second post this week on Huck Finn. This time, I am writing briefly on the removal of the use of "nigger" from a reissued Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The title comes from what will soon be history itself, the original text. Much has already been written and said over the past two days about this issue and I agree with Melissa Harris-Perry, Mark Anthony Neal, Michaela Angela Davis, and Elon James White's takes on the removal of the word. I don't think it should be omitted and I'm not surprised that this conversation is happening in the post-civil rights, "post-racial" moment. A moment when people proclaim to be "color-blind" and unable to see race, at the same time that they vote to end affirmative action, cross the street when they see a group of Black youth walking in their path, and when Black politicians no longer want to called upon to "only" discuss race. A time that often leaves me on edge, terrified at times, about what is to come. (It's also a time when white people feel free to come up to you, smiling, happy, exuberant actually, while you're wearing your 'I LOVE Black People' T-shirt and exclaim "ME TOO!" as they walk by you on a hiking trail with your dad outside of San Francisco. True. Story. And, no, I don't think it's better than the alternatives).
Removing the n-word, as folks have come to refer to it, jeopardizes the "teachable moments," or just, teaching, that can happen around the history of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights for African Americans in the U.S. Yes, I think it's that dire. Think of the discussions, the opportunities that will be lost because teachers feel uncomfortable talking about them. I know this happens all the time and when I read Huck Finn in my Reagan/Bush era classroom, we didn't have those discussions. But now we're sanctioning that uncomfortable-ness. We're saying it's OK for people to feel uneasy talking about race and racism, so now they don't have to. Avoid it all together. And while, "slave" and "Indian," which replaces Injun, should not let people off the hook, it will put it in an entirely different context. I'm troubled, um scared, about this because these acts move us closer to erasure. For instance, how some folks claim that evidence of a Jewish holocaust is questionable, or that it didn't happen entirely. Or, how we don't talk about the genocide of Indigenous peoples throughout North (and South) America, or when we do, we pretend that that's all over now, no more effects of genocide. And, gay people are just like us. The enslavement of Africans and subsequent history is next on the list, I fear. And while people who say the holocaust never happened may be written off as "cra-cra(zy)," I bet some of them probably just felt bad or were uncomfortable talking about it. I teach classes where students confuse the dates of the Civil Rights Movement and the Civil War (thanks California public education), say 'colored people' instead of people of color, and don't know the destruction of the AIDS epidemic and history of AIDS activism in the "liberal" city they live in. And I'm sure they're not the only ones.
And that makes me (physically) uncomfortable, to the point of being kept up at night or waking up in the middle of it to type this post.