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From Jennie Rosenbaum's "That Would Be Telling," Fall '93 For a couple of months I've been dreaming about sitting at my computer, typing furiously. I'm writing a column. Suddenly a black woman comes up behind me and says, "It's 'African-American,' not 'black.' " She ties my hands behind my back. I kick off my shoes and try to type with my feet, but a Chinese man comes up and says, "It's 'Asian,' not 'Oriental' " and ties my feet over my head. As I try to type with my nose, a man in a wheelchair says, "It's 'physically challenged,' not 'handicapped' " and pulls the keyboard out from under me. I give up on writing and decide to scream my column to whoever can hear me. But before I can get past the title, Marlee Matlin stands in front of me and signs, "That's not fair, now your column isn't available to the hearing impaired. And don't even think about calling us 'deaf.' " She tapes my mouth shut. And then my acting teacher says, "No emotion!" and whacks me over the head with a copy of the Constitution. I wake up in a sweat. Censoring a writer is like denying insulin to a diabetic. Nothing's worse than having someone say, "You can't print this. It's not right." Now, I'm usually a pretty sensitive person. If someone is offended by something I write or say, I apologize if I think an apology is in order. I don't want to make people feel bad for no reason. But when I am told I can't say something that is perfectly true, just because it might offend some people who are looking for an argument, I get angry. For a while I also used to fear for my life and say nothing. See, I would never say "All blacks are stupid" because it isn't true. But the best reason not to say it is because I might suddenly find myself the recipient of telephoned death threats. It's happened to columnists who've said things that weren't half as bad. But suppose I wanted to say something more truthful. When I wrote my column about what to do with the Theta Xi house next year, I mentioned that a Jew from Brooklyn would not feel very comfortable in the Chinese Students' Association. This is true. Kenny, my editor, then asked me, "How about adding, 'or in the BSL'?" I declined. "They don't need another columnist to hate," I said. It would have been a truth, sure, but I wimped out and chose not to include it because I feared the consequences. Well, screw the consequences. If I let society dictate what I write, I may as well not write at all. Society doesn't have the right to censor me. I let my editor suggest things, but in the end only I have the power to decide what is, and is not, appropriate for me to say. Censorship probably bothers me more than it bothers you. See, I plan to write for a living. The more things I'm prohibited from writing about, the fewer subjects I can write about. So I write less than I normally would, and I get paid less. And not as many people read what I write. That doesn't work for me. I think about literary works that have been banned from school libraries in the past – Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockinbird, and The Diary of Anne Frank, to name a few – and I get chills. What did Anne write about that was so terrible? Kissing. I wonder what kind of reception the play I'm currently working on will receive. It's about Jewish bisexual demons. I'm not trying to see how many groups I can piss off. That's just the subject I want to write about. Lots of people won't like it. Tipper Gore would have conniptions. Some viewers may even be offended. But that's not going to stop me from writing it and having it produced. If I were to go to the National Endowment for the Arts (not to be confused with the NEH – Hackney can't hurt me now) and try to get government funding for this project, however, I would be turned down flat. Too controversial. I have a feeling that in 50 years or so, the only subject that will be "okay" to write about is flowers. Just don't mention lotuses or poppies. Writers have to write. Speakers have to speak. Everyone must make their statements, in an appropriate arena (no shouting out a window at 2AM, please), or we'll all burst. People will always say things that other people don't like, but the speakers have this right and the offended people must respect that. I hereby give license to those who want to say that the Holocaust never happened, or that Martin Luther King Jr. was a plagarist, or whatever. Do it. And if you don't like something you hear, turn away. Or state your point. If you read something you don't agree with, turn the page or write a letter to the editor. But don't try to cut off my means of communication. Do not tell me what I can and cannot say. Or one day all you'll find on page six is blank space. Jennie Rosenbaum is a senior Theater Arts and Comparative Literature major from Forest Hills, New York. That Would Be Telling will appear alternate Mondays.

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