Saturday, December 03, 2005
It is interesting that even in 2005 many school districts are still afraid of including Huckleberry Finn and many other previously banned books even in a historical reference. It is also interesting that many people find the "n" word offensive in Huck Finn but tolerate that "n" word as well as other derogatory language about black people when it is written by black authors. I had a whole two semesters of African American Literature at the university and was amazed at the lanugage in much of it and the offensive "n" word was all through the studied literature. Mark Twain is wrong for using it, but it is okay for someone like Toni Morrison or August Wilson because they are black? I have been in classes where heated discussions have taken place over this issue.
The university I went to was about 60% African American and African American Literature was, and still is a requirement to graduate. Most of the black students felt that Morrison (who I admire tremendously as a woman and an author) and other black authors had a right to write the "n" word straight out because they are black and they understand the history of how it has been used to hurt. In addition, they thought it was okay to use this word in joking or calling other black people "N"...but white people are not allowed since the intention of that word would be different. This in turn stirred up the white folks who said they do not go around calling other white people "honkey" but black people call each other "n". We white people had a difficult time understanding that. As far as the literature goes, in my Mark Twain class when we read Huck Finn the black folks said they still CRINGE at the word when they read it, which I can understand completely. However, I do not understand why they cringe at the word when reading a book from the 1800s and then read the same word in modern literature or hear it from comedians and not cringe. We never came to any resolution to this word question in any of my classes where it was discussed. Maybe they cringe at earlier literature with that word because back then because people really DID mean it as derogatory? I guess maybe white people will never understand because we are not black.
Students should be smart enough to understand that these authors are attempting in good faith to capture the real language of their characters. To change the language is to lessen the power of the language needed to convey what is going on inside a character's mind and also to show who a character really is. If we are going to water down literature for fear of offending someone, then we may as well not write or read at all.