Sunday, January 9, 2011
Recently read Susan Orlean's January 7 blog entry about the use of the N-word. In it, she refers to the new edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that replaces the word "nigger" with "slave." When I first heard about this new edition, I was too furious to give it much attention, but Ms. Orlean's sensitive and intelligent article recalled my attention to this absurd new development of political correctness, and I feel the need to put in my two cents.
"Nigger" is a word that is almost unique in American English. I say "almost" because there is one other word that —in a segment of the American population, men of my age— is comparable: "gook." The primary meaning of "nigger" in America is "a person who may be hung simply for speaking out." "Gook" denotes, for (Vietnam-era) American men of my age, "a person who may be shot for target practice." Neither word is acceptable to anyone who claims to be human, because to be human is of logical necessity to acknowledge the humanity of other humans. However, we cannot deny the past.
To exclude either word from reportage of the past is to deny the history of slavery or of the extreme racism of the Vietnam War. Imagine a history of the Vietnam War that purports to be an accurate depiction of that war that does not include the word "gook." It is not possible to understand that war without an understanding of the word "gook," and it is not possible to understand slavery in America without an understanding of the word "nigger." If anyone anywhere at any time cares to explain to future generations what slavery in the US was (for whatever reason, but hopefully to get beyond it) one must use that foul word just as one must use the word "gook" in any explanation of the Vietnam War.
One might suggest that Mark Twain did not, in writing Huck Finn, understand the import of the N-word. If anyone, perhaps an idiotic librarian or an unqualified school superintendent or an especially slimy politician, alleges that Mark Twain did not fully comprehend the N-word, I recommend to that person the reading of "A True Story, Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It." If one can read this piece and still claim that Clemens' work ought to be adjusted by the profiteers who edited Huck Finn, then I suggest that one should stop reading this post and go seek a vision of the Blessed Virgin in one's slice of pizza —which action will, I guarantee, make more sense than trying to tell Mark Twain how to write about racism.