by Steve on January 5, 2011

Huck Finn has been washed. No more “nigger”. The offensive word has been replaced with “slave” to save our children from needless exposure. Twain’s classic satire of racism has been controversial since it was first published in 1884 causing great discomfort to libraries and school boards across the country. This new edition, published by NewSouth Books, is just the first step at cleaning up the documentation of our past. In its original form Twain’s work shines a spotlight on a particularly ugly chapter of American history. By obscuring that focus we run the risk of missing the point entirely. To paraphrase Santayana, those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. By cleaning up the satire we reduce its effect, it loses its punch. Racism is ugly, its language is ugly, what could we possibly gain by applying a fresh coat of paint? Twain’s lessons need to maintain their edge so they are not forgotten.

We attack literature and yet we allow modern broadcasting to pollute every minute of our children’s lives unchecked. If we attempt to remove everything that we find slightly offensive to anyone, where will it stop? There are many passages in the Bible and Koran that if literally interpreted within the context of modern society are inappropriate by the same standards applied to Twain. So do we teach or do we sanitize?

I don’t like the word in question and never have because I learned what it meant within the context of our history. If today’s children don’t have Twain to counter MTV they may not realize that what they are hearing on TV is actually a racial slur and not an acceptable noun. Growing up in one of the top-rated public school systems in Ohio I had friends and classmates who happened to be black. It didn’t occur to me to think anything about it. Don’t assume Cincinnati is immune to racism, the city has had some violent riots over the years but I viewed those as a result of poverty and drugs not race.

This dialog is beyond old. At what point to we get to stop accusing and apologizing for our ancestors’ behavior? How many generations must pass before we get to put it behind us forever? Two, three, ten? There are some civil rights activists that make a damn fine living perpetuating a past that most Americans agree was wrong and would like to place on the shelf. We have become so overly sensitized that we no longer say what we mean and mean what we say. Life is confusing enough without twisting it even further so some 20 years ago we coined the term “political correctness” or PC to set new rules on what was acceptable behavior.

I find political correctness offensive and counter productive. The term is an oxymoron to start with and virtually impossible to achieve: what is acceptable for most will not be acceptable for all. We need to teach the lessons of history as they happened not as we prefer they might have occurred.

Now if you will excuse me I must go find a native Susquehannock or Shawnee and apologize for the entire Ambrose clan and any offenses they may have committed as they pushed west across Maryland back in the 1700’s. While I’m at it I might as well travel back to the old country, the disputed border between France and Germany, since I’m sure there was blood spilled. And then there’s Grammy’s side of Scottish origin – remember Mel Gibson in Braveheart. I have a lot of work to do!

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