Friday, January 7, 2011

John McWhorter: Sanitizing Huck Finn Insults Black People

On Twitter, someone asked me had I seen CNN's Parker/Spitzer show tonight. I had not, but since I was told about it I kept my eye out, and wowsers! What a great conversation. From leaving the 18th amendment out of the reading of the Constitution to sanitizing Huckleberry Finn, the panelists were deep.

Thank you to Nubia Qua on Twitter. If she hadn't told me, I might have missed it. Yesterday I posted a link over there to the post I wrote about stripping the "N" word from an edition of Huckleberry Finn. I said that it's not so much political correctness gone astray as it is more revisionist history rising from the South. Dixie wants to rewrite itself with strategic sleight of hand.

In the CNN video, a man who I think is brilliant, linguist John McWhorter, says more or less that NewSouth Books' desire to remove the "N" word from Twain's classic and replace it with the word "slave" is paternal racism. What he said specifically is that removing the word is an insult to black people's intelligence, students' intelligence, and shows a lack of faith in teachers. My points exactly.

Culture critic Michaela Angela Davis was also on the panel and she pegged not only the foolishness with Huckleberry Finn to be another example of revisionism, but also the choice of Republicans to not have the 18th amendment read during yesterday's GOP-orchestrated reading of the Constitution in Congress. The 18th amendment condoned slavery.

Davis said that the beauty of America is that it grows, and "when you take the horror out of history, when we recover from it it doesn't feel as triumphant, and certainly slavery was horror." Furthermore, she said something akin to talking about race gets on people's nerves and so they avoid it because if they talked about it, it might show them things they don't want to see.

Spitzer said the people who have been talking about the Constitution as though only originalist understand it tend to not have evolution as part of their world view, and so they have difficulty understanding that anything grows or evolves.

The group also discussed that this theatrical fanfare with the reading was a GOP hat tip to the Tea Party, a thank you to them for getting more Republicans into Congress. However, they said these attempts to sanitize the past and edit out words backfired because we're talking about topic we may not have even thought about if the Republicans had not been intent on grandstanding and that southern publisher did not announce it wanted to scrub Huck Finn free of its historical language.


Anonymous said...

This is all about limiting Free Speech. After all, censorship is everywhere. The gov’t (and their big business cronies) censor free speech, shut down dissent and ban the book “America Deceived II”. Free speech for all, especially Mark Twain.
Last link (before Google Books bans it also]:

msladydeborah said...

I love good food for thought.

Lisa Paul said...

Mark Twain was one of the few White writers/intellectuals to confront and condemn racism in a meaningful way. And he did it decades and decades before anyone else. To censor his greatest work -- where he makes his boldest case against racism -- is abhorrent. It's clearly more about discomfort with our dark past and a wish to "whitewash" it.