Several years ago, I substitute taught in a high school that was in a prominently black neighborhood. The English class to teach that day happened to be a reading and discussion Of Mice and Men. As you may know, the ethnic slur of the ‘N’ word was used in the story. Reading the passage that the class had to discuss made me, being white, very uncomfortable at first, but after seeing the reaction from the class of mainly black students, I realized it was no big thing to them being it was part of the story. They were mature enough to realize that it was the story and not I reciting the word. But there are many incidents in school libraries and classroom where attempts at banning the ‘N’ word is being tried. Bowing to political correctness is threatening the original message of the Literature. Case in point.
By now, most people have heard about the new edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn being released next month. In it, the n-word has been slashed 219 times and replaced by “slave.” Discussions over this edition have been loud, particularly in literary and education circles. Erasing the n-word would, theoretically, free teachers to teach Huck Finn again. After all, year after year, the novel appears on the American Library Association’s list of most frequently challenged or banned books.
But students seem to understand better than the censors the need to keep in tact the original meaning of a great piece of literature like Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men, and To Kill a Mockingbird. In the article, N-Word Or No N-Word? That is the Question, students are asked if they should read those books as is – or have the ‘N’ word cleansed like in the new version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Their response was absolutely “No.” They understood the danger in fiddling with history. One student put it this way.
“…the n-word being replaced with slave, slave being replaced with servant, servant being replaced with assistant, assistant being replaced with secretary, and, before you know it, there were no slaves.”
“Tainting Mark Twain’s words would increasingly soften and lighten the load that he is placing on our shoulders, until the shadow of slavery and the use of the ‘n-word’ is a tall tale.”
The issue could be said no better. In my new novel MURRAN, the black street gangs use the ‘N’ word liberally. I wanted my story to be true to form, down and dirty and gritty – just like the streets.