Friday, January 7, 2011

Political Correctness or Censorship?

Earlier this week, Publishers' Weekly announced that an upcoming edition of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn being released by NewSouth Books would have all uses of the "n" word removed. The new book will also remove all traces of the word "Injun."

This redux, being spearheaded by Twain expert Alan Gribben, isn't intended to whitewash the book, but rather "update" it. As Gribben said, "Race matters in these books. It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century."

Huck Finn is one of the most vilified and misunderstood literary classics, and is frequently a target of banning by overzealous parents and school systems who would rather criticize the book than put the language in context for students.

Isn't providing context and interpretation one of the purposes teachers and parents should serve? Wouldn't reading this book—complete with its racially and culturally insensitive language—be a counterpoint to a terrific dialogue about how words can hurt, and the history of how these words have been used, especially for a generation that hears the "n" word in myriad rap songs?

I understand how emotionally charged these words are, but in this case, they have a historical context. Mark Twain was not a racist; he was using words germane to the book's setting and time. While some may argue that children shouldn't be exposed to anything that uses words like these, I believe that hiding them from reality doesn't do them any good.

In an article on Entertainment Weekly's web site, Keith Staskiewicz said "It’s a little disheartening to see a cave-in to those who would ban a book simply because it requires context. On the other hand, if this puts the book into the hands of kids who would not otherwise be allowed to read it due to forces beyond their control (overprotective parents and the school boards they frighten), then maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge."

Explain. Don't censor or pretend it never happened. That's the only way to ensure it doesn't happen again.

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