Schools Ban ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Over N-Word
A school district cut two classic literary works, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ from their curriculum because of racial slurs.
Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird have been cut from the curriculum at the Duluth School District in Minnesota because both literary classics contain the N-word.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, published in 1884, was the sequel to Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, in which the character of Huck Finn first appeared. Back in 2011, The New York Times reported on an effort to “sanitize” the novel by replacing incidents of the N-word with the word slave. The racial slur appears in the book more than 200 times.
The novel was set in the antebellum South and used the word as part of the vernacular speech “and as a reflection of mid-19th-century social attitudes along the Mississippi River.”
Despite arguments over the years about the book being anti-racist, its use of racial stereotypes and that extensive use of the racial slur has been enough to convince others that the bad far outweighs any good.
To Kill a Mockingbird, meanwhile, was published in 1960 and tells the story of a white lawyer in the deep South who decides to defend a black man falsely accused of attempting to rape a white woman. The N-word appears in this story as well, along with plenty of the kind of prejudice in which such a slur can flourish.
In both cases, the N-word, while horrible, is used within a specific social and historical context and is as much a part of the character of the stories as the people depicted within them.
I’m no fan of the N-word; nor am I a believer of the absurd notion that black people who use the word can “reclaim” it. If that were so, the word would no longer be offensive to anyone.
In Duluth, school district officials say they removed the two books from required reading, but say the books will remain available as optional books that students can read if they wish.
What’s most interesting to me is the reason given by the district’s director of curriculum and instruction:
“The feedback that we’ve received is that it makes many students feel uncomfortable.”
Maybe that’s a good thing. Hopefully it makes all students uncomfortable. If that much were true, it might signal that we’re getting closer to racial harmony than we’ve been in the past.
He says conversations about race are important, but when they remove books like these from required reading, which might just provide the perfect opportunity to have those kinds of discussions, one has to wonder when — and even if — those conversations are happening at all.
We can only hope they are.
Not discussing them out of fear of making someone uncomfortable doesn’t seem to me to be a way to make sure we don’t repeat the terrible mistakes of previous generations.