« "A good place to do business" | Main | Tidbits »

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Comments

One wishes for an undead Mencken, to take Gribben by the metaphorical jaw, and squeeze a bit. Or more.

I saw this today and raged.

This is actually only good for white people. In that regard, it's actually a benefit to white supremacy. It's not a stretch; follow me for a moment:

Frankly, nigger disturbs white people because it is not merely nasty, it's an indictment of whiteness (as opposed to the general ethnicity of european americaness, whiteness is a system of privileges and whatnot). Now, true, what we think of as out-and-out racists drool over the prospect of being able to throw nigger about willy-nilly, but that embarasses plenty of other whites, some of whom can also be racist. Blatant put-downs are gauche, as a general rule, after all.

When you read "nigger" in Huckleberry Finn, you don't come away from that thinking "blacks are bad"; you come away thinking "whites are bad." They're obviously the bad guy in that story; Twain knew what he was doing. This particular bit of Bowdlerism is, I must say and I ask no forgiveness, a whitewash.

But it does do wonders for white supremacists, in its own little way. Remember that a huge talking point, in some cases straight-up piece of holy writ, for many rightwingers is "slavery wasn't all that bad." Nigger, that single word, destroys that myth. Everyone in the U.S. knows the power of that word. That was made by white people, for white people, to do absurd harm to black people. That was the point. There's only malice there. It hits so hard emotionally that typical Republican tactics do nothing for it; it obliterates every other bit of obfuscation and bullshit thrown out. When Dr. Laura had her last meltdown, I got one sentence into her diatribe and concluded "racist piece of shit" without a single bit of her puffery acting with even enough distraction to engage me for a second. Millions beside me had a similar experience. Slave is still closer to neutral for some whites (yeah, I know it shouldn't be); taking "nigger" out is an overtly political act. If Gribben isn't biased, he's a retchedly useful idiot.

John: social science liberals like Gribben already rule the world, imo. Several centuries ago we would have called them something like "imperial scribes" or "scholarly courtiers" or something like that.

[shrug]

I'm pretty sure that there have been versions of Twain's books around for years that left out the "n" word. Actually, I remember the same thing reading Southern authors like Eudora Welty back around 8th grade or so. Somehow it didn't kill the market for the original versions back then, and I doubt that it will now, either.

NOoC:

...Everyone in the U.S. knows the power of that word...

I wish I could agree with you on that one, but I've seen too many White people argue for their right to throw it around without anyone calling them assholes for doing it. So... no. Everyone doesn't know. In fact, a lot of White people seem hell-bent on Not Knowing as loudly and as often as they possibly can.

Dear John and No OneoC,

I have tremendous conflicts about this issue. I write educational materials, and once gave up a project turning Huckleberry into a filmstrip because the key scenes contained that word and I just couldn't do it. But I also couldn't change Twain's writing. (I'm white).

I don't think black kids in school should ever have to read/see the word in the context of an assignment that they don't have the power to turn down or ignore. And I don't think white kids should be allowed to think that it's an acceptable usage, which it very much becomes if it's a school assignment. With a very good teacher to deal with the issue, maybe, but how many very good teachers are allowed to do their jobs apart from the curriculum.(Adults, of course, should read Huck; they have a choice)

I like Ms. Xeno's comment.

JC, don't forget the "Family" Bibles of 19th century England, which excised certain lapses of Divine taste from the text. For that matter, some 20th century editions of Shakespeare correct his grammar, but that's different, innit? I also oppose bowdlerization, but like ms_xeno I don't think there is too much danger that this edition will supplant the original, even in schools.

I agree with mx_xeno and Catherine too. In fact a black person produced an edition of Huck in the early 1980s, which substituted "slave" for "nigger." We're not just dealing with white guilt here, though (to paraphrase Ellen Willis) white guilt and a token will generally get you on the subway. It isn't just white people who have objected to Huck Finn, and it's generally been white people in my experience who get their pants in a bunch over black parents who object to the book as a school assignment. I touched on this in a blog post (link at my name), and I guess I'm going to return to it soon.

Catherine, thanks sharing your personal experience with this. I can definitely understand feeling conflicted about it, but by choosing not to alter the original I think you resolved it in the right way--as opposed to Gribben. And I think his "I found myself right out of graduate school at Berkeley not wanting to pronounce that word" is telling; who did he do this for, exactly? I'd say NOoC's points along those lines are right on the mark.

The context is critical here; we're not talking about the usage of the term in everyday conversation, but about its use in an historical work of art that was specifically intended as an attack on racism. And I don't want the Gribbens of the world meddling with that, whatever reasons they may give (and I didn't mention that Gribben and the publisher also chose to replace "injun" with "Indian", which shows that the slope is indeed slippery).

Why not let's go whole hog? Slavery itself is upsetting for some, so why not make Jim another runaway white kid. Knowing that some of their ancerstors were slaves could be upsetting to some students.

Of course we'll have to change a lot of the major plot points and morals of the tale, but what the hey better than letting anyone getting upset.

My wife it so happens is a high school English teacher with a very mixed student population, and although she hasn't yet ever taught the book she was outraged over this. It is incidentally a lot of times identity politics-crippled black parents who object to the book over the one word (funny that "injun" simply never comes up!), often times I should think truly ignorant over the plot and intent of this central work of American letters.

Completely OT, but I'm pretty sure John and readers here would want to know:

Moon of Alabama and b(ernhard) are back, posting regularly, since December 7 of last year. Who knew? I learned only from a comment at mondoweiss. Wish Jonathan at ATR weren't so swamped, or we might have been alerted there -- there's an early December link to a TinyRevo post on the Fed's "invisible bailout."

What a nice new year's present. The WikiLeaks furor appears to have been the instigating factor. Of interest also, and not to be found anywhere else I'm aware of, is a substantial series of short excerpts from and commentary on Abdul Salam Zaeef's My Life with the Taliban.

ms xeno:

In fact, a lot of White people seem hell-bent on Not Knowing as loudly and as often as they possibly can.

That makes absolutely no sense, unless you are in a sitcom.

The only reason to bring up the idea that "nigger" isn't powerful is if it is powerful. I've known a handfull of white people who didn't understand the word and therefore didn't understand why it had such an impact. Eventually, I and others (in the cases where we were in contact for some time) at least got them to understand that it was an insult.

Now here's the point: whiteness may be a system of privilege, but it doesn't make you completely fucking retarded. Nigh-all humanity understands the concept of an insult. Children understand insults before they understand what the actual meaning for a given insult is.

So please, unless there was some deep sarcasm there, the idea that someone doesn't get it but vociferously acknowledges he doesn't get it is flat-out wrong. By definition, if there was nothing to get, there would be nothing to vociferously acknowledge. I have yet to meet a single white person who expressed the notion that "black people can use the word" aggradizingly who did not also understand the grim basics of historical race relations in the U.S. The only oblivious white people I've met had literally next-to-no contact with black people in any manner in the first place.


ms xeno:

. . .many White people argue for their right to throw it around without anyone calling them assholes for doing it.

Yeah, see, here's the thing: those white people who don't call out racsim in that case are what we call in the business racist assholes, and they're a bigger threat to people who aren't white than the people making that whine (it's not really an argument). The media gatekeepers are far more racist and classist than many of the rightwingers they coddle because the gatekeepers are effective. Without them, the rigthwingers would have no buffer, no one to make their outrageous position look acceptable.

