The 'N' Word is Good

I’ve never considered myself a white person. I know, weird, right? The world looks at me and thinks, “White girl.” It’s not that I think I’m not white, or am something else, I just don’t align myself that way. But being Jewish, I always felt in the minority, and add to that, growing up in the sixties with very dark skin, I was called the ‘N’ word more than once.
I grew up in a house where my mom considered the ‘N’ word worse than the ‘F’ word. I can curse like a truck driver, but I don’t think I’ve ever said the ‘N’ word aloud. Even reading it is hard for me. Hearing it makes me cringe (as does the ‘K’ word and other Really Bad slurs). My kids, who are big rap fans and hear it hundreds of times a day, do not share my feelings about the ‘N’ word. They’re used to it, it’s familiar so it’s become just another word.
Which could be a good thing. But I have a big but. (A big BUT. No extra ‘T’ there, okay, so calm down.)
BUT here I am, defending the use of this word. Why? Because the publishers of Huck Finn are taking it out and replacing it with the word “slave”. They’re also taking out “injun” and replacing with “indian”. Have we gotten so politically correct that classic works of art must be altered? If subtle smiles became bad form, would we take a paintbrush to the Mona Lisa? If big naked men were a bad thing would we topple The David? (Okay, probably a bad example, but it was fun to imagine, so sue me.)
My point is, Huck Finn is social commentary of a time in history. Mark Twain’s time, not ours. We think the ‘N’ word is unconscionable, but Twain used it to illustrate the ignorance and the horror of slavery. Take it out and where is his intent?
Why alter Mark Twain’s work now? Imagine this happens in 100 years to the work that is coming out now. You going to take the rape out of SPEAK? The holocaust out of THE DEVIL’S ARITHMATIC?
I could go on, but I gotta go listen to some rap music.

Recent Comments

  • Ben Woodard
    January 5, 2011 - 10:24 am · Reply

    I like your comments, Katie, and mostly agree. But I'm conflicted too. When I was young the word was used in everyday speech. My mother would not allow my brother and I to use the word, but we did. Everybody did – at least in the south. And it was pure racism. Designed to demean and insult. Once I used it in front of a young black man I worked with. His response – sadness and disappointment – convinced me to never use it again, or accept anyone else using it. Maybe to the young folks, white and black, it is no big deal. But to people my age, again black and white, the word cuts like a knife. I don't want "Huck" changed, but I sure understand why they did it.

  • Katie Davis
    January 5, 2011 - 10:31 am · Reply

    My point was not that people should be using the N word now. I was trying to say that in that work it illustrates how heinous a word it is, and that is why it should stay as Mark Twain wrote it.

    It is the point of many rap artists to use the word as an empowerment, overtaking the ownership by using it, which I can understand, and that is why my kids don't see how bad a word it is…or was, at least. Again exactly why it should remain in the text, or will we be doomed to repeat history? We shouldn't forget. As for the title, I named the entry as I did as simply an attention getting incendiary thing.

  • Debbie Reese
    January 13, 2011 - 5:03 pm · Reply

    I did an analysis of "Injuns" and "Indians" in TOM SAWYER. Changing that word does nothing. In fact, I think it makes it worst.

    Here's my (long) analysis.

    I'm a tribally enrolled Pueblo Indian woman, and a professor in American Indian Studies.

  • Katie Davis
    January 13, 2011 - 5:06 pm · Reply

    Debbie, I really, really wish you would call in to my toll free number and leave a comment about this. It's fascinating. You can talk as long as you need to (to a point! Ha!) But I will use the recording in my interview with Dr. Alan Gribben tomorrow. Just call and leave whatever you want at 888-522-1929. Thanks!

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