thinking with my outside voice | huck finn and the “n” word

(First, let me say I stole this from my blog friend Katie, who posted this today in her new blog, Which Was Completely Delightful. If you read this, do me a favor and click over to visit, or to her other blog, Kitchen Door.)

“America is afraid of its past. Whether it’s how it treated Native Americans, women or black people, it is constantly trying to reframe, color or flat-out ignore major aspects of our history. America, in its constant obsession with being seen as “awesome,” will actively try to Photoshop its own historical portrait. The fear is that to acknowledge the past is to take the blame for it. If we take the word ‘nigger’ out of the classic “Huckleberry Finn” then our kids won’t see it and then we don’t have to talk about it.”

Elon James White on the “epithet free version” of Huck Finn

(Kim again) Here’s the deal, they are taking the “N” word out of Huckleberry Finn. Which makes it easier to read, and makes it a nice coming of age story. Not a story about race and prejudice and and fear. Which it really is, once you get past the white picket fence.

Alex just read Huck Finn for her honors English class. Kate read it with her, up in Canada (she really does get extra big sister points for stuff like this). They talked about it. We talked about it. Our dinner conversation included questions like, “Did your parents or grandparents ever use that word?” (And the answer was, yes, some of them did.) “What did they mean by it? How did they really feel about black people, and Asians (which all of our grandparents called “orientals”). And what did people call them, our Italian grandparents?”

We talked about my family history, and those who may or may not have had slaves. Clearly I am still in some denial over that issue.

We talked about other labels that were common….fag, retard, and slut.

And we talked about change. How people change, and how language can impact that change.

And that conversation wouldn’t have happened without the “N” word.

It’s distasteful, and it makes me cringe. And it’s part of who we are as Americans. Just like change.


About kim tackett

Northern CA marketing consultant, writer of very small stories, and drinker of very strong coffee.
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One Response to thinking with my outside voice | huck finn and the “n” word

  1. LisaF says:

    I don’t agree with sanitizing literature just to be politically correct. Yes, Huck Finn is crude in the sense that it uses the “n-word.” The story deals with lots of racial prejudice. To exclude part of this vernacular is to judge the writing of that day by our standards. I believe a better way for educators to deal with this is to read it in context and take the opportunity to discuss the many aspects of it. One very important aspect is Huck’s attitude transformation. As Huck and Jim go through lot together, Huck learns to respect Jim as a human being, changing his cultural stereotype. What a great lesson to learn.

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