Question of the Month
Removing the N-Word from Huck Finn
Q: Huck Finn is a classic and now some liberal do-gooder wants to tarnish it by removing the so-called N-word. Funny how I hear this word everywhere I go. What's next, taking the word Jew out of the Merchant of Venice?
--Kyle Rumstead - Tucson, Arizona
A: The removal of the n-word from Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn has caused complete outrage, shock, and outcries of sorts all across the American landscape. If the term is removed from historical texts, which were written during and work to convey the reality of the times - depicting the distorted face and broken planes of America's overall past psyche, how can we expect children to learn real history, and hence, the meaning and importance of societal progress, if it is sanitized or veiled ... resonates from the voices of the malcontent.
I agree with those who are concerned about history being distorted and sanitized, but my concerns extend far beyond Huckleberry Finn. As belated scholar Dr. Asa Hilliard would constantly say about present day historical literature, "We have a truth problem." Indeed we do! The effort should not be to erase the past, but to embrace it - in all its good and bad - and learn from it, leaving the negative aspects in the past, not erasing them.
The effort should be to show our current generations the ignorance that was acted out in the past, the sickness the use of the n-word bores in all, and how to effectively proceed today by eradicating the n-word from their use. The truth in history is suppose to make us stronger and serve as a fundamental building block for improvement, however, when one looks at Hip Hop culture, the opposite is manifested.
The truth of the matter is that when it comes to slavery and the n-word, history has ALWAYS been sanitized and distorted in efforts to lighten the deliberate blows of hate, hostility and genocide that were carried out against blacks. It's as if the historians are saying slavery was bad, but not that bad. Honestly, it is somewhat an irreverence to be sanctimonious about the removal of the n-word from Huck Finn and fail to exhibit the same concerns about American history overall.
In the time when Mark Twain wrote the classic, slaves were not perceived as having the same human qualities as whites. Even though "n**ger" has always been used as a derogatory term, it became so commonly accepted that it was used synonymously with the word "slave" or just common reference to blacks. As such, it rolled just as easily off the tongue of Jim as it did of Huck and society in general.
Just as with today's contemporary blacks, the n-word rolls off the tongues of many rather easily and effortlessly. However, the problem is that blacks tend to forget or downplay the original meaning of the n-word as it applied to their ancestors. A "n**ger" was looked upon as lacking human qualities, 3/5 of a person, sub-human and a bestial savage beast who needed to be tamed. N**ger was symbolized as something inferior to the rest of humankind, a place where anyone of black origin belonged. Hence the phrase, don't forget your place, n**ger. Black African Americans who embraces the term makes a mockery of the sacred memories, struggles and sacrifices of their dearly beloved ancestry.
To be succinct, mentally and emotionally scarred descendants of slavery are so severely psychologically disturbed that they have become immune to the idea of debasing themselves and think nothing of defining themselves with a word that is drenched in ignorance, death, terror and bloodshed. Excuses that are being tendered, otherwise, serves as testimony of a lack of intestinal fortitude to deal with reality.
As irony would have it, Mark Twain illustrates a point that a truly free person would never want to wear the name given to him by someone who hates him. And I repeat - a TRULY free person - which is very significant. A point seemingly lost upon today's black users of the pejorative term and those who condone such use.
Many rap artists like Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy and a host of others use the word in their music to supposedly entertain their audiences. Their songs may seem harmless because they use the word in a context of camaraderie and friendship. However, there are inherent and chilling similarities to the self-destructive messages in gangsta rap and the indoctrination techniques used in the days of chattel slavery to corrupt the minds of an enslaved race of people.
The founder of BET made a fortune by spreading a culture of gangster rap, with its glorification of violence, denigration of women, saggin' pants, use of the n-word and the perpetuation of a dysfunctional vocabulary that all but ensured that countless young Black people will never be able to get through a job interview. Not a murmur of concern erupted from the Black community; the n-word is removed from Huck Finn and the floodgate opens up denouncing the dismissal of the incorrigible term; this goes beyond the comprehension of logic.
The Huckleberry Finn "n- word" episode pales in comparison to perhaps the most blatant distortion and sanitization of history. Much about the n-word's sinister history has been suppressed and erased from the academic approved history books limiting at least 95% of contemporary Americans' knowledge of the word as being nothing more than a racial slur, to demean, degrade and insult.
N**ga which is a ghetto vernacular for n**ger is so stigmatized that trying to redefine it suggests that all the death, terror, bloodshed and mental abuse associated with it never happened. But the fact is it did. Hip hop culture serves as a shining example of what happens when one is left in the dark about their history, a history that has been sanitized and distorted.
He who forgets the past is doomed to repeat it. There was not only a physical enslavement of a people, but the aspect regarding the barbaric and brutal methods used to MENTALLY enslave them as well, has been whitewashed, sanitized and virtually expunged from the teachings of American history. Where is the outcry and concern? Does it need to be pointed out that mental enslavement is the worst form of slavery?
Millions of Black African Americans - men, women, AND children - were viciously beaten, raped, castrated and/or murdered and categorizing them as n**gers in some twisted way was suppose to make all committed acts okay. Clearly, a 300-year African-American Holocaust took place and yet the term is not being used anywhere in American History; there has been no out break of hysteria, remove the n-word from Huck Finn and you would think the sky is falling. The hypocrisy of it all is asphyxiating.
There is a blanket of sorts enveloping certain aspects of slavery and the n-word with the blessings of both black and white America simply because they can't handle the pain of it all. This quandary makes it even more paramount to understand the pain that black children, whenever grossly outnumbered in a classroom, are experiencing - having to suffer through a reading of Huck Finn, and how unfair it is to subject them to such an ordeal. Why is it that so many Black African Americans are willing to sacrifice their very own in their anxiety to preserve and protect their use of the scurrilous n-word (n**ga)?
February 2011 response courtesy of H. Lewis Smith, Founder/CEO, United Voices for a Common Cause - theunitedvoices.com