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Lets Say It Again, “Huckleberry Finn” Should Not Be Censored, ‘Nigger’ Helps Us Understand Racism

December 2, 2016

Hat Tip To Solly

Two classic American novels have been temporarily banned from a Virginia school district after a parent raised concerns about the use of a racial slur.   The use of the book’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird were suspended from Accomack County Public Schools after a parent raised concerns about their use of the N-word.

“There’s so much racial slurs and defensive wording in there that you can’t get past that,” one mother said during last month’s school board meeting. “Right now, we are a nation divided as it is.”  A review committee consisting of the principal, the library media specialist, the classroom teacher, a parent and/or student, and the complaint will evaluate the matter.  Combined, the two books use the N-word more than 250 times and some parents say the use of the racial slur is unacceptable.

Well hold on Nelly!

I deplore the word ‘nigger’.

I deplore the word ‘faggot’.

I do not want either used in common every-day conversation, and can say I have no friends that do use such language.

But there comes a time when the  word ‘nigger’ conveys the tone and message required, such as in the book Huckleberry Finn that many of us read as youngsters in conjunction with Tom Sawyer.  At least I did.  In fact, Huckleberry Finn was a classroom text for me and my school peers.

I mention all this as Huckleberry Finn that was penned in 1884 is now being published without the word ‘nigger’.  In its place will be the more sterile word ‘slave’.  I find this censorship highly troubling.  To add salt to this wound is also the removal of the word “injun”.  Again, not  a word we want used today, but one that puts the reader into the times of which the author has constructed in his book.  (Let us not forget, it IS his book.)

I think it asinine to touch the words penned by Mark Twain.  I have enough problems when some in Hollywood condone colorizing old films.  But when someone remakes the words of a classic read I want to scream.

Racism was, and remains a real and troubling part of our society.  To attempt to whitewash it from a text takes away the one thing that we need more than anything else.  That being a protracted and highly engaged conversation about racism.  University scholar Alan Gribben is responsible for the censoring of Huckleberry Finn in what he describes as an attempt to get the book back in the hands of high school literature courses.

While I applaud the desire to have youth read Huckleberry Finn, I throw-up over Gribben’s means to achieve it.  To not address racism in the manner it was presented in the book by Twain removes a great teaching moment for the folks who will read it.

Even after the many decades of work and public policy aimed to construct our society to be more equal we are still limited from a real dialogue on racism.  If we can not get over the mere usage of the word ‘nigger’ in a text as highly praised as Huckleberry Finn how can we move to a higher  level of awareness in our communities or legislatures when confronting racism?

As for the parents in Virginia I suggest instead of stamping out books that might offend someone they instead find a more complete definition of what education means and ponder that for a while.

And so it goes.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 4, 2016 9:35 PM

    I grew up poor on the Mississippi River in Missouri, and I always had black friends. I’m about as close to Huck Finn as anyone you’re likely to meet.

    It pisses me off that people who weren’t there, like Twain and myself, want to pass judgment on one of the very greatest works of American literature. Did they even get to the part where Huck is ready to surrender his immortal soul for Jim’s sake, or do they just see the N-word and quit? Talk about intellectual laziness.

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