I know, I haven’t put up anything about the holidays, really, and they were great and all and I’ll maybe get to it later.
Something has really chapped my hide.
A publisher, NewSouth, has announced that it will be removing the word “nigger” from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and replacing it with the word “slave.” NewSouth has also decided to censor a “derogatory term for Native Americans,” which I can only assume to be “injun.”
So what, Injun Joe is going to be Indian Joe? Native American Joe? That’s just not right.
NewSouth’s excuse is that teachers in the rural south have complained they are unable to teach this novel in their classrooms because the word “nigger” is too offensive and upsets the students and their parents. I understand it is an offensive word.
a) Those were the acceptable terms in common use when Mark Twain wrote this novel;
b) We have a terrible, shameful history, the effects of which are still felt today. We need to acknowledge that. Ignoring it by replacing offensive words in literature with words not intended by the original author is quite possibly more offensive than the word “nigger” itself. It is, essentially, rewriting history 1984 style;
c) School boards and administrators, who ultimately are making the decisions whether or not to censor these books (and who are, by censoring them, creating the demand for the edited novels) need to get off their cowardly asses and do something brave and noble for a change. Parents, I’m talking to you too, some of you, who would rather censor something than talk to your children about the issue. I once asked my husband what he thought about why we haven’t done anything as extraordinary as when we met Kennedy’s challenge to travel to the moon. His immediate response? “Because we have become too afraid to take risks.” He’s right.
The most frightening aspect of all of this is where we will go next. Will we edit the vulgarity out of Catcher in the Rye? We wouldn’t want our teen students getting the idea that words like “fuck” existed or that teens were smoking and promiscuous back in 1951! Will we remove the references to sex in Henry Miller’s 1931 novel Tropic of Cancer? There wouldn’t be much left of it if we did.
Then once all those novels are “corrected” we will be free to turn to other forms of art, cloaking the genitalia of classic sculptures, covering the nipples of nude madonnas. We wouldn’t want our children exposed to paintings such as this!
But hold on just a minute. Much of the thrill teens get from vulgarity, smoking, drinking, promiscuity, etc. is their belief that they invented it…that their parents didn’t engage in such behaviors. Maybe if we gave them open access to this novel with its original language – and others equally “controversial” – and we punctuate them with thoughtful, honest discussion about our own mistakes and what we learned, those vices wouldn’t be so alluring at such a young age.
But we have to take those risks Greg mentioned first.