Do recall: the Sensible People at Newsweek and other outlets that claimed that Joseph Stack wasn't a terrorist and then out-and-out admitted that this was because he was white. This is the sort of racism that is truly dangerous to black people, but our media (it used to be just "Northerners," but this is definitely a MSM gig now) heaps racism at the feet of rednecks. (Which is particularly bizarre -- not only because rednecks, hillbillies, etc. don't have any serious political pull, but because there's not a demographic of white people more likely to have black spouses than poor, backcountry white people. But hey, the Beltway saw Deliverance and That Was That.) Serious People are Immune. Is anyone shocked that the people in charge of our institutions happen to be the biggest source of institutional racism?

Gah, I need an editor. In any event, the fact that the media does NOT call out racists for their "I wanna say nigger!" whines is why the media is racist, not evidence that white people are clueless -- much like the reporters who claimed that the Jenna Six weren't targets of intimidation because "no one knows what a noose represents anymore."

I'm fine with Huck Finn being a school assignment in principle, though I'd rather it was in high school. (It can be handled in junior high or even slightly sooner, but that depends upon the kid.) The problem is our educational system sucks so much that the issue would be handled poorly from time to time. But that notion proves too much: I can (and, in moments where fury edged out over reason, have) rejected the teaching of damn near most of history in school because the system would pervert it. This notion is a fallacy. Better teaching and controversy than the Memory Hole. Nothing comes out of the Memory Hole. Like the bard said, "from nothing, nothing comes."

The word doesn't become "acceptable usage" if it's in a school assignment. One of my (white) teachers agonized over the use of nigger when she had to do a spoken word version of To Kill a Mockingbird for the class and made her concern and discomfort known. (From what I could tell, the diverse class was pretty indifferent.) Upon listening to the tape, no stabbing or screaming broke out.

The idea that school-use makes the term acceptable is both absurd and laughable. If school-use makes the term acceptable, then music should make the term the most repeated word in modern discourse. A real-life anecdote:

• Black man walks down the street in "nice" neighborhood. Coincidentally, the man is wearing a military-issue trench that makes one look more intimidating than one really necessarially is.
• White kids (teens) are in a filled-up parked convertable, top-down. Another white kid is leaning over the passenger side window to talk to the occupants. All are dressed in the most fashionable hip-hop stylings possible.
• White kid leaning into the car with his back to the passing black man exhuberantly says "nigger" just as all of his favorite musicians do. With a look of sudden, controlled horror, his associates look beyond him, causing him to look backwards.
• In sudden shock, he manages "sorry" while trying to figure out how to fix this. Black man smiles slightly, if grimly, and keeps walking.

White people who use the term know its power. The only people who could have used it "innocently" were born well before the U.S. decided to beat up the Kaiser. And virtually no one that old has been isolated enough to still use the term unknowingly (since it was still nasty back then). Even a person using "colored" unironically would still owe an explanation.

I was gonna say think about the black kids who might be uncomfortable with the book:
http://stuffwhitepeopledo.blogspot.com/2010/07/warmly-embrace-racist-novel-to-kill.html

Better than banning it, at least.

Jenny -- To Kill a Mockingbird isn't racist; racist Northerners simply like to trot it out to prove that Southerners are inferior, implying that bigotry is a Southern trait (and thereby also implying that institutional racism isn't what people are concerned about when we say "racism" -- instead, we're worried about rednecks). This tendency is extremely annoying to black people in the North and South since, as you would have guessed if you didn't know, racists in the North have been every bit as bad as their meridional counterparts. Hell, I knew plenty of blacks in the South who thought the North was worse. Sundown towns are harder to fight than the formalized feudalism loved by the Southern asshole. And the sheer, fucking smugnesss -- kinda getting off-topic here.

Anyway, the point is that the book itself doesn't make the North racism-free merely by indicting the South -- that's bona fide Northerners doing that. Those same Northerners who will happily back persons who make racist comments and policies by insisting that "he didn't really mean it" and "it's a matter of personal responsibility." (For the latter, see also mortgage scams of recent years.)

I'd rather Huck Finn be banned than bowdlerized. Go on and ban it: you'll boost its popularity. We should put big posters in each high school homeroom that declare, with stodgy authoritarian muster, that The People's History of the United States and selected works from Chomsky to Hightower are also banned.

In this case, bowdlerization changes the meaning -- utterly. Would you rather your post be edited to mean the opposite of your position, or simply hidden behind a link? If you can't teach it, or won't teach it, then don't teach it.

But don't lie.

Quizmaster Chris:

...It is incidentally a lot of times identity politics-crippled black parents...

Boldface added by me. So I can ask, in my ever-so-delicate, subtle fashion:

Just what in the ever-loving fuck is that supposed to mean? Seriously.

NOoC:

That makes absolutely no sense...

Uh, yeah. It kind of does. I was, in fact, talking about the phenomenon in your link. I just personally find TV Tropes nowhere near as fascinating as a kajillion other people apparently do. So I wouldn't have used that particular term because I wouldn't have known about it before now.

I am indeed talking about people who behave in a calculated, faux-naive fashion in order to play obnoxious and frequently hurtful headgames with others.

So I can ask, in my ever-so-delicate, subtle fashion...

Please play nice, y'all. I know passions are likely to get inflamed by this topic, but that's exactly when people need to be the most willing to try to have a discussion without putting other people on the defensive.

Well, John. You can always replace the f-word with something less inflammatory.

I wouldn't consider myself to have been crudely bowdlerized. I promise. ;)

Seriously, I sympathize somewhat with the thrust of your argument, but I'm not going to carry that to the next level and lecture people of color about what they should or shouldn't find offensive. I've seen that shoe on the other foot too many times; heard patronizing crap from people who told me that I had no right to criticize Great Artist/Poet/Filmmaker A, B, or C for being a misogynist/Anti-Semitic/name-the-"IST"-of-your-choice creep. Or that I was somehow censoring their work by daring not to gush about content that vilified people like me or simply went out of its way to prove that it had No Damn Clue™ what people like me are/were about.

I like a lot of works that are problematic from some standpoint or another. But I'm not eight years old anymore. Back when I was a kid, everything from Twain to Grimm's Fairy Tales to the damn Bible was presented to people my age in something less than its full-blown form. To be honest, I don't think that did me any lasting harm, though I suppose others can argue about that if they want to.

You can always replace the f-word with something less inflammatory.

No, you can keep things less inflammatory, and I'm asking you to do that in the future.

If anyone wants to hear the f-word: I'm tired to my fucking eyeteeth of Internet discussions on hot-button topics like this that devolve into accusations and labeling and monkey-like hooting and crap-flinging on both sides, and I am not going to allow that to happen on my blog. Ever. All it does is polarize the discussion so much that nothing of worth can be said and it's no longer possible for people to be open and honest about what they're thinking.

By the way, I'm not saying you did that already, ms_xeno--but I wanted to make sure people were clear about this before it spins out of control.

Fine with me, John. I've spent (or wasted) decades of my life in various mutations of customer service. I like to think that I can slice it however the customer/host wants it sliced. Most of the time.

... All it does is polarize the discussion so much that nothing of worth can be said and it's no longer possible for people to be open and honest about what they're thinking...

Seriously, though. Are you willing to entertain the idea the people who don't want young people to hear the n-word over and over again in the course of literary study are actually trying to accomplish something similar to what you've just requested here?

