The n-word is an appallingly ugly word. Is it really necessary, though, to edit the term out of an American classic because of cultural sensitivity taken to the extreme?
Political correctness is a term that left the national lexicon at least two or three years ago, but it’s still here, and it’s damaging to commonsense and maybe to national identity, as in the case with the tweaking of a national treasure.
This is unfortunate, because there are other solutions on both ends. Schools don’t need to stop teaching the book and politically correct professors don’t need to pervert the original text. Huck Finn is about a place in time, and that includes the dialect and the dialogue for the period. It might feel and read racist, but anyone who’s ever sat down with the story knows it’s about unlikely friendships and a coming of age. It’s anti-racist, yet it’s historically accurate in its language.
Huck Finn is getting the press because the n-word appears in the story 219 times, but a reworked and subverted edition of “Tom Sawyer,” also edited by the same professor, will come out at the same time. It’s sacrilegious to think a true American master like Mark Twain is being dialed down when at one point in time, literally many corners of the Western world waited in excitement for the release of his works.
Is it possible to be culturally sensitive and use the original text in a classroom at the same time. In fact, that should be the goal of every educator. But there are shortsighted, reactionary and lazy school boards, administrations and teachers around this country that don’t take the time and effort to think of educational addendums to their curriculum.
What about a day’s worth of lesson planning on dialect and giving the students a lesson in why these words were used so widely at the time and how they became taboo? Make the experience full and worth the effort on two fronts. It could be the simultaneous teaching of classic literature and culture through the eyes of yesterday and today.
That’s not PC, that providing an alternative, more well-rounded education. PC is ripping a classic apart without explanation or proper context. PC is making choices for one group at the expense of the whole. We see this all of the time in a variety of settings.
I was reading a local Christian newspaper the other day and came upon a story about a Christian iPhone/iPad application being removed from the online Apple app store because it was deemed offensive to large groups. Of course this story had a point of view, but in reading other versions of the same story over the Internet, it’s clear that Apple censors took exception with what they deemed offensive content critical of gay marriage and abortion on the basis that it would offend “large groups.”
That’s the problem with being PC; they, (we, maybe) want it both ways. Don’t deny us our rights to say what we want and believe what we want, that is, unless it offends us. No one worries about offending Christians or white people because of their history of being the oppressors. That’s not right, either.
The n-word has been out of step with most of this country for at least a couple of decades, seen as a cruel and barbaric remnant of our past. But its place in Huck Finn, a priceless and peerless part of the American literary canon, has a greater meaning. It has context, something political correctness often leaves out of the conversation.