recent example of censorship is that of Harvard University annulling admission offers that were made to about 10 students who used their social media platforms to post lewd and racist status updates. Indeed this kind of behavior should be met with harsh punishment because no one should get away with demeaning and insulting people because if the color of their skin; history has taught us that this never ends well for anyone. However, the kind of penalty that was imposed on these prospective students would not really constrain their supremacist mentality but instead, would plunge every other prospective student deeper into self-censorship and fear of engaging in public discourse. This takes us back to the point of the country starting to look more like a totalitarian society and its people beginning to understand the world around them as an oppressive and policed place where what they say will be used against them in some future undated time.

The current world of censored speeches has led to a lot of students being reluctant to share their unpopular ideas and opinions. Unfortunately this is not a college student issue; many adults are increasingly cautious of what they say in public or post on social media. In 2017, a report by Cato Institute found that about 58 percent Americans were afraid to voice whatever political belief they had.

Censorship is the enemy of freedom for in a free country, everyone has freedom of speech. Jeremy Waldron, a professor of law in NYU believes that hate speech is anti-speech because “Its aim is to compromise the dignity of those at whom it is targeted, both in their own eyes and in the eyes of other members of society And it sets out to make the establishment and upholding of their dignity... much more difficult. It aims to besmirch the basics of their reputation, by associating ascriptive characteristics like ethnicity, or race, or religion with conduct or attributes that should disqualify someone from being treated as a member of society in good standing” (Huffpost), and as such, it is ok if this kind of speech is censored.

Censoring languages teaches us that the world is made up of two groups of people. The first group of people are those that make the rules and the second group of people are those who are indoctrinated to follow these rule, even if they don’t understand or believe them. The second group will inescapably follow these rules because they fear being persecuted by the first group. This further teaches that the first group, or the creators of the censorship, do not personally have to follow these rules that they have set for everyone else. That is the case of President Donald Trump who says everything that is in his mind without fear while organizations like the CDC have to alter words in their official documents just to make sure that they receive funding from the Trump administration.

Further, the brutal punishment that has been dealt to terrorists and similar groups has led to further language censorship especially in places such as the airport or stadiums. People flying in or out of the United States have to be cautious of the type of words that they use in the airport lest they be suspected of organizing a terror attack. Because of the censorship of language, foreigners may end up expecting America to be a hostile environment that is just waiting for them to say the wrong things.

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