Yes about the intentions (and I haven't said anything to contradict that in the general case, though I think Gribben's own words contradict it in his case)--but Bowdler had good intentions as well. And I don't accept the premise that leaving Twain's actual language in Huck Finn is analogous to shouting down people who disagree with you in an Internet discussion forum.

I'm with NOoC: ban the book if you must, but don't turn it into something it's not by stripping it of the very elements that give it its potency in the first place.

Well, Bowdler didn't manage to obliterate Shakespeare in its original form. The tidied-up versions of Twain and Welty I remember from my youth didn't manage to obliterate those writers from the cultural landscape.

So I'm guessing in this case that it won't happen either.

...And I don't accept the premise that leaving Twain's actual language in Huck Finn is analogous to shouting down people who disagree with you in an Internet discussion forum...

It may not be exactly analogous, but you're both talking about creating an environment more conducive to constructive than to DEstructive speech.

"Jenny -- To Kill a Mockingbird isn't racist; racist Northerners simply like to trot it out to prove that Southerners are inferior, implying that bigotry is a Southern trait (and thereby also implying that institutional racism isn't what people are concerned about when we say "racism" -- instead, we're worried about rednecks). This tendency is extremely annoying to black people in the North and South since, as you would have guessed if you didn't know, racists in the North have been every bit as bad as their meridional counterparts. Hell, I knew plenty of blacks in the South who thought the North was worse. Sundown towns are harder to fight than the formalized feudalism loved by the Southern asshole. And the sheer, fucking smugnesss -- kinda getting off-topic here."

what's your point? You still didn't address my point: Black kids should have to hear the word "nigger" in a story without a warning or explanation of context?

I like to Kill a Mockingbird and Huck Finn, but if there's kids feeling unnerved by it, then by all means, try to level down the content if possible.

No, Bowdler didn't obliterate Shakespeare and Gribben won't obliterate Twain either. But Bowdler is treated with unreserved scorn, and Gribben should be too, for the exact same reason.

I don't think Mark Twain's message in Mark Twain's own words creates an environment that's more conducive to destructive speech--just the opposite. And it's exactly because I value Twain's message that I don't want his words to be subjected to the sensibilities of Berkeley liberals like Gribben (who know what's best for us, and won't hesitate to shove it down our throats, given the chance).

Jenny: ...without a warning or explanation of context?

Read this extraordinary comment at the link you provided; "without warning or context" is the polar opposite of that woman's experience. My own encounter with Huck Finn in high school was handled in a similar way by my teacher, and every description I've seen of teachers approaching Huck Finn (and To Kill a Mockingbird) in the past few days talks about the care they take to put the novels in context and to create a useful dialogue around the uncomfortable elements. You're fighting a straw man.

I disagree with you John.

It's a simpler version of the book for children. When those children are older, they read the original.

I don't know what Mr. Gribben's motives are (not that I see a reason to disbelieve what he says), but sanitizing adult literature for a younger audience is not, in my opinion, a crime against humanity. He makes it pretty clear that his version is not intended for adult readers.

When my young daughter asks me about World War II, I don't start by telling her gruesome details about gas chambers. That doesn't work.

Did your parents give you pornography when you were 6 years old?

Catherine is also right on the money. It is not absurd to perceive being forcefed the word "nigger" a couple hundred times in a school assignment as an insult.

Do you rant at children when they say "Eenie meenie minie mo, catch a tiger by its toe" ?

If we're playing the literary purity game, I hope you only read Dostoevsky in the Russian original.

Anecdote time: I read Huck Finn in high school (Berkeley High School to be specific, in I believe 9th grade, which would have been the 83-84 school year for me). In our class we were asked to do short group reports on a part of the book. My group decided to do a deadpan report on a part where Huck talks about being part of Tom Sawyer's gang and marauding people (http://www.online-literature.com/twain/huckleberry_finn/3/). We talked about how evil the boys were, etc. I don't think anyone understood we were joking.

Reflection time: Despite growing up in Berkeley, and going to public school, and living in a world where I assumed every American kid got school off for Malcolm X Day/Indigenous People's Day/International Women's Day, I didn't really understand most of Twain's points at the time. Granted, I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I still think that it's a rare ninth grader who will comprehend the deeper concepts. That doesn't mean that it shouldn't be attempted.

I'm actually being too generous to Gribben when I say "what's best for us", by the way, since he made it clear that he was mainly concerned about what was best for him: "I found myself right out of graduate school at Berkeley not wanting to pronounce that word when I was teaching either 'Huckleberry Finn' or 'Tom Sawyer.' And I don't think I'm alone."

I only hope he's more alone than he thinks.

Ice: I disagree with you John.

That's fine, but I'd appreciate it if you'd try doing it without the silly straw men and cheap shots. And...

but sanitizing adult literature for a younger audience is not, in my opinion, a crime against humanity. He makes it pretty clear that his version is not intended for adult readers.

...you might want to read the article I cited, since what Gribben "makes pretty clear" is the exact opposite of what you're claiming:

Mr. Gribben said no schools had expressed interest yet in teaching the book — nor did he say what ages he thought the edition appropriate for. In his introduction, however, he writes that "even at the level of college and graduate school, students are capable of resenting textual encounters with this racial appellative."

Ms. Xeno -

By "identity politics-crippled" I mean people who would ban a book that's on their general side of the equation because of objecting to one historically accurate word usage within it, thereby "winning" a dumb battle and losing the smart war.

At my wife's school there's a black parents' group when what they really desperately need a a working class parents' group. No one is working on the issues facing the gap between what the district's poorer kids need in support vs. the richer ones, but, hey, there likely won't be any Huck Finn taught to anyone anytime soon. So time for a victory lap, right?

How many times have we seen similar in the American political arena.

It's a substitution of symbol for substence, and it bites the Left on the butt every single time.

A lot of liberal people like to claim that we don't talk about race in America, but we do in fact all of the damn time. Because it won't change anything and it helps keep the proles divided. Class is the third rail that we won't talk about.

How about blindly supporting someone like Obama because, to borrow a phrase, of the shade of his skin and not the content of his character. "Hey he looks like me/ looks different!", says black America or most liberals. Well, that's so much better than than having a president who makes sure everyone's kids have free healthcare or does something about 2 million people in prison (a large % of them non-white) or stops wars or holds anyone accountable for the crimes of the previous administration, starting with disenfranchising darker people in Florida.

The "important" thing that got the Dems all fired up, and which makes Obama almost criticism-proof in the black community (despite ironically being 0% African-American) is that he looks a little different. Identity politics in a nutshell, and it is crippling.

In my city there are any number of rotten Democrat politicians who get full support from minority communities not because they do anything other than serve business, but because they have darker skin or a Latino name. They don't do anything to address institutional ills - heck, they profit from same - but "s/he looks like me" thus "a victory for Councilman Smith is a victory for us." Councilman Smith doesn't even know there is an 'us', unless it's time to hit the campaign trail.

Here's another minor example of liberals buying into identity instead of real politics:

Several weeks back The Daily Show had Condi Rice on as a guest to plug her book. Any decent lefty should want her, alongside the rest of the Bush criminals, dangling from a rope for war crimes.

Why not just have Dick Cheney to plug a book and have a cozy little chat?

From the interview we can gather that some or a lot of the book was about Rice growing up black in a white man's world.

Thus instead of drilling this woman with questions about the many crimes of the Bush administration which he lampooned for 8 years, Stewart went all gushy and mush-brained and empathized with her, never uttering one criticism nor asking one tough question.

