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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Censorship changing classic American literature

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Publishers NewSouth are planning to re-release "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" -- but plans for the re-release call for a less inflammatory version of Mark Twain's text.

Considered among the greatest pieces of American literature, Twain's 19th century works are being sanitized and cleaned-up so they can be a bit more sensitive to verbiage considered unacceptable in 21st century society.

By sanitized and cleaned-up, I mean the publishers are removing the many references to the "N"-word and "IN"-word.

I'm sure most of you are familiar with the N-word. If not, may I suggest about five minutes of rap to provide a good working knowledge of its use.

As far as the IN word, it is a derogatory reference to someone of American Indian descent - like myself - INjun.

Alan Gribben, editor of the NewSouth edition explained the decision to make the change - incorporating the word "slave" in their place - during a recent interview with Publishers Weekly : "After a number of talks, I was sought out by local teachers, and to a person they said we would love to teach this novel, and Huckleberry Finn, but we feel we can't do it anymore. In the new classroom, it's really not acceptable...For a single word to form a barrier, it seems such an unnecessary state of affairs."

I understand the concern, I really do. I find the N-word as repugnant and disgusting a term as the next civilized person - bigots and racists excluded. And if I don't like the term, I can't begin to understand how the word stings African-Americans. As for the IN word, I don't think I've heard it uttered in the same frame as the N word in at least the past two decades, but still I understand the smack of the slur.

While I disagree with the words, and understand the power they hold, I cringe at the thought of revisionist history by removing displeasing terminology from classic text. This publishing company is attempting to soften a very dark period of American history where certain persons of color were treated as lesser human beings. Those words, as stinging as they may be, are a very accurate representation of the mentality at that time in history. It's not something that should be toned down, but instead something that needs to be discussed with our children. Maybe it's not fit for elementary school children to read based on their ability to grasp the significance, but I would imagine that students in eighth grade and above would be able to handle a serious dialogue about this very dark part of America's history.

These books, as written by Mr. Twain, could be used to spark dialogue today about those times and the impact of slurs today. It could be used as a discussion point for the issues of racism based on its very foundation. Let the students talk about what the words mean to them. Rather than banning the books, which sadly many libraries and school systems have already done, use it as a social teaching tool. Allow our young people to understand why racism hurts, why racial slurs have an impact, and how by embracing our national and cultural diversity, this country has grown in two centuries to be a much better place. Not perfect, but better.

Censoring Mark Twain is a disservice to all young people in this country, regardless of ethnicity. Softening a piece of our nation's history to make it more child-friendly, instead of allowing it to serve as a stark reminder about the poor treatment of our fellow man, is a wrong choice.

Don't be politically correct, just be correct.

Randy Cauthron
One Man's Perspective