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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says 'epidemic of self-censorship' is putting literature in peril

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has once again had to defend her opinions on the gender issue and has delivered an impassioned defense of freedom of speech, saying that the current "epidemic of self-censorship" is putting literature in peril.

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Mia Ashton Montreal QC
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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has once again had to defend her opinions on the gender issue and has delivered an impassioned defense of freedom of speech, saying that the current "epidemic of self-censorship" is putting literature in peril.

In 2017, the world-renowned author sparked controversy by saying in an interview that she believes "trans women are trans women," an opinion for which she endured significant backlash from trans activists who demand that everyone believe trans-identified males are women the same as actual women.

It was this opinion that resulted in a recent interview with The Guardian that turned into something of a debate, when journalist Zoe Williams challenged Adichie to defend this belief.

"You can look however you want now and say you’re a woman," said Adichie in her interview with Williams, adding that anyone who questions that belief is labeled outdated and in need of being educated by the younger generation.

Williams, who explained that she believes Adichie is reducing the argument that transgender people shouldn’t be policed on how they appear "to the absurd," mounts a defense of a male’s right to be in female spaces.

"Imagine your brother did want to live as a woman," Williams said to Adichie. "You would support his endeavour with love, right? You probably think treating him with dignity and respect was more important than where he went to the toilet?"

"But why is that?" asked Adichie in response. "Why can’t they be equal parts of the conversation?"

"Maybe because dignity is more important," replied Williams.

"Not if you consider women’s views to be valid, responded Adichie. "This is what baffles me. Are there no such things as objective truth and facts?"

People took to Twitter to suggest that it is not Adichie who is taking the argument about the appearance of transgender people to the absurd, but rather it is trans activists and certain trans rights organizations who are the ones responsible for that.

The example of Alex Drummond was used several times to illustrate this point. Drummond is a bearded biological male who identifies as a woman and a lesbian and was an advisor on the trans charity Stonewall’s trans advisory board.

The Guardian published excerpts of Adichie’s recent Reith lecture on the subject of free speech, in which the author took aim at cancel culture and the persecution of individuals who express unpopular opinions.

"There is a difference between valid criticism, which should be part of free expression, and this kind of backlash, ugly personal insults, putting addresses of homes and children’s schools online, trying to make people lose their jobs," said Adichie in her lecture.

"To anyone who thinks, 'Well, some people who have said terrible things, deserve it,' no. Nobody deserves it. It is unconscionable barbarism. It is a virtual vigilante action whose aim is not just to silence the person who has spoken but to create a vengeful atmosphere that deters others from speaking. There is something honest about an authoritarianism that recognises itself to be what it is. Such a system is easier to challenge because the battle lines are clear. But this new social censure demands consensus while being wilfully blind to its own tyranny. I think it portends the death of curiosity, the death of learning and the death of creativity."

She went on to describe the importance of freedom for creativity, saying to "create, one needs a kind of formless roving of the mind, to go nowhere and anywhere and everywhere."

"Literature shows us who we are, takes us into history, tells us not just what happened but how it felt … Books shape our understanding of the world."

"Literature deeply matters and I believe literature is in peril because of social censure," the author’s lecture continued. "If nothing changes, the next generation will read us and wonder, how did they manage to stop being human? How were they so lacking in contradiction and complexity? How did they banish all their shadows?"

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