Thoughts on the Removal of the N Word from Huckleberry Finn Books

I  attended schools in the Bronx where I grew up that had very few Blacks and whole lot of prejudice white kids who used our required reading of Mark Twain as an excuse to utter those hurtful words. On more than a few occasions I had fights.  But in retrospect those fights would’ve occurred anyway. On those days Huckleberry Finn was the justification..

‘Mark Twain says nigger so why can’t I’, was the asinine line of reasoning.

If we hadn’t read the book it would’ve been and was other incidents that sparked racially charged fights. As I’m writing I’m recalling how the TV series Roots sparked a bunch of fist fights and we were required to watch and discuss that in class.

Personally I think it needs to be conveyed that the use of the word Nigger and injun are bad.. and it should be done so in the very pages students are asked to read.

Replacing the word Nigger with the word Slave is not the best way to go about doing this… I would keep the word and not spell it out.. i.e. Nigger would become N%$#er. That’s done all the time in newspapers and other popular materials that print offensive words..

On a side note what’s gonna happen with the Huckleberry Finn books in Texas? for people who don’t know, the state of Texas is switching up their text books and one of the major changes is they are removing the word ‘slavery’ and replacing it with ‘Atlantic Triangular Trade‘. So will we see that long word used in the Texas books? I’m just saying..

Davey D-

Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner

 

Comments

  1. Very important issue. Art should be left alone. It’s protected, whether it’s beautiful or noxious in its role as provocateur toward reflection and change. I especially like the part where you say that white kids used to say “Mark Twain says nigger so why can’t I’ as their “asinine line of reasoning.” Today they say “Niggers say nigger so why can’t I?”

    Again, and especially in hip hop, I have always said about the “N-word” (or for that matter the “B” or the “F-Bomb”) that artistic expression needs to be protected. When they went after Luke (Luther Campbell) and attempted to ban what he was doing in hip hop during the 90s as “porn”, the definition for “porn” was found to be “A morbid, degrading and unhealthy interest in sex, as distinguished from a mere candid interest in sex.” The reason Luke escaped censorship is that anybody who ever saw a Luke show or heard a Luke record knows that what he was actually doing was CELEBRATING sex which is the act that makes all of us. As well, he did it in a very new and creative way although some thought tasteless why.

    When asked about what porn was, a justice of the Supreme Court was quoted as saying “I know it when I see it although I cannot define it” or something to that effect.

    So just like the F-Bomb, the “N-word” has contextual usage. If I say “I want to F— you” that may or may not be a good thing for you, probably depending on how you take it. If I said “I want to F— you UP!” it’s obvious what I mean. Anybody who would say this to me, whether they be African or European, a cop with billy club or a woman with an ice pick, the saying of this is going to be regarded as insulting and threatening to me and probably by anybody else who hears it.

    We can allude to what Mark Twain had in his mind and on his heart when he wrote his works but that is not the point. The point is that we have to look at what we have in our own minds and hearts at any given time, for every thing we do. Art and literature helps us to – indeed forces us to do this.

    About changing the spelling of it for use in the schools? That word has evolved so much that it’s senseless to screw around with it (screw around?). Just leave it alone. It is what it is, or better yet, it is what it WAS and that’s what we need to see it as.

    Besides, don’t they say “NICCA” these days anyway?

  2. By erasing this term from literature of any time period almost seems like you are trying erase a piece of history (both good and bad). This is similar to the elimination of items of slavery such as Jim Crow items or other race related items of this country’s sad history. Given that so many want to ignore or wash away the past, we need to preserve the literature, art, culture, etc, to serve as learning tools and reminders of what happened, why it happened and why it should never happen again. If we continue to eliminate or ignore these critical periods of the past, we will end up like Germany, which has nearly wiped away many, if not all of its horrid pasts. Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat them. Unfortunately, too many are repeating the past in today’s time. Also, in response to Ali’s last statement about the use of “Nicca”, I have heard that use of the “N” word. Unfortunately, I have heard that and “Nigga” used too freely hear in the Bay Area by blacks, whites, Asians and Middle Easterns. Sad, but true.

  3. Maybe they should digitally remove the star of David from all the Jews in shindler’s list and the Ann Frank story? We don’t want to be anti Semitic do we? I mean everyone knows the best way to avoid repeating history is to pretend things never happened until we forget them altogether. Right? (to be clear that was sarcasm)

    The part of this that makes me angry is the way this unfairly depicts Mark Twain as a racist. I have never heard anything from Mark Twain’s life that supports that notion. (I’m no Mark T. scholar so feel free to correct me) He was among the most liberal public figures of his time. To remove the word suggests he had nefarious motives. He was depicting the time and place his story took place in as accurately as he saw it. That’s what we ask of artists.

    Was Mark Twain was a racist that needs to be censored 100 years after his death? More likely some publisher is using this fake PC outrage to force schools and libraries to buy new editions, times are hard in the print biz.

  4. I bet the publisher would climb walls and peel paint if they had to deal with Dick Gregory’s autobiography. Nothing against Mark Twain’s work (read both books), but this is low on the priority scale. If this issue is a sign of things to come in 2011, it’ll make it all the more easier to just tune out!

  5. The Mecca says:

    Erasing the term from the book erases the original racist intent of the author. My first reaction is to this is approach with caution. I think that it is important for people to understand America’s legacy of racial hatred, both in its subtle and overt form.

    Certainly, I am not opposed to the removal of the term from the book. However, I am opposed to the removal of the history that created that literary climate for the term to be used so freely. Therefore, in need to be documented strongly as to the way this book referenced Black people. That can’t be lost. The societal climate of racial attitudes at that time can’t be lost either.