All she needed to do was push the race-and-gender button and the whole Daily Show apparatus went feebleminded, and helped her push product. There's zero question in my mind that a white male from the same administration would have gotten the same treatment.

Again, it's identity politics and it is crippling.

Sorry that should have read:

"There's zero question in my mind that a white male from the same administration would NOT have gotten the same treatment."

This site just ate a whole post again. This is frustrating beyond words.

Jenny:

You still didn't address my point: Black kids should have to hear the word "nigger" in a story without a warning or explanation of context?

You didn't make that point. At all. You just threw a link out and hoped for the best.

You also ignored my point. If the kids are being unnerved by the word such that education ceases to be worth it or is impossible, that is a fault of the educational system -- and a minor fault compared to its more serious problems. You fail to note that I already addressed this: if the word cannot be dealt with, the book should be banned.


Ice:

It's a simpler version of the book for children. When those children are older, they read the original.

Wrong and wrong. It is a completely and substantially different version of a work that completely undermines the point of the original work and -- as I pointed out before -- actually works as propaganda for a rightwing, white supremacist perspective. You actually go from making black people uncomfortable with the text to actually hurting black people. I am amazed here that this point, made in post number 2, is dismissed without comment.

Ice:

. . .sanitizing adult literature for a younger audience is not, in my opinion, a crime against humanity.

Luckily for us, nor is completely missing the point. Any harm to Twain is completely irrelevant.

Ice:

Did your parents give you pornography when you were 6 years old?

Did anyone besides yourself invent a strawman that suggested the book should be taught to six year olds? You do realize the very fact that you think that this is a children's book says more about your view on child-rearing than anything else. I specifically state that this should be taught in high school, if at all.

Ice:

Despite growing up in Berkeley, and going to public school. . . I didn't really understand most of Twain's points at the time.

Then your school failed. It happens. It doesn't surprise me in the least. This is an incredibly difficult subject because it's a live problem with active antagonists in one of the most powerful political factions on Earth. I was reading To Kill a Mockingbird in the South with a diverse group of students and I'm certain we got it -- perhaps because of how anti-liberal our state was and perhaps because of how good our teacher was (and it's more on-the-nose than Huck Finn). But the original point remains: it would be better to ban it than to teach it badly.


QuizmasterChris:

The "important" thing that got the Dems all fired up, and which makes Obama almost criticism-proof in the black community (despite ironically being 0% African-American) is that he looks a little different.

Keep in mind, while blacks are the most consistently progressive demographic in the U.S., that isn't the result of keen political skill; it's a survial mechanism, a reflex action in the face of a titanic propaganda machine that's 99% of the time aimed at white people. White privilege is powerful, but the one thing it does NOT do is protect a european american from authoritarian propaganda. As I've said before, white people are the most professionally lied-to demographic in the nation. Blacks aren't the target so, by default, often get a clearer view of a political situation than whites. But that's not political skill; that's simply a tactical immunity, one born of obvious necessity. Even a dog knows the difference between being tripped over and being kicked.

That in mind, black rightwingers hit all the wrong buttons. Their speeches and points of concern are the same old lies that work on whites -- worse, because they tend to be deeply concerned, if not obsessed, with "fitting in" with white peers, they may even pick up some of the contemptuous mannerisms of their fellows (to match their hateful policies). You don't need a "R" by your name to be rejected by black voters even if you, yourself are black.

Obama, though he's treated blacks with contempt time and time again, has avoided these obvious failures. Without those triggers, black people are in the same boat as whites: subjected to endless lies. Keep in mind, regardless of skin color, many people believed tons of things about Obama during the primary that were simply not true, where said lies were repeated endlessly by "liberals" on the web and on TV. To this day, it is absolutely maddening how basic facts, reported in major newspapers, will be simply shouted down by rank-and-file Obama supporters -- much like how Bush supporters acted in the past. And while many blacks are disillusioned with Obama, black people have the same voter disgust issues that whites do, so the result is most often (in my experience) a disengagement with politics, not protest. Obama brought them in, then pushed them right back out.

As for John Stewart: it's the same thing you get on "liberal" college campuses. If an asshole makes a specious, inflammatory claim in race, theology or politics, a counterargument from a black person will "win" the debate by virtue of blackness. That said, The Daily Show does more to sanitized rightwingers than any other show on television and white rightwingers can easily come out of an interview looking like a winner. But hey, Stewart has no problem going after Chavez.

ms_xeno:

Uh, yeah. It kind of does [make sense]. . .I am indeed talking about people who behave in a calculated, faux-naive fashion in order to play obnoxious and frequently hurtful headgames with others.

No, it's wholly illogical. The link to tv tropes was not meant to provide a definition or clarify a term, but to point out that your logical construction was blatantly absurd. In order to lie about the issue, a person needs to be aware of the issue. If one is aware of the issue, one cannot legitimately claim that they are unaware of the issue. Thus, your formulation is completely illogical and is an example not of a real-world phenomenon but a gag from absurdist comedy. As I said, the liars are aware of the power of the word.

And the people playing those "headgames" are actually aiming to confuse other white people in order to de-power the word in the eyes of their targets; thus, your claim would actually justify teaching Huck Finn since it undermines that goal.

ms_xeno:

I'm not going to carry that to the next level and lecture people of color about what they should or shouldn't find offensive.

Since no one is doing that here, I don't see how this is a problem. As was mentioned upthread, the problem is that whites find it offensive because it is a reminder of the nature of whiteness. If Huck Finn is taught poorly enough that blacks find its presents unsettling, it should be tossed. Keep in mind, everyone should be pretty unhappy with some of the books contents if the book is actually communicating its point.

ms_xeno:

Well, Bowdler didn't manage to obliterate Shakespeare in its original form. The tidied-up versions of Twain and Welty I remember from my youth didn't manage to obliterate those writers from the cultural landscape.

This is completely irrelevant. This seems to be a consistent source of confusion. How this affects Twain's work or the integrity of literary art is not significant -- at least, not to me, at all, in this context. If I were convinced that burning the works of Twain en masse would magically improve race issues in the U.S. just a smidgeon, it turns my stomach to say I'd look for accelerant. But I'm certain I would. Further, teachers often hate sanitized versions of texts and very well may search out the originals with greater fervor. But this is an age where textbook companies and schoolboards have unprecedented power over the syllabus, so that may not matter.

In any event, present issues of race and class are the only issue of serious weight here, imo. Twain is a means to an ends.

NOoc:

...but to point out that your logical construction was blatantly absurd. In order to lie about the issue, a person needs to be aware of the issue...

Have you really never heard of the concept of people sticking their fingers in their ears metaphorically? Of hearing what a person is saying without actually heeding it?

Because that's what I was referring to, and others here don't seem to have your problem with it. I honestly don't understand why you're having such a hard time grasping the concept.

Quizmaster, my problem with referring to "identity politics," most of the people who throw the term around in a derrogatory fashion are very privileged themselves. It never seems to occur to them that we've always had some form of "identity politics." It's just that the makeup of those discussing them has changed somewhat over the years.

I get that the concept has its limits. No political approach or philosophy is perfect or suitable to every occasion, but the idea that somehow the subordinate group in any given equation is "crippling" themselves more than the people who dominate over them is absurd.

Also, if we all stop discussing problems, they don't actually go away.

