Around our offices this week at To the Best of Our Knowledge, our staff struggled with this question: “Should we censor a word in a show about censorship?” The irony was not lost on us.
And it was definitely not an easy call.
My colleague Charles Monroe-Kane did a thought-provoking interview with Walter Mosley, a writer of more than 50 books, most famous for his crime novels featuring Detective Easy Rawlins. Mosley was recently in a writers’ room for a network television show in Los Angeles. In telling a story about his own life, he used the N-word — although he said the actual word. That was followed by a call from the human resources department telling him he can’t use that word. So he quit. And he wants to talk about it, to us and to the world, about how he should be able to tell a story about his own life in a creative writers’ room, or anywhere else.
Weaponized speech — harassment, abuse, or worse — is a terrible thing. But what if someone says something that makes us feel uncomfortable, or with which we emphatically disagree? Should people be silenced — or, a step further, canceled?
Even our transcription software suggested we not use the word, transcribing it as “unrecognized.”
In our hallway conversations, we worried about who would hear the word and if they would have the right context on our radio show and podcast. We decided not to bleep it, but to give a warning ahead of time — it’s important to allow listeners to decide for themselves if they’re actually willing to hear it.
Every step we took was to allow Mosley to speak and make a difficult but valid point about the power of language. We wanted to avoid doing the very thing he was protesting by quitting his job.
The final interview is part of this week’s show “Filtering Free Speech,” which also delves into when free speech meets hate speech. Do you have a story about talking, or being quiet? Let us know your thoughts on free expression and censorship at email@example.com.