You know, the world is a funny place and we, as its (supposedly) most intelligent and evolved life form, have to navigate it and all of the perilous, humanly fucked up societal terrain that comes with.
Hearing the news that a select potion of our educated and elite want to run a medium-toothed comb through Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, replacing every instance of the n-word with an innocuous “slave” left me feeling everything from annoyed to cold to sad and back to annoyed again. I had to put the topic away until I could be a little less rude about it in writing (I shouldn’t write when I’m cranky…nothing good comes from it). A section of my brain and its inherent blackness can logically process the intent: an antiquated word of ugliness and insult used primarily to distinguish and partition the worth of the likes of “me” from the worth of the likes of “you”. But that’s where the accord ends.
You might think it odd that the removing “nigger” from future copies of a novel read the world over actually bothers me, but there it is and it really does. What madness is this?
The madness is the concept that that the word has outlived its usefulness. Yes, educated and elite, the word has no place in today’s conversation while waiting in line at Starbucks, no matter how many fucktard rappers and boys of the block let it flow from their lips as freely as saying, “What’s up?” But it has every place in the conversation that is Huckleberry Finn. As novels go, there’s a reason why it became a classic, and that reason being that it was…is a true narrative of its time. A true conversation of an ill that this country suffered from, an ill that this country suffered upon people like me. Each authored and character-spoken instance of that word from the good citizens in the book wasn’t anything close to gratuitous or flagrant; instead, it was the natural vernacular. And in its reading today, as it was then, it only makes the reader examine where we came from. Suck it up, people, and acknowledge that we as a country were kind of fucked up, yet considered ourselves extremely God-fearing, loving, and simultaneously righteous. Not talking or reading about it won’t make it go away.
No, I don’t think that we should belabor or wallow in the point of slavery because- guess what?- it’s over. Has been for quite some time and I, personally, don’t think we shall overcome: I think we have. But Mr. Twain had a way with his words in the tales that he spun. And he knew that we would feel them and flinch just so. Hell, I flinch when someone is stupid enough to use the word within earshot. But Twain’s gift was his framing and satirization of reality, no matter how harsh, while helping it’s reader understand it.
And that is great literature’s gift to us: understanding. Not whitewashing, eliminating, sugar coating or denying no matter how much one would like to look away. Now with Huck Finn under the editor’s pen, one has to wonder how long before Alex Haley’s epic, generational Roots or The Autobiography of Malcolm X gets the same treatment. Don’t go there, people. Don’t even think about it.