Perhaps your wife is the best teacher ever who only wants to help all those difficult parents who don't appreciate her or REALLY want to be good parents and citizens. Or perhaps there's more to this story that we'll never get here because we've never seen how she deals with other people. Just saying. There's a lot of debate by anecdote out there, and that's what you're providing here. An anecdote.

John -

That's fine, but I'd appreciate it if you'd try doing it without the silly straw men and cheap shots.

Where are the straw men? Where are the cheap shots? My points, which aren't subtle: it's OK to treat children and adults differently; it's OK to simplify themes at introductory levels; that original versions can coexist with abridged versions without detracting from the quality of the originals.

...you might want to read the article I cited, since what Gribben "makes pretty clear" is the exact opposite of what you're claiming:

Mr. Gribben said no schools had expressed interest yet in teaching the book — nor did he say what ages he thought the edition appropriate for. In his introduction, however, he writes that "even at the level of college and graduate school, students are capable of resenting textual encounters with this racial appellative."

You're right, I should have - that's my bad. I went off the quote you put in the post:

wanted to offer an edition that is not for scholars, but for younger people and general readers

Here's a further point: It's OK to change a work of art, even if it changes the meaning of that art. If I go on youtube and see some home version of "Born in the USA" by someone who knows nothing about the Vietnam War, is that wrong?

I'm honestly interested in your answers to my questions, if you would care to give them. Do you think some works should not be given to young children? And if you do believe that, why is it so wrong to share those works, but cut out some of the more complex themes?

These aren't theoretical issues with me. I have a 5-year old and a 9-year old, and I've spent the last few years providing them with reading material. I haven't kept them from reading anything, but at the same time there are books I think they'd love except there are a few parts which will probably confuse the story for them, or there's a backdrop that they aren't yet ready to handle. For one of many stories - when my daughter was five, I tried to explain hunger to her, and I showed her a few pictures of starving children. That was a terrible idea of mine; it didn't make her appreciate her fortune any more, just made her feel shitty and guilty.

So yeah, what's your perspective on that? Do you have children/how old are they? It's not my business, but if you're commenting on this subject it would help me understand your perspective.

NOOC -

Wrong and wrong. It is a completely and substantially different version of a work that completely undermines the point of the original work and -- as I pointed out before -- actually works as propaganda for a rightwing, white supremacist perspective. You actually go from making black people uncomfortable with the text to actually hurting black people. I am amazed here that this point, made in post number 2, is dismissed without comment.

Have you read the abridged version (the article suggests it isn't public yet)? I don't know the differences beyond the described word substitution. If you could provide a link that has more info about the specific changes, that would be great. Otherwise, I think your claim that the original has been completely undermined is overblown.

Ice:

Did your parents give you pornography when you were 6 years old?

Did anyone besides yourself invent a strawman that suggested the book should be taught to six year olds? You do realize the very fact that you think that this is a children's book says more about your view on child-rearing than anything else. I specifically state that this should be taught in high school, if at all.

But you weren't the person I was responding to. As long as we're being pedantic, did you notice that my original response was addressed to "John" ?

My point there was simple - certain works are too sophisiticated/nuanced/dependent upon background knowledge/etc. to be given to children of a certain age. Since you agree with me on that point, why are you being contentious about it?

Ice:

Despite growing up in Berkeley, and going to public school. . . I didn't really understand most of Twain's points at the time.

Then your school failed. It happens. It doesn't surprise me in the least. This is an incredibly difficult subject because it's a live problem with active antagonists in one of the most powerful political factions on Earth. I was reading To Kill a Mockingbird in the South with a diverse group of students and I'm certain we got it -- perhaps because of how anti-liberal our state was and perhaps because of how good our teacher was (and it's more on-the-nose than Huck Finn). But the original point remains: it would be better to ban it than to teach it badly.

To Kill a Mockingbird is lot more accessible to modern schoolchildren than Huck Finn, because it's placed in a literal 1930s world. Huck Finn is set in a semi-fantastical world of the 1880s.

The idea that it's better to ban it than to "teach it badly" is silly. Books are not merely teaching instruments - they are art unto themselves. I read plenty of books in my life that were taught badly, and they've enriched me and my understanding of the world.

Of course, it's a poor teacher who can only teach Huck Finn badly just because a couple particular words were changed. But then again, I haven't seen what this version actually contains, so I could be wrong.

Perhaps this isn't clear, but I'm not arguing for using an abridged version of Huck Finn. I'm saying that if someone else wants to have that option, I don't have a problem with it.

Ice: Where are the straw men?

"...sanitizing adult literature for a younger audience is not, in my opinion, a crime against humanity."

Where are the cheap shots?

"Did your parents give you pornography when you were 6 years old?" (Which happens to be a straw man as well.)

I'm leaving out the bits about literary purity, ranting at children, etc; your comment was almost nothing but sarcasm and straw men, which is why I ignored most of it (that, and the fact that I trust people to be able to see what's wrong with comparing censoring Twain to translating a Russian novel or equating the teaching of Huck Finn with parents giving porn to their pre-school children). If you really are "honestly interested" in having a conversation, treat people with the same respect you want them to show you.

NOoC, sorry about your lost comment--I'm sure we all know that pain. If you're getting the "We're sorry, we cannot accept this data" error when you try to post a comment, that's a bug in TypePad that happens if you spend too much time on the comment page before posting. The workaround is to refresh the page (which should preserve the comment) in order to reset whatever timer or condition is causing that message, and then post the comment.

Whether or not that was the problem, I recommend composing comments (especially long ones) in an editor, and hitting CTRL-A CTRL-C (on Windows, or CMD-A and CMD-C on Macs) to select the entire comment and copy it to the clipboard before you post it. I've been burned enough times that I do both.

ms_xeno:

Have you really never heard of the concept of people sticking their fingers in their ears metaphorically? Of hearing what a person is saying without actually heeding it?

Did you actually read the post and note that the phenomenon you describe here is the same thing as deception? I'm having a very hard time understanding why you don't read what I wrote instead of insisting the whimsical nature of the denial somehow negates the falsity of the denial. Actual knowledge of a fact makes pretending to not know the fact an obvious lie. I won't repeat this anymore but I honestly don't know why you keep describing the pheonomenon then insisting on an irrational conclusion that isn't suggested by the very thing you describe. I'm not sure what you're reading.


Ice:

I don't know the differences beyond the described word substitution. If you could provide a link that has more info about the specific changes, that would be great. Otherwise, I think your claim that the original has been completely undermined is overblown.

With respect, I'm not sure if you understand the point. The substitution is what we're discussing here, not the nature of the abridged version beyond that substitution. You are talking about something that is completely irrelevant to the point -- and then asserting, sans any logical criteria, that my take on it is "overblown" due to not taking into account said irrelevant point. Did you read the posts upthread?

Ice:

But you weren't the person I was responding to. As long as we're being pedantic. . .

So, that makes you less wrong because. . .? Since the rightness or wrongness of your position was the only thing I was concerned about, that means you are pedantically reacting to your original pedantic reaction. . . which is pretty appropriate when you led out with a strawman. But, to be perfectly clear, you don't get to declare to John or Tom or Dick or Harry that 2+3 = 47 and then claim no one else can call you on it.

Ice:

My point there was simple - certain works are too sophisiticated/nuanced/dependent upon background knowledge/etc. to be given to children of a certain age. Since you agree with me on that point, why are you being contentious about it?

