Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Huck Finn and Teaching the “N-word”

with one comment

by Weiner

Growing up in Canada, I was never required to read Mark Twain, so I never did (I do remember the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes where he appears as Samuel Clemens though). With the controversy surrounding the editing of the The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I’ve decided to go out and read it. I’ve also realized that as someone who aspires to teach American history, this particular controversy is rather important to me. I know I don’t support the changing of the text, but I do think that teaching the “n-word” is difficult, no matter what the race of the students or teacher. With that, I link to this outstanding essay from Autumn 2005 issue of The American Scholar, “Teaching the N-Word,” by University of Vermont English professor Emily Bernard. Here’s a taste:

Over the next 30 minutes or so, Eric and I talk about “nigger.” He is uncomfortable; every time he says “nigger,” he drops his voice and does not meet my eyes. I know that he does not want to say the word; he is following my lead. He does not want to say it because he is white; he does not want to say it because I am black. I feel my power as his professor, the mentor he has so ardently adopted. I feel the power of Randall Kennedy’s book in my hands, its title crude and unambiguous. Say it, we both instruct this white student. And he does.

Read the whole thing. And also read the post from the US Intellectual History blog by Lauren Kientz Anderson which directed me to Bernard’s article.


Written by David Weinfeld

January 19, 2011 at 10:46

One Response

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  1. It’s all sort of accented by the fact that in the general culture, using the N-word as a white person is the only thing that will get most people to admit that you’re racist. No matter how many posters you wave with Obama in a photoshopped witch-doctor outfit with vague assertions that his father is Malcolm X, as long as you avoid the n-word, you’re “probably not a racist.”


    January 19, 2011 at 11:02

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