The Student News Site of Henry M. Gunn High School

Pro: Should racial slurs, language be censored in academic literature?

There has long been a debate over whether or not there is a place for offensive language in academia. While some argue that racial slurs should be left uncensored in academic settings, doing so perpetuates harmful attitudes toward race, causes students to misunderstand the significance of the language and distresses students in historically marginalized groups.

Passages that use racial slurs serve to perpetuate racist ideas and stereotypes formed over the United States’ long history of racial oppression, including the N-word, a symbol of violence and subjugation that African Americans have endured for decades. Using the N-word, even in academic settings, spreads the false idea deeply rooted in U.S. history that Black individuals are inferior to their white counterparts.

One point of nuance, though, is the usage of offensive language by authors from marginalized groups. Instead of using racial slurs to downgrade other groups, these authors generally use the language to provide insight into their experiences as historically misrepresented individuals. Authors from marginalized groups can use this language because of their contextual awareness and lived experience.

Reading texts with racial slurs can have a significant impact on students, who could come to use these terms without understanding their repercussions. When students witness their teachers and peers reading the words aloud or seeing the language in texts without further explanation, students can easily come away with the impression that the offensive language is insignificant. For example, in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” racial slurs constantly appear throughout the text. The casual use of offensive language in such books can lead to jokes surrounding the N-word at Gunn. Teachers should thus refrain from saying racial slurs when they appear in academic texts and offer explanations about these words and terms when they do appear. If teachers expose students to harmful language but do not explain its impact, students may not understand how to approach such texts. Censoring offensive language indicates the magnitude of such slurs and prevents students from becoming desensitized to them.

Reading uncensored racial slurs can also make students from historically marginalized groups feel uncomfortable. This language can bring up traumatic experiences and lower self-esteem. By leaving racial slurs uncensored, instructors are being inconsiderate of students from historically underrepresented groups.

Some may argue that if offensive content is erased, the roots of systemic oppression, which are necessary to understand modern racism, will remain overlooked. However, censoring offensive content does not erase the idea of its existence and will not hinder an understanding of systemic racism. People can still understand the history of oppression by learning the context of such offensive language. Students should be educated about its historical significance through healthy, insightful discussions in an academic setting. Such conversations provide individuals with an understanding of why offensive language and racial slurs have been used and why they are censored. Without understanding the sensitive nature of racial slurs, individuals can persist in inflicting harm.

In academic settings, racial slurs should be replaced with a note indicating the previous harmful language. This way, students will continue to be aware of the existence and impact of racial slurs. Students will inevitably encounter such language in classrooms and the outside world. However, with guidance, they will be able to confront it responsibly.

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