That wasn't the point you expressed. The point you expressed was that this work in question was inappropriate for children and you gave no qualifications. Again, please do not lay at my feet the responsibility for clarifying your ambiguity. I happily understand if you wish to refine your argument, but you threw out a snide* post that said something very, very different than what you're saying now. Instead, you mischaracterized the position of John -- and, incidentally, myself since we were pretty much in agreement -- in order to dismiss the argument you had created. Ergo, a strawman.

(*I'm cool with snide, btw, big fan; noting the snideness is not a slam, but was meant to note that snideness doesn't always aid in dismissing ambiguity and usually does the opposite.)

Ice:

The idea that it's better to ban it than to "teach it badly" is silly. Books are not merely teaching instruments - they are art unto themselves.

*sigh* And as I mentioned before, this book is a particularly powerful piece of art because it exposes a particularly noxious element of U.S. culture and, as such, its artistic merit isn't the main concern but said concern is, instead, its effect on students. You are ignoring the central point again: the problem here is that if you're going to teach it poorly, it hurts people right now.

Ironically enough, by ignoring that point, you undermine the point of the books artistic merit. If the artistic merit of the book is important, and the author wanted to, among other things, say something unpleasant about white supremacy, rewriting the book to make it more favorable to white supremacy is an attack on the art itself!

Ice:

Of course, it's a poor teacher who can only teach Huck Finn badly just because a couple particular words were changed.

Are you serious? Do you think the word "nigger" is "just . . . a couple particular words?" Once again, you beg the question and assert that the very thing in contention: the effect of the word nigger -- is completely irrelevant with a handwave. I really think that all of the salient elements of this issue have been missed here.

***


John -- yeah, I thought I'd done it right last night but I probably forgot the CAPTCHA or something after the refresh. I'm now saving the text on my hard drive, a habit I lazily abandoned previously. Thanks for the encouragement.

I don't know if this will clarify any confusion, but going back to ms xeno for a second:

I've had someone make the claim that nigger is something that white people should be "allowed" to say irl, right in front of me. (Though they were careful not to use the word.) That led to a lightning-fast verbal takedown from those in the area; ironically, it was the white people around who were most incensed. The point is this: the first thing that everyone established was that the "n-word" was seriously insulting. The white guy claiming he had a "right" to say it even admitted that there were contexts were an insult was acceptable amongst peers. So then (as I've seen hundreds of times before and since) he shifted gears and claimed that prohibiting whites, specifically, from using it was "racist." Needless to say, that was quickly used to point out his racism as people went into the history of the word and so on. But that's beside the point.

The point is he shifted gears. He knew the word was powerful; he wanted to say it for that reason. He admitted it was powerful by abandoning the notion of ignorance and going for a different sophistic claim afterwards.

I'm not talking about metaphors or bullshit or poetry. I'm talking about actual knowledge. I have no idea what you're talking about if you're not talking about actual knowledge. If someone is lying, they still have actual knowledge. While I did generalize and say everyone knows the power of the word, the exception to that generalization most certainly isn't a group of people that, by definition, aren't an exception. That guy who started the confrontation wasn't an exception, easily-disproven lies notwitstanding.

Ice:
"It's a simpler version of the book for children. When those children are older, they read the original."

Just to be clear:
1) Adventures of Huckleberry Finn *is* a book for children. Not 6 year olds, but certainly 12 year olds.

2) As far as I can tell from the press I've read, it is not "simpler" in any way - it just replaces two words--"nigger" and "injun"--with santized versions which don't mean anything near the same thing and completely obliterate the intentions of Twain.

"Read this extraordinary comment at the link you provided; "without warning or context" is the polar opposite of that woman's experience. My own encounter with Huck Finn in high school was handled in a similar way by my teacher, and every description I've seen of teachers approaching Huck Finn (and To Kill a Mockingbird) in the past few days talks about the care they take to put the novels in context and to create a useful dialogue around the uncomfortable elements. You're fighting a straw man."

That's great, but what about the black students?

Ms. Xeno -

"Perhaps your wife ... Or perhaps there's more to this story that we'll never get here because we've never seen how she deals with other people. Just saying."

Whoa. Perhaps you're being more than a little patronizing. Just saying.

You have no idea what the nonsense my wife puts up with at work is. I'd give you a few weeks with the PC nonsense she deals with while the real needs of a lot of kids who need real help go begging before the stress gave you some sort of facial twitch.

She happens to be teaching "To Kill..." right now and just showed her class a pretty good documentary about the Scottsboro Boys as prep for the reading to give some historic context.

I've been hearing for many years from identity politics-addled liberals that I'm "privileged" because I'm white.

I happen to have grown up rather poor with a single mother and attending majority non-white public schools and was the first person ever to attend college from my family via scholarship and working my way through school. I happen to have had a messed-up Vietnam vet father.

I happen to be white and have been white in a country where most people are white, and most people on welfare are white, and most people beaten down by the system are white. The remedies for almost all of our ills are class remedies and not racial ones. I have every confidence in humanity that if people's basic needs are met they won't add to their problems on the bottom of the pile by mixing in race baiting.

There are some situations in dealing with racist people when it is an advantage to be white, but on the big issues that make or break lives its class, class, class.

What ALL poor kids need is extra support at school that focuses on the class barriers to their success, not some frankly racist notion that there need to be special approaches to teaching certain kids based in the amount of melanin in their skin. Education professionals today are seriously suggesting that black children need to be taught differently than white ones, an argument I would expect from the wrong legal team of Brown v. Board of Education.

And that's what a lot of these frankly STUPID race-based school programs are about; you'll have these claims made that all the darker kids' parents - regardless of how stable their homes and incomes are, regardless of how much education the parents had - need to be segregated out and taught differently. Skin color doesn't affect success in education, but home life and parental ability to work the system and steer kids the right way does. That is 100% based in social class, not in ethnicity.

The gap we have is class based, not race based. A lot (certainly not all) of minority kids have class barriers to success that we misdiagnose (if you will) as something caused by their blackness, a notion I find ridiculous and itself racist.

America would much rather have race conversations and make-pretend 'solutions' and 'victories' like banning a word than actually give poor kids of any race a fighting chance to compete with the children of upper class parents for grades, college slots and jobs. Identity politics is a part of the toxic stew that lets Business As Usual rule the day.

No One -

Are you sure that Americans who happen to have partial African ancestry are "the most consistently progressive demographic in the U.S."?

They tend to vote Democrat heavily, but so what? What's the difference between the parties these days? It's identity-based, not issue-based, as we saw with Obama, who is holding forth the third Bush term of office without much harm to standing.

I live in a city where the white people vote for Democrats better than 3:1 over Republicans, and I wouldn't classify more than 10% of them as progressives on the issues. They just vote that way because their ethnic groups have since they got off the boat.

I don't think that black Americans are much more progressive than white, and at least when it comes to sexual minorities might even be a tad worse.

NOoC:

...Did you actually read the post and note that the phenomenon you describe here is the same thing as deception? I'm having a very hard time understanding why you don't read what I wrote instead of insisting the whimsical nature of the denial somehow negates the falsity of the denial. Actual knowledge of a fact makes pretending to not know the fact an obvious lie...

[beats head on keyboard]

One more time, for posterity:

"In fact, a lot of White people seem hell-bent on Not Knowing as loudly and as often as they possibly can."

Yes, O Wise One. I really, really, really, honest-and-true-blue DO UNDERSTAND that the people who claim not to understand why the n-word is offensive are lying to both themselves and others.

