Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Power of a WORD

Now, here is a powerful word. Nigger. There. I said it. And I cringed as I typed. And now I feel kind of awful. Wash my mouth out with soap awful. With the news that there is a push to replace all of the N-words in Huckleberry Finn (of which there is 215 occurences) with the word "slave", I've had to wonder if it is better to remove the word from the original or to show our children the origins so they know what is wrong with it?
My oldest son has been studying civil rights in school, so he's been reading a lot about slavery. He's come home quoting quite a few offensive terms, not in an abusive way, but more of a "Can you believe people used to say these terrible things?" kind of way. While it was shocking to hear those words coming out of his mouth, I was proud of his reaction and I know that he and his classmates are learning that these words are an example of the shame that we used to perpetuate. I'm confident that these kids aren't going to start using these words, because they are learning what these words were really about. Not a cool rap term or a label to refer to a "brother". Changing the way we talk about things is often the first step in changing the action. But we have to talk about them.
So while I think that I can understand why people want to change the word I'm not sure that it is necessary. On the other hand, if these kids aren't going to get to read the book otherwise, then it can't be so bad. Right? I could go around and around on this one. Tell me what you think? I love to hear others' opinions. They help me become better informed.


  1. What's next? There are so many offensive words out there. What council gets to choose what stays and what goes? I agree with you. Keep the words in the books and educate our children as to the meaning of said words.

  2. I think removing the words from the books propagates the demeaning nature of the words. It's a revision of history. "Slave" is no more difficult a concept to talk about than "Nigger". Both are bad words that stand for horrific concepts. Our education system shouldn't be allowed to re-write history, no matter how difficult the concepts or how negative the connotations. Children have a right to know that the word "nigger" did not originate in rap songs for the edification of a cultural subgroup. Keeping the language in the books requires us to explain how cruel and unthinking people can be. Critical thinking should be just that. If we revise who we are, we deny our kids the right to think critically about the cruelty in the world and how to change it.