Thursday, January 6, 2011

Legend of N*gger Twain

What? They're taking "nigger" out of Huckleberry Finn? What's next, a remake of Dolemite without the word "honkey"?

From The Guardian UK:

A new US edition of Mark Twain's classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is to be published with a notable language alteration: all instances of the offensive racial term "nigger" are to be expunged.

The word occurs more than 200 times in Huckleberry Finn, first published in 1884, and its 1876 precursor, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which tell the story of the boys' adventures along the Mississippi river in the mid-19th century. In the new edition, the word will be replaced in each instance by "slave". The word "injun" will also be replaced in the text.

The new edition's Alabama-based publisher, NewSouth books, says the development is a "bold move compassionately advocated" by the book's editor, Twain scholar Dr Alan Gribben of Auburn University, Montgomery. It will have the effect, the publisher claims, of replacing "two hurtful epithets" in order to "counter the 'pre-emptive censorship' that Dr Gribben observes has caused these important works of literature to fall off curriculum lists worldwide."

More here.

Few things unnerve me nowadays. I'm actually finding it quite spooky. I frequently encounter rude, aggressive, and depressing individuals who have overwhelming and unmanageable personal challenges weighing them down. I feel empathy and compassion for them, I really do. But it's seldom that I'm really shaken by them.

This has shaken me a bit. Feels great.

In many ways, we should be exceedingly grateful that we live in a world that allows us such remarkable access to information. These types of revisionist tactics have continued to cloud, puncture, and erase our true sense of human history. Now that we have this incredible and extensive network of information sharing, perhaps the truths of who we are will always live on somewhere in the vastness of cyberspace. That doesn't mean, however, that we should ever allow these revisionists to have their way and let our technology iron out the wrinkles.

I don't know what I believe about the n-word. Even now, it's appeared in this post twice in its normal form, but somehow at the moment of writing this particular section I feel the need to make it safe. "N-word". It drives me nuts! But what I do know is that it resonants the history of Americans who fought both for and against the beliefs and complexities within. Even though the era of its inception was the most oppressive and violent episode of American history, that does not excuse us from the obligation to intimately know and understand that history. Our faults are just as important as our advantages.

This is the greatness of American debate; and let me tell you something. As a black male in America I don't think I've ever felt true patriotism or compassion for "the great experiment of democracy" or "the land of the free", except in the instances where I was either an observer or participant in healthy, difficult, productive, reasonable discussion. Considering the polarizing climate in Washington during the last 20 years or so, and trends in the public's opinion of D.C. politics, I would argue many in this country share this particular sense of "Americaness". It's the debate that makes us special; that makes this whole thing worth it.

Mark Twain, in his brilliance, was writing from a fundamentally American perspective. He threw our vitriol in our faces and amplified sounds to which we forgot or neglected to listen. AND he was doing this in 1885, a time in America where being a "nigger lover" could get a white person hung as quickly as black person.

In the final press conference scene in the 1995 film The American President, President Andrew Shepard (played by Michael Douglas) makes this declaration on the sophisticated nature of American citizenship:

You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the "land of the free."

Unless Doctor Emmett L. Brown figures something out in the next few years, we will never be able to change who we were. But maybe we can anyway. By acknowledging those parts of ourselves, collectively processing the hows and the whys, maybe we'll change who we were by bettering who we are.

I always get this way when I watch National Treasure. Damn you, Nicholas Cage.

And so without further ado, a silly youtube video compliments of my cousin Nina, and staring our old friend "nigger."

Why? Because it's funny!

1 comment:

  1. WHY AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO COMMENTS ON YOUR BLOG?! Especially this one...

    I have mixed feelings about this story. I read about it on CNN yesterday and thought I would sleep on it before I talked about it.

    On one hand, I think the revisionists are coming from, in their minds at least, a good place with good intention. They know that some may see the word as offensive and they want to make everyone comfortable. I really wonder how many of these revisionists were white. We've talked before about how this is a sensitive subject for white people because they are scared to talk about this with black people. So I think in these revisionists' minds they are doing the whole "erasing racism" thing, but in my opinion it's just erasing part of a history that has already had so much erased and needs to be thrown into the limelight.

    I remember when I was growing up, through all my history classes, the only two black people we would talk about were Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. When it got to the slavery section of our history books we never talked about what happened to the slaves specifically, just that they were brought over, enslaved, treated badly (but never told to what extent), and finally freed with the civil war, which, according to Lincoln, was just a reaction from the civil war. Lincoln said (about slavery) "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." That was his 1st Inaugural Address circa 1861.

    It wasn't until I got to college and took an African American History class that I realized what exactly had gone on and how much of this history is completely ignored in American History. The plantation life, the rapes, the experiments, Barnum and Bailey's circus, Tuskegee, the fact that it wasn't until 1972 that doctors finally stopped coning African Americans into getting injected with syphilis under the impression that it was a curable disease. Sometimes I wonder if Usher knows what the word "Tottie" really means, since he decided to title one of his songs "Hot Tottie," (hint: it's not a drink). And I feel like the N-word is part of this history, and should be shown, not as derogatory name calling or something to giggle at when one reads it, but as educational. I think if people would read the version with the n-word in it and explain where that word comes from and what it means and how it's changed and why people use it derogatorily sometimes would be a whole lot better than just erasing the word completely. They are getting rid of so much more than a word.

    If you get a chance, read the book "Medical Apartheid" by Harriet A. Washington. It's one of my favorite books from my African American History class. It reveals African American History in all it's gory, bloody, diseased, sinful, beautiful, strong, and courageous glory.

    So, bottom line, I would rather think that these revisionists are coming from a good place rather than a "let's just cover our asses" type place. And as far as freedom of speech, I agree with the quote that you copied in here. It's not just one side that has the freedom, all Americans do. And if people get offended, good! Embrace it, question it, question yourself, always. It makes you a better person. Offend and be offended, curse, be vulgar! AND STOP FUCKING APOLOGIZING!