That was the whole blasted point of the statement I made that you keep taking issue with. Again, I'm inclined to think here that the problem is with you, because I don't notice anyone else who seems to have read into that initial statement something completely different than what I actually meant.

The main issue for me is not whether or not people are in denial about what the n-word means. Obviously a lot of people are. That's one of the reasons using the original version of the book in a kid's class is so contentious in the first place.

Quizmaster:

Whoa. Perhaps you're being more than a little patronizing. Just saying...

Dude, I'm not here to pick on public school teachers. I have relatives who've taught public school myself. But your description of your wife's problems at work sounds pretty much like every generic, supposedly well-meaning article in every newspaper or on every talk show whenever subjects like this pop up.

What gets me just about each and every time when I read/hear this kind of thing: The same people who want parents to be more present in their kids' lives and in the work the school does turn right around --as you just did-- and berate the parents as being stupid and poorly focused on "what really matters" the second they actually speak up. Apparently what "good parenting" means in this context is, "Just nod your head at whatever we want to do and keep your misgivings to yourself, Peons."

Classism and racism can be-- and are-- both real. There's no need to choose one over the other. Telling people who live with the impact of racism that you know better than they do what issues in their kids' lives have the most impact doesn't make you sound like a good person, even if you really are. It just makes you sound like somebody who thinks they know everything and doesn't care to really hear what other people have experienced.

Is Gribben gathering and burning all previous editions of Huck Finn? Until that happens, this edition is just exploiting a perceived niche market.

Ms. Xeno -

I think you are picking at my wife, and me. There's nothing "supposedly" well-meaning about her work nor my writing. How about crediting us with being decent people who might know what we're talking about from square one?

I attended a public school system for 12 years (more if you count pre-school) in a major city that's now about 90% non-white enrollment.

What families need are:

- healthcare
- paid education
- decent housing
- decent public transport

... and so forth.

Students also need smaller class sizes, tutoring help on aptitude testing just like rich kids get, school equipment and so forth.

All of these are material goods or can be paid for with additional funding. Class and not race decide that.

You can remove the word 'nigger' from every book in the world (and how about every rap song?! - are we really serious that kids HAVE NOT OTHERWISE been exposed to the word?!) and that doesn't pay one penny toward poor kids getting the material and staff support rich ones have.

"Liberals" would rather focus on getting a word out of a book than making sure that poor kids of any race can compete with their own on their own merit.

QuizmasterChris:

The remedies for almost all of our ills are class remedies and not racial ones.

This is wrong.

Race is a class. Race is a conceptual construct, not an element of a hard, objective reality. Class constructs can and will overlap. Whiteness is also a class construct, but whiteness exists as a continuum -- that is, the benefits granted by white privilege vary in certain contexts.

White privilege increases in scope and power as wealth increases; it is synergetic. I often say, only partially joking, that some people are whiter than others. Traditionally, a poor white person could always say "well, at least I'm not a nigger." Many people now identifying with the teabaggers are pining for when that was an absolute truth. Due to the civil rights movement, the issue is now a patchwork where blacks and other minorities are still, empirically, worse off than whites across the board but can have brief moments where their skin color becomes an advantage. ("So your education has sucked up to this point, but now that you're going to college, have a bennie!") This is hardly balance, or even desired.

Chris: the idea that race is beneath class is absolutely wrong. Race is simply one of the most important classes. You cannot fix "class" without fixing race. Our system resists any such attempt -- in fact, it has been tried in the past.

Labor movements attempted to help whites and ignore blacks. What result? Race resentment undermined a cross-class movement and gave the rich more power. Populists before and after the civil war tried to back poor whites while still hating blacks. What result? Again, division and weakness.

Please don't tell me that race is inferior to, say, poverty, when blacks are STILL last hired and first fired. Please don't tell me that race is a secondary issue when it is still easier for a white felon to get an interview than a black man with a college degree. Even conservative legal scholars believe our legal system is racist. It is far better to be a white defendant than a black defendant at every point of contact with law enforcement. Your chances of being stopped, your chances of being arrested, your chances of being sentenced to incarceration -- all increase while black.

And let's not get started on the sheer prejudices. The cliche that black fathers abandon their families more often? A lie. If you control for prison time, white fathers abandon their families more than blacks.

Privilege matters. A lot. You are privileged. You can scream up and down that you're not, but empirical data and personal experience makes a lie of that. You can say your lack of wealth modifies that heavily, and that's correct. But it's still better to be white and poor than it is to be black and poor. Upthread, I posted a link to some mortgage scams that were specifically targeting blacks and latinos. While it may not count every time, whiteness still counts.

Race is a social construct -- as is poor, as is the middle class, as is the rich. It is a type of class.

And, in the U.S., it may well be the single most tactically important type. Without race as a lynchpin, it would be very hard for the rich to keep the poor where the latter are today.


QuizmasterChris:

Are you sure that Americans who happen to have partial African ancestry are "the most consistently progressive demographic in the U.S."?

Yes. And "partial African ancestry" is meaningless here. I said "black" and I mean "black." There are huge numbers of european americans with "partial African ancestry" that are not black.

QuizmasterChris:

They tend to vote Democrat heavily, but so what?

I didn't say that they merely voted Democratic -- I said they were most progressive: most likely to be what's considered "far left" on policy issues. This is clear from poll results.

Pulling Obama into this is bullshit. Obama was ridiculously special case -- one of perception, not policy. I explained this upthread. Blacks have powerfully rejected black rightwingers in the past in favor of white candidates. The problem is many races are a choice between "rightwinger" and "less-immediately-dangerous rightwinger." Keep in mind, it's not like the most liberal persons in the Democratic primary of 2008 were given fair treatment. Both the MSM and "liberals" -- moderates and people pretending to have liberal principles -- framed the primary as a two-person race. I knew black people who weren't even aware that Kucinich was running. I saw "liberal" bloggers who didn't know (or care) what Edwards' policies were. (The general election is basically irrelevant.) Having progressive politics is no proof against poor information or discernment; I mention this upthread as well.

QuizmasterChris:

I don't think that black Americans are much more progressive than white, and at least when it comes to sexual minorities might even be a tad worse.

You're wrong. Although blacks definately, nationwide, are more likely to pull to the right on gay marriage and you'll get resistance on abortion in specific neighborhoods, blacks are still more likely to back policies that are good for the population at large. This isn't a really surprising result; because the U.S. has a tradition of giving blacks the short end of the stick, it's damn near instinctive knowledge that any policy with a "losing party" is a bad one for blacks since, wouldn'tyouknowit?, they always seem to end up in that category.

If the candidates in your area are shit, I can't help that. But a set of bad politicians with no truly liberal options can hardly act as a referrendum for black political perspectives.


QuizmasterChris:

"Liberals" would rather focus on getting a word out of a book than making sure that poor kids of any race can compete with their own on their own merit.

Though the scare-quotes imply sarcasm, I just want to make sure we're on the same page: pulling nigger out of Huck Finn is a rightwing proposition, not a liberal one, as I described in the second post upthread. If that was what was meant, mea culpa for the sarcasm identification failure.

ms_xeno:

Again, I'm inclined to think here that the problem is with you, because I don't notice anyone else who seems to have read into that initial statement something completely different than what I actually meant.

