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“Nigger” Please!

There is a move afoot to publish a volume of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn without the word “nigger”. The word ‘slave’ will be used instead of “nigger”. Any educated fool that thinks the word “nigger” and ‘slave’ are interchangeable has no idea what the word “nigger” means. Absent a historically accurate depiction of how American society in general and Southern society in particular came to terms with the forced labor of white indentured servants, Native Americans and then black Africans, ‘slave’ and ‘slavery’ are abstract and historically anonymous concepts.

There is a move afoot to publish a volume of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn without the word “nigger”. The word ‘slave’ will be used instead of “nigger”. Any educated fool that thinks the word “nigger” and ‘slave’ are interchangeable has no idea what the word “nigger” means.

THE HISTORY OF THE IDEA OF RACE… AND WHY IT MATTERS

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The Negro, nigga and the ‘nigger’ punctuate acute moments in a process of dehumanizing black Africans that was necessary to assuage the contradictions of slavery in the ‘land of freedom, justice and equality.’ The invention of the ‘nigger’ made it possible for enlightened persons to think that something other than human beings were being made slaves while they were forming ‘a more perfect union’.

“As the French political theorist Montesquieu observed wryly in 1748: “It is impossible for us to suppose these creatures [enslaved Africans] to be men; because allowing them to be men, a suspicion would follow that we ourselves are not Christians.””  Five myths about why the South seceded, By James W. Loewen, Saturday, February 26 – The Washington Post

The word ‘slave’ out of the social context in which the word ‘nigger’ evolved, excuses American history as the context in which chattel slavery was able to co-exist with principles of freedom, justice and equality. The primary motive for replacing the word ‘nigger’ with ‘slave’, however, is more than likely to liberate classroom discussions from a much needed discourse about the structure of the social relations that accommodated a historically unique brand of slavery. If this first step is successful, it would be that much harder to understand our present in terms of the past.

Why Calling Slaves ‘Workers’ Is More Than An Editing Error

Stacey Patton: In America, black kids don’t get to be children

Replacing the word ‘nigger’ with slave negates part of the legacy of chattle slavery. Absent a historically accurate depiction of how American society in general and Southern society in particular came to terms with the forced labor of white indentured servants, Native Americans and then black Africans, ‘slave’ and ‘slavery’ are abstract and historically anonymous concepts.

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”  Maya Angelou

The word ‘slave’ becomes abstract and historically anonymous because without the signifiers (negro, nigga, niggers etc.) representing the socialization of our society to accommodate slavery, the ‘slave’ can be explained away as the same thing as that of the Greek ‘slave’, the Roman ‘slave’ and the Egyptian ‘slave’. In short by making the word ‘nigger’ interchangeable with the word ‘slave’ they are making slavery in the United States of America  interchangeable with the occurrence  of slavery in societies and  civilizations that predate our own.

This maneuver reduces the discourse of slavery and racism in high schools to two words: ‘shit happens’. Here we do not simply have a case of ‘political correctness’ gone wild, this is a case of political, social, and economic white washing of American History. It relieves educators of an impoliteness associated with explaining how American society was structured and restructured after the Civil War to maintain the function and benefits of forced black labor.

This debate over ‘the -n- word’ is on an entirely different level than a discourse about blacks calling each other nigger, the use of the word in rap music, by former President Richard Nixon in tapes of his conversations or even its use in other literature by noble and ignoble American literary figures. eRacing the word ‘nigger’ by replacing it with the word ‘slave’ in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, pits our words, wits and wisdom against those of Samuel Langhorne Clemens; Mark Twain!

A Negro Schoolmaster in the South

W. E. B. Du Bois’ 1899 account as a young, black schoolmaster in the South

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Rap Lyrics and White Racism

 

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Teaching the Civil War, 150 Years Later
by Nick Anderson, Sunday, April 10, 2011
The Washington Post

The Gwinnett County School District claims that teachers were trying to come up with ways to make homework assignments cross-curricular:

“If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?”

James-Baldwin-Rage


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Curriculum Vitae

Tom L. States PhD Candidate

Fields of Interest: Political Theory, International Relations, Marxist Political Economy

Research Topic: eRacism - Conflicts of Difference

Education History: Williams College, BA Political Science; New York University, MA Politics; York University PhD Candidate

Languages: English, German

Hometown: Greenwood, Mississippi

Words of Wisdom: “IT” is what you are when you are young. Your youth mistakes certainty of the few things that you think you know for knowledge of things that it takes a life time to understand. With time and a few life experiences “IT” becomes the thing you pursue to give your life meaning. Somewhere along the way of having or getting “IT” you ask yourself, ‘Is this “IT”? Panic sets in when you realize that “IT” is your life. Fear and insecurity is that feeling you get when “IT” has not been worth a life time.

Bookshelf

Harvey, David. Justice, Nature, and the Geography of Difference. New York: Longman, 1996.

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin White Masks. Trans. Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove Press. 1967.

Cancian, Francesca M. Gender Politics: Love and Power in the Private and Public Spheres. Gender and the Life Course. Ed. Alice S. Rossi. New York: Aldine, 1985.

Sand, Shlomo. The Invention of the Jewish People. New York: Verso, 2009.

Lay, Shawn. The Invisible Empire In The West: Toward a New Historical Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920's. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Journal

Carothers, Thomas. Think Again: Civil Society. Foreign Policy Date, (Winter: 1999-2000).

Ober, Josiah. The original meaning of "democracy": Capacity to do things, not majority rule. Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics. American Political Science Association meetings, Philadelphia, (2006).