See You Next Tuesday (N-Bomb)

See You Next Tuesday is the Boomstick's regular weekly column. Each Tuesday, I bring you the week's most laughable scumbags, idiots, and jerks for your reading and reviling pleasure. See previous editions here.

The subject of today's See You Next Tuesday is:

N-Bombs: Away!

An Alabama publisher has decided to remove every usage of the "n-word" from their edition of the The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  The word, which occurs over 200 times in Mark Twain's Reconstruction classic, is being replaced with "slave" (the word "Injun" is being replaced with "Indian"). Notably, neither one of the replacement words is the preferred nomenclature for a minority, so it seems the publishers have taken it upon themselves to hold a referendum on the lingering appropriateness of racial descriptors. And that's not even my snarkiest comment.

"Whatcha thinkin' 'bout, slave?"
Even a cursory glance over the publishers' comments reveals a gaping flaw in their reasoning.  With seeming equanimity, the book's editor, Dr. Alan Gribben, said
"We may applaud Twain's ability as a prominent American literary realist to record the speech of a particular region during a specific historical era...but abusive racial insults that bear distinct connotations of permanent inferiority nonetheless repulse modern-day readers."
He goes on to say, "The n-word possessed, then as now, demeaning implications more vile than almost any insult that can be applied to other racial groups..."

Wait a minute, "connotations of permanent inferiority?" "Then as now?" Isn't that exactly why Twain chose to use the n-word in the first place, because it connoted inferiority and accurately portrayed the hostility between blacks and whites in the Reconstruction South?  Twain chose the word -- that word -- because it's what people said to each other; it's what really happened.  He didn't make it up for shock value.  And the fact that the n-bomb is still an expression we shroud in euphemisms means, miraculously, that the book's core dialogue can still resonate with readers.

Speaking of racist, how 'bout Asian Mickey Rooney?
Stupidly, Dr. Gribben doesn't argue that the word has become more incendiary or degrading over time; and he doesn't argue that n-bomb's offensiveness is now disproportionate to its literary value.  Instead, Dr. Gribben argues that because the word has not been diluted over time, because the word retains its power to shock and affect readers, it should be changed.  This is exactly the kind of argument you get from someone who couldn't even teach at the real Auburn.

Dr. Gribben claims that replacing the n-bomb will put Huckleberry Finn back on school reading lists, because absent the change, teachers like himself "recoil" to read that word.  You know what else is a word that makes some people recoil? "Douchenozzle." But I have a feeling Dr. Gribben better get used to that one.
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Write comments
January 18, 2011 at 10:08 PM delete

People don't understand satire, which is an endemic problem that goes far beyond this debate, and so extremely frustrating. Taking out the n-word completely neuters the book. Huck uses that word because he is an ignorant kid raised under a corrupt ideology. His epiphany at the end of the novel is basically, "I'll help a slave even if it means I'll go to hell." It's such a powerful ethical choice...and a huge moral transformation. Even without the intelligence to make an informed decision that slavery is wrong, Huck is able to come to the decision that, even if slavery is right, he wants no part of it. It's an inspiring, transcendent moment...and it's totally blunted if the damned kid isn't allowed to be as fully ignorant as intended throughout the novel. Which is what people don't seem to get. Huck narrates the book. He's using the n-word, but he's a fictional fucking character and he's using it so that the author of the book he stars in can point out how backwards he is.

January 19, 2011 at 12:02 AM delete

Don't forget that not all black people were slaves. With this retarded change, in addition to neutering the satire, the editors are making an idiotic assumption that black people = slaves. Good job you racist editors.

January 19, 2011 at 1:58 PM delete

Exactly. Here's a passage at random from an online full text, which I've taken the liberty of editing:

"Jim was monstrous proud about it, and he got so he wouldn't hardly notice the other slaves. Slaves would come miles to hear Jim tell about it, and he was more looked up to than any slave in that country. Strange slaves would stand with their mouths open and look him all over, same as if he was a wonder. Slaves is always talking about witches in the dark by the kitchen fire; but whenever one was talking and letting on to know all about such things, Jim would happen in and say, "Hm! What you know 'bout witches?" and that slave was corked up and had to take a back seat."

February 2, 2011 at 12:50 AM delete

Shall I play devil's advocate?

I once read aloud a passage from Huck to my 11th grade students and when I got to the n-word (I kind of played it up a little to make the point) everyone was really uncomfortable. One girl left the room, crying. It was a thing.

Even in a less dramatic school last year, we read parts of it, and, I mean, every teacher in the country already has their kids replace the word with something else (like "man" in my case, which I grant you is a pussy move) when they're reading it aloud.

So if you already agree to replace the word, and do it in a way that you still notice every single time that word gets used - so you're still thinking about it, you don't forget about it - how is that different from knowing that the editor here already replaced it for you?


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