The local station ran a “good question” piece (where they address some question they deem as good) to ask: “Is it OK to edit a classic” but they really were speaking of “is it OK to take the N-word out of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (and, as one proposal goes, replace it with the word “slave.”)
I would love to know what you think. The web page with this piece has a number of comments already. Here’s a sampling, labeled by me in Categories of Complaint:
The reference to arbitrary overarching roolz that always apply to everything:
No, it’s not ever OK to edit a classic.
The Domino Theory:
Editing is just another way to say they are censoring what you or i or anyone else can read! whether it is politically correct today or not, this book was written in time when such stuff was the norm. so i say hands off!! or tell me what you are going to edit next!!!
Appeal to higher standards in places where they aren’t, and Fear of the Oriental:
This is far worse then when Steven Speelturd edited the guns into walky-talkies in the new release of ET. They are destroying the historical nature and true words of the book. I would expect this in China but not here.
Link idea to Libruls and thus identify it as wrong:
Liberal Elites run everything, this is wrong on so many levels. There are many things I would like to see edited, particularily when my faith has been attacked by some “artist” and their vulger displays. Someone let me know how I can get things edited, it didn’t take much effort for this guy.
If I scream at you you’ll back off:
NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO EDITING OR CENSORING. DONT READ/WATCH/LISTEN TO IT IF YOU DONT LIKE IT.
The If We Don’t Do This It Will Hurt Really Bad So Let’s Not Do It So It Hurts Really Bad argument:
It is important to leave books as written by the author, especially ones with such historical significance. There is a reason that we need to avoid using the N-word, and it isn’t because rappers use it, they are taking back the term and empowering themselves with it (that doesn’t mean it is alright for us white folk to say it). It is because it was part and parcel of a culture which enslaved an entire people based on color and treated them as beasts of burden. We need to see and be reminded that culture existed and that it’s consequences have echoed into the future. Slave is still a weighted term, but the N-word demonstrates slavery was not simply a prison class of people, but a people treated as non-human. We should not shy away from confronting the horrors humans have inflicted upon each other simply to make the conversation easier. If schools are not prepared to teach complicated issues, one wonders what the point of their existence is. Real education is not just spelling and arithmetic, computers can do that for us, it is critical thinking.
Appeal To The Sanctity Of What I Know the Founding Fathers Were Thinking:
Wasn’t our country founded on the principles of “freedom of speech” and “freedom of the press”? Censorship is what the Nazis did in WWII and it’s what happens in socialist/communist nations. Do we really want to go there?
The Don’t Ever Ignore Reality (and if you don’t agree with me you’re stupid) argument:
Not OK-definitely. Shall we just ignore history and modify the way things were, or acknowledge it and learn from it? Duh-the choice is simple.
The If You Libruls Don’t Shut Up We’ll Ban YOU!!!11!! argument:
Liberals and their thought and speech police. You can’t even bring yourself to use THE word in your story. The N word. The F word. When people read this you think the real word doesn’t appear in their minds? Pretty soon the L word will be banned. The only words OK are those that disparage the things or people that liberals want disparaged.
And so on.
Now, while you are mulling over these comments, let me mention this: I read the comments on this web site for many stories, because this is where I live and I want to have an idea of what people are thinking. I can tell you with certainty that the vast majority of commenters on WCCO are deeply and often overtly racist. You know that most “liberals” (academics in the language and critical areas), including me, generally prefer to NOT edit things, and conservatives are all about telling others what to think. And you can see the language used in these comments. Clearly, screaming that “nigger” be used in a text that we require our children to read is not for these folks an issue of censorship. It is an issue of forcing kids of color to be uncomfortable in our classrooms.
There may be many different reasons that people want to see Twain left untouched, but one of them is a clearly racist reason. I myself think the word can be safely removed from this text, if the text is important enough to teach in schools to younger kids. The fact that it is removed can be explained and discussed. It can be an isolated experiment that will not cause civilization to end.
Or not. But then, it is not entirely unreasonable to chose among the many possibilities a different text. Maybe something by Annie Burton or perhaps Bethany Veney’s narrative.
Some insight from the use of the “K-word” (which is Kaffir, the equivalent to Nigger in South Africa). I once ran across this work on a menu in a chain restaurant. I got it removed.
In the old days, “Kaffir” came to mean, in southern Africa, any of the dark skinned native people who lived there (in other words, southern Africans not from Europe or various parts of Asia). It has a more complex history that this, but what I just said is true. I have maps that show “Kaffir land” in areas that are known to have been non-colonized regions, for instance. The fact that it was common for Europeans to think of Africans as inferior (a feeling that is still found among the white folks, even the educate ones links “kaffir” to this sort of racism, but it is probably true that “kaffir” was just the word that as used in this context, much like “nigger” in the 19th century in certain contexts. But, that sense of racism has become isolated in modern times and identified as wrong. And thus, “nigger” and “kaffir” both have become justifiably vilified as words.
This does not justify removing the words from old literature at all. But, in the case of stories of the day used in school to illustrate 19th century literature in middle school or high school English classes, there seems to be no great harm. This is nota matter of “allowing censorship” and leading us to the edge of some great abyss. It is simply avoiding the result of making a lot of people feeling uncomfortable. I’m pretty sure that an argument to insist on keeping the “nigger” in Twain is just as often made as a matter of racism as it is a matter of protecting our literature from Bowdlerization.