Trigger Warning

After putting great thought into transcribing some documents from my family history, I found that some content contained some ethnic slurs. I mortified myself as I was typing the transcription, I would NEVER use these words! What to do? What would you do? Read on...

trigger warning is a message presented to an audience about the contents of a book or other media, to warn them that it contains potentially distressing content. Scientists with knowledge in this area and research on the topic suggest that trigger warnings may be counterproductive and actually increase anxiety and PTSD symptoms.

When I decided to add a series on my personal blog about my grandparents and their letters to each other spanning the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, I was pretty excited. What a great way to share my family history.

I asked my mom for the letters and she brought them to my house Thanksgiving 2018. In December I got all set with the direction I was going to go, I pulled out old photos, my grandfathers journals, and his life story “The Life Story of a lucky Tennessee Sailor that Lived to Retire”. That , with some historical research would give the letters some interest to people other than my family

Should I censor, or not censor?

I decided to transcribe some excerpts from my grandfather's life story to fill in some blanks in the letter's storyline. When I started reviewing the parts I was going to use I realized he used ethnic slurs, common in the 1940’s, throughout his writings. And, in the 3rd installment I was faced with censoring his words in the transcription, or leaving as-is. I decided that censoring the words would not work because it would be the same as pretending these prejudices never existed. Our society has come a long way since world war 2. To cover it up by censorship or erasing it all together is the modern day equivalent of burning books. BUT on the other hand, not everyone agrees with me and I certainly do not want to hurt anyone. Either way is a sticky-wicket.

I solicited advice from a good friend, she suggested a disclaimer. I did some research and came up with the following wording I can copy into the pages as needed.

This entry may depict some ethnic and racial prejudices that were once commonplace in American society. Such depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. These transcriptions are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.

Should I warn, or not warn?

During my research I found that my disclaimer was actually called a "Trigger Warning". That opened a whole new can of worms, do I or don't I? There were lots of articles arguing both sides. Then I found the following analogy, it had been copied and pasted several times and I don't know who the original author is, but it was perfect. I am a person with many food and environmental allergies, and have been told things like "It's all in your head" and "exposure will cure you!".

Being triggered is like having an allergic reaction.

A good description of an allergic reaction (speaking as someone who has a food sensitivity) is an involuntary reaction to a substance which can vary from severe discomfort to serious debilitation and endangerment. Change ‘a substance’ to 'content’ and that’s pretty much a description of being triggered. The reaction is psychological rather than physical (although it can, of course, have physical symptoms), but it is just as serious and just as involuntary.

This is why trigger warnings are needed. Do you tell someone with a food allergy to 'just deal’ with an exposure to the allergen? Do you say they’re overreacting when they want food to be labeled so they can avoid what they’re allergic to? Do you say that they should just avoid all public food if they’re going to complain about being allergic to some of it?

No. You label food and put on warnings so they can see that there is an ingredient in it that they are allergic to. It is still their responsibility to avoid that content, but they need to know it’s there in order to do that, and they need to know it before they react to it.

And for the people who say you just need to face up to your problem via exposure? Yes, it’s true that gradual exposure in a safe environment is one way to treat phobias and some times of PTSD. However, that is something that should be addressed with a qualified professional.

Some allergies can be treated with gradual exposure too, by a series of shots that let the person’s body know that the allergen isn’t actually a threat. Animal allergies are a type that can sometimes be treated this way. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to drop a cat in the lap of someone who is allergic to them and say 'exposure will cure you!’“ Especially when you don’t know if they’ve even started that series of shots, much less finished it.

Yes, it is an individual’s responsibility to avoid triggering content. However, just as an allergic person needs a label so that they can effectively avoid their allergens, PTSD/phobia/anxiety sufferers need a warning so that they can avoid their triggers. End of story.

I decided to use the Trigger Warning. The blog series is "Pauline's Letters" I linked them to the sidebar in this blog.

If you found this blog looking for someone to guide you on your own sticky-wicket, I would say to decide for yourself, it's your blog. This is my blog, just my opinion... and meandering scribble.

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