    Black scholars and historians must document the history and make sure that they have the original book for primary source and citation purposes. This way a proper analysis of the literature can be made and for intellectual purposes; maybe a comparative analysis of the societal echoes at the time print of publication with that time of the omission can be properly made.

  6. The Mecca says:

    Echos = ethos

  7. Right on Dave.
    I’m on with that idea. Why not use N….ect.
    It’s a way to retrieve some aspect of class and an element of respect for those youngsters reading the book.

    The less that word is around the better.

    Overall better for nobody to use that word. However, if it is going to be uttered should only be from within. What’s so hard to understand about that.
    We can go on and on. I’m not advocating words within race; its bad within as well.
    For example guinea, greser not as damaging coming from within Italians. Why because by saying that you are also minimizing yourself.

  8. Is this just another ploy to rewrite history and make the South/America seem less a hypocrite than it really is NOW to future generations? Will the Birth of a Nation be next?

  9. RobThomas says:

    At first I was of the thought that we shouldn’t mess with literature. But since so many right wingers have taken this on as an issue, I say change the book altogether. Replace the N word with “slave”. Yes, literature will suffer. So f’n what? Twain was a great writer but I’m sorry, there are much better writers on the topic of race than Twain.

  10. @Rob Thomas To just use the word “Slave” won’t do because that word is a verb, not a noun. It is just as dehumanizing or maybe even more so than nigger because it takes an entire people and describes them by what they were forced to do (eg work as slaves) and not go into where they came from or how and by who they were forced to do this. Even though a nigger is also used as another word for a “mule”, it could be argued that it is a bastardization of the word Negro which may have roots in a latinizing of the word black. We need the entire word to do a true etomology.

  11. QueerCoup says:

    The racism that I object to in “Huckleberry Finn” is the ridiculous caricature of slave culture. Jim is shown as hopelessly backwards, stupid, and superstitious. I think there are much batter ways of portraying that culture without stereotypes. It’s just one example of white people meaning well but getting it all wrong.

  12. talktalkreal says:

    While I’m not for censorship and erasing history, I think in this case it’s prudent to remove the N word in this matter. What usally make a bigot is what the child is fed from an EARLY imperssional age. What makes Huckleberry Finn kinda cool is it is usally the first relationship a white child, or any child sees of two people from different cultures working together, and challenging the bigtory that they were taught.(Sure Jim is inept like, but remember Mark Twain was ahead of his time doing that, and took alot of flack from it to. Was this maybe the first Black and White buddy piece? A’la 48 hours, Lethal Weapon, Cop Out etc etc?) We don’t wanna mesh that breakthrought with sliding in a derogatory term like that, because it some how HUMANIZES that word and could be taken that it’s ok to feel or say things like that at times. Remember a child is too young to be able to differentiate something that complex when it come to racial matters. Take out the word! Slave hits home and its history!

  13. @Talktalkreal: You still don’t get it, do you? You say “Remember a child is too young to be able to differentiate something that complex when it come to racial matters.” Do you think children just start learning when they get to public (or private) school? Racism and bigotry is taught at home, by the mother’s and fathers through example and learned through modeling. The breakthrough often comes when it’s delivered OUT OF CONTEXT from where the child usually hears it at via an educational curriculum either imposed on or adopted by well intentioned educators and some white kid learns the reality of its effects through fist in the mouth tutoring on the playground. That’s when the two kids, one black one white, are sat down by the teacher and things are explained, deals are cut and lessons are learned.

    This is reality, this ain’t no “buddy movie”. Folks get hurt about that word, then they heal, then they know not to use it. Them mother fuckers in 48 hours didn’t like each other. Nick Nolte’s character didn’t even respect Eddie Murphy’s guy until the Murphy character knocked the shit out of him. That Nolte character had that same vibe that every white person I had ever met had been possessed with until 1969. That attitude is based on some other fictive stuff, white fiction of the worse kind.

    The key is that, that’s how it was and to try to soften that shit up with a few words slipped in and out is THE DE FACTO DEFINITION OF CENSURE SHIP or at least the exercising thereof. This would be an effort to “change history” because they are changing actual words that were used IN HISTORY. And no, you don’t get to pick what word you want to use. You don’t get to say “slave” instead of “nigger”. Slave is just as dehumanizing. Every person you see working in any picture of black people slaving had a name and came from a home and family. To me the word slave is WORSE than nigger. Why were any black people asked? Look at who’s doing this? What does NewSouth Books stand to lose if they just leave the word alone? Millions of dollars, that’s what. Why didn’t they use the word BLACK MAN” instead? Because they don’t give a fuck about Mark Twain, or literature or Black people a bit. They care only about money. This has already been done by NewSouth Books. It’s over. All we did was fuel interest and assist distribution and sales.

    The good news is that every slap in the face is an awakening for a sleeping giant!

  14. Critical Eye says:

    As much as I hate the words nigger(and all derivatives) and slave, for this book company to change nigger to slave is just as racistly arrogant as Colgate-Palmolive initially selling a toothpaste in Asia called DARKIE toothpaste (complete with a minstrelesque picture of an Uncle Ben-like smilin’ coon wearing a tophat and tux) and then changing the name to DARLIE toothpaste, but leaving the goddamn silhouette of the smiling top-hat and tux-wearing coon on the box, as if that somehow made things better. Personally, I hate Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and the Jim character. At the same time, sugarcoating the word nigger will give future generations a false sense of history. Words and Images have meaning and power. I say replace it with N&$@!#, too.

Leave a Reply