Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"Black People = Slaves"

An excellent and very even-handed discussion by Orin Hargraves of the censorship of the word 'nigger' in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn'. 

The bit I find so funny about this is that for some reason, it's always the books that are the most sympathetic to the plight of minorities and the underprivileged that attract this kind of censorship. Write 'Heart of Darkness' and scores of post-colonial pinheads line up to call you a racist for describing the hair of Africans as 'woolly' and not giving them enough dialogue. But nobody bothers to censor Mein Kampf, for instance - what would be the point? If however you tell a story that is an immensely powerful critique of the institutions and attitudes towards slavery, people can't wait to bring out the big red pen. There's little sense that these kind of actions make it less likely that people will actually read the book (and thereby receive its anti-slavery message), but when was that important compared with posturing and feeling self-righteous?

Orin also quotes this hilarious justification by the censor-in-chief:
In this edition I have translated each usage of the n-word to read "slave" instead, since the term "slave" is closest in meaning and implication. Although the text loses some of the caustic sting that the n-word carries, that price seems small compared to the revolting effect that the more offensive word has on contemporary readers.
I thought the best response to this was from D.L Hughley:
"They took 'nigger' out of Mark Twain and replaced it with slave. ... that's not an upgrade. ... I'd rather be a nigger than a slave. If you call me 'nigger' I can go home; if you call me 'slave' I've got to go with you."
Just so. Slavery is deeply, enduringly offensive at the core of its very idea. 'Nigger' is just a word. Moreover, in this case it's a word being employed by Twain in the assault on the far more serious evil.

On the other hand, I'm deeply excited by the prospect of the Alan Gribben revised version of many other popular works of contemporary scholarship. Take, for instance, "Shoot 'Em Up" by Nas, as interpreted by Alan Gribben:
"One 44, Two 45s
Three loaded clips
Four free slaves roll
One free slave drives"
Or the Alan Gribben version of Chris Rock's comedy sketch 'Black People vs. Niggers'
"There's some shit going on with black people right now
It's like a civil war going on with black people
There's two sides, there's black people and there's slaves
and slaves have got to go."
Some people may describe Alan Gribben as a humourless, pompous, preening buffoon. I would not be inclined to disagree with those people.

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