The Word That Shall Not Be Named

when it comes to the matter of censoring the word “nigger” form Huck Finn, I’m with the Rude Pundit:

You can’t take the word “nigger”? Then, sorry, you don’t get to enjoy the rest of Twain’s satire of human degradation and idiocy (and you should probably avoid Pudd’nhead Wilson, too). You don’t get to watch Pulp Fiction. You don’t get to watch unedited episodes of The Jeffersons and Sanford and Son. You don’t get to hear Archie Bunker explain about how he got his ass kicked when he was a kid by a black boy because he used the word: “That’s what all them people was called in them days. I mean everybody we knew called them people ‘niggers.’ That’s all my old man ever called them, there.” No, we’re just not that mature anymore. (Yeah, yeah, you can say we’ve gotten more “sensitive” or some such shit. All that’s happened is that we’ve made the word more powerful by its false invisibility.)

You’re not protecting your children from bad ideas by refusing to say the word. Your kids know this, because they learned it form Harry Potter. In the HP books, the wizards all refused to say Voldemort’s name, because names have power. But by treating the name like it didn’t exist, they created negative space in which it’s power to corrupt grew. Being sensative to racial matters by refusing to talk about racism doesn’t make it go away. That is the genius of Mark Twain’s fiction. He forces the reader to confront the prejudices of themselves and their families and friends. Huck Finn makes us confront the fact that our grandfathers and great grandfathers were nice people and racist as hell. Because they were people, flawed and blinded by the circumstances of the society they grew up in, and they had to learn the hard way how to change. Censoring all the “niggers” in Huck Finn robs young readers of the power iof that story. It becomes another exercise in rote memorization and avoidance rather than confronting the themes that are right there below the surface.