Thursday, January 6, 2011

What's in a "Nigger"?

Some of y'all may have heard about the brewing controversy about one scholar's plans to publish an edition of Mark Twain's classic "Huckleberry Finn" without certain "inflammatory" words. The new publication is an effort to circumvent the practice of banning the book from certain school libraries. If you haven't heard about it, check out this story.

 I've read Huck Finn a few times. It's a cool book. I'll admit that the use of "Nigger Jim" and just "nigger" in general surprised me initially. And I wasn't too thrilled with some of the stereotypes and characterizations for black folks in the book. But, I also realized, even as a child, this was a book written by a white man of a certain time, who was a product of his time no matter how enlightened he has been hailed as being. Viewed through that prism, I could take the good with the not so good and enjoy the book.

Apparently, this scholar doesn't think most kids need to have that experience.  I disagree.

I understand the need to expose kids to good books. But, I believe that if you neuter those books to make them more palatable to certain audiences, it becomes questionable whether they remain "good books." I don't remember any black parents at my school complaining about the use of the word nigger in Huck Finn and I doubt it's black school officials pushing for the books banning across the country.

Instead, this feels like another example of white Americans being uncomfortable with the amount of racism and discrimination in this country's past, and not wanting their children to be exposed to the truth about the good ol' days. There has been a systematic attempt in recent years to whitewash this country's past, and I don't like it at all.

After all, black people know that we used to be called niggers everywhere we went. Hell, our grandparents and great grandparents can tell us the stories from their own lives if we've ever wondered about what it was like to be black 50 years ago. We know about widespread discrimination and casual bigotry. It's not a secret, at least not from many of us.

Twain was an artist. He created an artwork that has value and importance the way it is. Changing it would be a shame. A damn shame. Children need to be exposed to reality and they need the chance to understand that people can be wrong about some things and right about others. They need to think about the words we use and why those words have power. And they need to confront the stereotypes that have been applied to black life for centuries so they can understand why so many black people remain angry.

It's not just about a nigger.





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3 comments:

Darth Whitey said...

I concur 100%, those were my thoughts exactly.

I remember reading it in high school (circa 1988) as well as "To Kill a Mockingbird" and I remember being shocked by it but at the same time I learned something from it, and it was an important thing to learn. It's really absurd to change it.

Almost as absurd as, say, the Republicans reading the constitution on the floor of the house and conveniently omitting the whole blacks being 3/5 of persons. Oh wait I thought it wasn't a living document. Oh wait what? I can't keep up with these tea party nutzoids.

Blaque Ink said...

Very interesting, but very predictable. This goes along with the banning of ethnic studies in a certain state as well as "lightening" the past to make certain people look and feel good while learning vitually nothing about their true history.

O PatrĂ£o said...

Darth puts it nicely.

Some of these guys would take a bullet for that document, and not only do they cherry-pick favourable elements from it, but the favourability is often drawn from distorting the original statements.

Same with the bible. These guys are sick, and I simply REFUSE to believe they aren't aware of their own hypocrisy.

Raving Black Lunatic