We Never Said "Nigger"

huck, finn, huckleberry, huck finn, huckleberry finn, mark, twain, mark twain, jim, nigger, nigger jim, slave, slavery, the adventures of huckleberry finn, editing, censorship, 1984, george orwell, rewrite, rewriting, whitewash, whitewashing, white wash, wash, white, black, race, racial, racism, america, united states, USA, literature, reading, books, history, novelThat's an offensive word. I won't use it again. I wrote the title of the blog that way to offend you. I wanted to get your attention.

I don't know if you've heard yet, but Professor Alan Gribben is editing that word out of Mark Twain's greatest novels Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

That's a bad idea.

I don't like that word. I don't use that word. I take serious issue with people who use that word. It reflects a dark time of our history, when men of color weren't considered people, when they were counted as three-fifths of a person. It reflects the darkness that still plagues our country - America's original sin - and the penance still hasn't totally been paid.

Racism is still a problem in America. African-Americans make up about 12% of the US population, but make up 39% of the prison population (source). About 25% of African-Americans are in poverty (source), compared to 14% nationally (source). Only 19% of African-Americans go on to earn a Bachelor's degree(source), compared nationally to 28% (source). There are twice as many African-Americans in prison than in college. There are still racial inequities in this country.

Fixing these problems is complicated, and I'm not saying I have all the answers. But I do know that white-washing our past isn't going to fix it. When the new House was gavelled in, they read the US Constitution aloud. They skipped the part about the Three-Fifths Compromise. Why? Isn't that part of our past? They read the thirteen and fourteenth amendments, which were unnecessary had said compromise not been written in the first place!

In George Orwell's great novel 1984, the totalitarian government of Oceania is at war with Eurasia, until it changes. The country is no longer at war with Eurasia, but with Eastasia, and has always been at war with Eastasia, and has always been allied with Eurasia (summary). By rewriting books like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or by skipping the reading of the Three-Fifths Compromise, we are trying to erase our past.

We should be ashamed of our past, but we shouldn't deny it. We should look at it, study it, talk about it with out children, and learn from it. Be better because of it. My wife is pregnant. We're having a son. When he is old enough to understand such things, he and I will read Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer and 1984 and Animal Farm and Fahrenheit 451 and we'll talk about these things, we'll talk about our past, and he'll learn from it and be a better, smarter, more compassionate kid because of it. I'll even print up a bumper sticker - "My son is more socially nuanced than your son." But I'll never shield the past from him. He'll never learn anything that way.