Commentary | Censoring the N-word

Removing racist slurs from Huck Finn covers up racist brutality

Grade 11 American History class. I had obviously heard the word before, in movies, hundreds of times in rap, and in literature, but this was new. That class marked the first time I heard the word “nigger” used in an academic context by a teacher. I suspect it was the first time for many of my classmates, too. The atmosphere in the class became menacing. A black student asked to leave, someone chuckled awkwardly, and the teacher explained.

The lesson was clear: in an academic sense, when appropriate, the term could be used. As I moved on from high school and into McGill, I faced this situation again in Gil Troy’s course, American History from 1865.. This time, the response was far more casual. He did offer a disclaimer of sorts, explaining that the use of the word was crucial to the attitude toward black people at the time. But the disclaimer wasn’t needed. We understood.

The time that Troy made reference to was the 19th century. The century of the Civil War, the freeing of the slaves, and the creation of the KKK. But also, the time of Mark Twain, one of the greatest American authors. And now, in the 21st century, Mark Twain is still relevant as ever. In the last week a storm of controversy has been brewing over the publication of a new version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This version is identical to all others, save one thing: all uses of the word “nigger” and “injun” have been swapped with more “politically correct” terms, like slave.

In swapping a mere 219 words, the editors at the ironically-named publishing company NewSouth have perverted this American classic. The whole thing is a scam, a get-rich-quick scheme for the swine at NewSouth. But really, it is brilliant in an uncomfortable sense. With the rampant explosion of the abuse of political correctness, there is sure to be a few quacks that will purchase this edition. NewSouth has every legal right to publish this censored version of Twain, since the copyright has long expired. But the right to speak doesn’t guarantee an audience, and I would not purchase this diluted edition.

While the changes to the novel took little effort, they represent a major change to the novel’s atmosphere. Just as Troy explained in his lecture, the use of the word “nigger” was critical in depciting the treatment of blacks that Twain’s classic so brilliantly portrayed. By stripping the novel of the word, the abuse of blacks at the hands of whites is glossed over and mitigated. While this may serve to the purposes of spineless teachers and readers unable to handle the truths conveyed in the novel, it does not do justice to history, nor to the obstacles black Americans overcame.

The history of the mistreatment of blacks in America cannot be covered up or distorted. Political correctness should not hold precedence over the truth. Truth must reign – now, and always.

Davide Mastracci is a U0 Arts student. You can reach him at davide.mastracci@mail.mcgill.ca.


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