Sunday, January 9, 2011

Huck's in News Again

It's all over the internet -- apparently NewSouth Books is coming out with a censored version of Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a version that removes racial slurs and replaces them with more "acceptable" words. The pros and cons of this move are many.  Detractors cry censorship; defenders argue that TV censors movies all the time to make them acceptable to a wider audience, how is this any different? Defenders say the basic story has not changed with the removal of the few blatantly racist words that keep this book on the challenged list and out of the hands of many students.   Detractors of the bowdlerized version say that the words were there for a reason -- they show the true nature of our racist past and they're important.

What do I think?  I guess it depends on how you view Twain and his works -- did his books illustrate his own racism, or did they critique the racism of his time?  Scholars have debated that question for decades, and I certainly won't attempt to answer it here.  And, I have to admit that I've read accounts of African Americans who were forced to read Huck Finn in school and cringed at the racist language.  They felt humiliated in front of their white teachers and classmates.  I'm sure the same would hold true for any Native American children in the same situation.  Since I'm white, I can't really know how that would feel, so I don't think it's really my call.

Still, I'm interested in what's behind the desire to remove the racial slurs from the text.  Whether these words are included or not, the depictions of the people of color in the novel are clearly racist (or a clever critique of racism, depending on your belief about the author).  So it seems to me that by including the book in school curriculum, but removing a few racist words, we're saying that we want our kids to learn about our nation's racist history, but we don't want them to be too uncomfortable as they learn it.  And we certainly don't want to disrupt the comfort level of the white teachers who will teach this work.  After all, we wouldn't want anyone to feel guilty about racism, would we?

No comments:

Post a Comment