Every word is important, even the hurtful ones

Social discussion sparked by offensive language more valuable than censoring it

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Initially, I was pretty reluctant to write this article. 

Whenever something is published that has an aura of controversy around it, the writer is bound to face backlash. Yet, the importance of publishing controversial ideas is necessary for that very reason: it creates a dialogue on the issue and no censorship, not even self-censorship, should stand in the way. 

When I think of freedom of speech, I think of the freedom from censorship. The problem with censorship is that it prevents what I want to say from ever sparking dialogue. 

Censorship is different from judgement. People can evaluate whatever I say along their own morals and perspectives as much as they want, so long as it is out there for them to judge. 

Everyone has said something hurtful or offensive at some point and so often we do so without thinking of the true impact of our actions. What we say often inspires a response and initiates a dialogue, which is why it is crucial that we say the things that we do. 

Whenever anyone puts an idea out in a public domain — be it an article, a photo or a social media post — they exercise a power that carries a ripple effect. What we say influences other people’s thoughts and actions. 

While many controversial discussions can become easily heated, even offensive and negative speech has value because of the discourse it creates. 

What sparked my interest in this topic was the recent online Twitter battle between British singer Zayn Malik and American rapper Azealia Banks.

Banks openly confronted Malik on Twitter, accusing the former One Direction singer of copying her work. Banks then interpreted some of Malik’s tweets as being directed towards her and she proceeded to respond with a tirade of racist and homophobic slurs directly targeting Malik’s Pakistani background and image. 

Toronto Twitter personality Jasmeet Singh responded to Banks with humour and intelligence, turning Banks’ comments into something positive.

“The fact that ‘curry scented’ is an insult when curry 1000% smells and tastes absolutely delicious,” he tweeted. 

Hundreds of South Asians responded by posting under the hashtag #CurryScentedBitch, sparking a huge Desi pride movement. Desi is a loose term for the people, cultures and products of the Indian subcontinent or South Asia.

Banks’s offensive comments became the catalyst for a positive social movement. The #CurryScentedBitch hashtag encouraged many young Desi women and men to post their own pictures, videos and thoughts on their culture. Although the hashtag was in response to a series of hateful Tweets, the overall outcome of the negative language was a massive appreciation for Desi culture. 

When I say that every word matters, I mean it. Words, and more generally, language, are all about context.  It’s important that we understand why negative messages are being relayed and talk about them in an open and uncensored manner. Without context and conversation, there is no opportunity to teach and learn.  

The recent Twitter feud between Malik and Banks provides a platform for education, it encourages people to  critically engage with Desi culture. 

Generally, there are two sides of the censorship debate: one side in favour of censoring certain forms of offensive speech and the other that is entirely against all forms of censorship. 

The debate over whether or not censorship practices are appropriate remains a complex issue because whenever arguments supporting censorship surface, the notion of freedom of speech enters the dialogue and the line between what is tolerable and what isn’t gets blurred.  

What is labelled as offensive is dependent on perspective. 

There is no universal grading scale to determine what should and shouldn’t be censored, which is why censorship shouldn’t exist. 

The content of offensive speech can often incite violence through prejudicial wording. Victims of it are usually targeted because of their physical characteristics (i.e. colour of skin), religion, sexual orientation, gender or culture.

However, despite the obvious malice of negative and offensive speech, there is a constructiveness to it that is often overlooked.

Offensive language is not important in the sense that it relays a good message, but because we can challenge it in the public arena. It proves to be a catalyst for political and social change.

The first instinct should not be to censor the minority of people who seek to incite negativity through language. It should instead be to encourage all forms of speech because they all have merit — even the hurtful kind.

Nick Scott is a third-year Political Studies major.

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