Next month Professor Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books will release an edition of Huckleberry Finn that replaces the "n" word with "slave." Gribben says "textual purists will be horrified," but the slur is preventing schools from teaching a classic.
I'm conflicted on this one.
On one hand, I don't think its a good idea to edit a book to erase language that would be accurate for the time period the book took place in. I don't think we should edit the published work of an author who is long dead and can't protest his story being altered.
However, as a teacher, I have a lot of reservations about teaching that particular book, specifically because of the use of the N word. I am white and last year all of my students were black. In what context is it ever ok for me to use that word, to read it aloud in front of them, to ask them to read it aloud in front of their peers? I can't justify it.
And what if I was teaching a class of mostly white kids and only a few black kids? Do I really want to put them through the uncomfortable weeks of reading the book written by a white man, with a white protagonist, explaining the context/significance of the n word and why its used in the book but not ok to use today, hoping none of the white students say something disgusting before I can stop it from coming out of their mouth?
If I have to teach something about American slavery and racism, the least I can do is teach something written by someone who has experienced this ugly shit firsthand, not as an observer. How about replacing Huck Finn with Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl or something else where the author or protagonist is someone who experienced slavery or racism.