The problem is your logic is still shit and you seem to be the only one who is coming up with the bizarre and wrong conclusion you describe upthread. I was repeating the facts to force you to confront the error in your logic -- instead, you quote something that I was sure was dealt with upthread and don't seem to engage or grasp my responses. No worries. If you don't see or don't want to see the contradiction, that's that. I don't think anyone else has a problem noticing it, which is good enough.

Things have become so degraded that it's hard to use labels for meaning any longer. The people who call themselves "liberals" in the US have moved far enough to the right that removing a word from a book is no longer thought by them to even be problematic. There are censors left (or fake left), right and middle.

As far as African-Americans and gay rights:

"70% of African Americans backed Prop. 8, exit poll finds

California's black and Latino voters, who turned out in droves for Barack Obama, also provided key support in favor of the state's same-sex marriage ban. Seven in 10 black voters backed a successful ballot measure to overturn the California Supreme Court's May decision allowing same-sex marriage, according to exit polls for The Associated Press.

More than half of Latino voters supported Proposition 8, while whites were split. Religious groups led the tightly organized campaign for the measure, and religious voters were decisive in getting it passed. Of the seven in 10 voters who described themselves as Christian, two-thirds backed the initiative. Married voters and voters with children strongly supported Proposition 8. Unmarried voters were heavily opposed."

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2008/11/70-of-african-a.html

"Pulling Obama into this is bullshit."

Oh I don't think so! Is there any better example of identity politics biting leftists and liberals on the butt?

The man won the Democratic nomination and even the Nobel Peace Prize (of all things) because he was half-African. His genetics trumped his policies, which are usually hard to distinguish from that of Bush, and look where that has gotten us. To this day black and liberal America pat themselves on the back for electing him as if they just accomplished something tremendously progressive... solely because he's half-African.

Oh geez No One -

I just read your claim that "race is a class" and that's flat out wrong. Class is class.

Do you think that Will Smith's kids have entertainment careers because of personal merit, or because of who their father is?

I once worked at a non-profit with a 50-ish African-American woman who did part-time work for us in addition to her full-time job who accused almost the whole staff of being racists on a regular basis. She would always boo-hoo about how we don't understand what it's like (partially true) and so on. It also turns out that she made six figures a year doing "sensitivity training" for corporate America, and that she lived in a swanmky suburb while most of us lived in cramped city apartments, and that she was the third generation of her family to go to college.

Heck, my father dropped out of high school and got drafted to Vietnam around the same time she was in college.

She got away with her generally lousy behavior toward us for a couple of years by pushing the race button constantly, and in an office filled with liberals that resulted in all of us somehow apologizing to her. That's one woman who knew how to work the system.

Corporate America much prefers to do "sensitivity trainings" that boil down to skin color than pay their damn taxes and let poor kids have the same opportunities to succeed in life as rich ones. It's more than enough in most cases to deflect any meaningful social change.

Every racism workshop and pride rally in the world isn't going to reduce class size or guarantee anyone's healthcare or raise the minimum wage.

Here are some thoughts on the word change from the relevant people we need to listen to:
http://www.racialicious.com/2011/01/06/voices-the-huckleberry-finn-controversy/#more-12093

NOoC: The problem is your logic is still shit...

I'm sure you can find a less confrontational way of saying that (and other things like it), and when you're commenting at my blog, please do.

Chris: are we really serious that kids HAVE NOT OTHERWISE been exposed to the word?!

Yeah, I'm amused by the notion I've seen in some articles that Huck Finn will be most responsible for 1) black students being confronted with the word (or racism in general) and 2) white students deciding that it's acceptable and starting to use it against blacks. The first is not only false but condescending, and the second is just addled--do people really think Huck Finn is going to make dehumanizing other people more acceptable, when one of the main points of the book is that Jim becomes not just a "nigger" to Huck but a real, complete person? And a white kid is much more likely to point to rap songs than to Huck Finn as the reason why it should be ok for them to use the word.

Labor movements attempted to help whites and ignore blacks. What result? Race resentment undermined a cross-class movement and gave the rich more power.

Accepting this account for the sake of argument, it supports Chris's point: an attempt to help based on identity rather than class is just going to lead to fragmentation and defeat. (I'm not saying if I agree or disagree with his point, by the way--just pointing this out.)

I do agree with Chris's statement that class is class. Race is a class (in the sense that any differentiating factor creates multiple classes), but when we talk about "class" we're talking about economic status, and there's no need to lump race (or gender) in with the economic concept of class. It doesn't denigrate its importance at all to recognize it as a separate thing, even while also recognizing that racial status is a strong predictor of class status.

"I once worked at a non-profit with a 50-ish African-American woman who did part-time work for us in addition to her full-time job who accused almost the whole staff of being racists on a regular basis. She would always boo-hoo about how we don't understand what it's like (partially true) and so on. It also turns out that she made six figures a year doing "sensitivity training" for corporate America, and that she lived in a swanmky suburb while most of us lived in cramped city apartments, and that she was the third generation of her family to go to college."

of course! It's not like racism exists in the upper class at all! We're all equal since Obama came along, amiright?
Quizmaster, are you sure you aren't Will Shetterly in disguise?

Minor point - or perhaps not. I'm surprised at how comfortable commentors are using the written out word, instead of the various substitutes we've formulated over the years - N*****, the N-Word, etc.

Richard Pryor was on a show with - who? - can't recall - Barbara Walters, maybe, years ago. Not someone we would respect (was watching for him and I thought she should have realized that she was having the best day of her journalistic life - having Pryor as a guest.) She (whoever it was) questioned him about his use of the N-word, which she used in full, several times, and then said something like, "it's an ugly word, it's hard to say." Pryor responded, at light speed it seemed to me, "You don't seem to be having any problem with it." God, I miss him. And no, I'm not going to get into the if/when/where/how issues of black writers/entertainers/historians using the word. Not gonna do it.

Personal story again. I was writing some material for kids on Jackie Robinson and the Negro Leagues some years ago. One of my resource books was Art Rust's "Get that N***** off the field" (he used the full word). Excellent book, but my problem was what to do with the title if I wanted to use it in the bibliography. I'm not sure what I did, but think I used the title after changing it to N*****. It was just a title, after all. I don't think titles are sacrosanct in the same way as the writing in a work of lit/history/etc. And yes, kids would have seen the word when they read his book, but in the context of a black writer explaining the history of an important part of black American history.

God, I'm sick of this issue (well, sick of the history that created/creates it.) Will the human race live long enough to get rid of racism - and all the other ism's? Very doubtful.

Good to see that so many people are commenting, though, even if some seem to have their own agenda.

Really love your site, John, even when I don't particularly want to think about a specific issue on a given day.

Some more comments from actual black students who were bothered by the presentation of Huck Finn:
http://community.livejournal.com/sf_drama/3139704.html?thread=581976696#t581976696

Jenny:

Quizmaster, are you sure you aren't Will Shetterly in disguise?

I love you so much for this post. John C. is free to berate me for that if he likes. I'll live.

I'm out of aspirin so I think I'll just move on to the next subject now. [sigh]

John C.:

[NOoC: The problem is your logic is still shit...]

I'm sure you can find a less confrontational way of saying that (and other things like it), and when you're commenting at my blog, please do.

The hilarious thing is that s/he's lecturing me over and over again about something that we both already knew to be true. Or so it seems to me. To wit: the N-word has negative power and nearly every White person who flings it around knows this. S/he just doesn't like that I apply this lesson differently in this particular case than s/he did.

Thanks for going to bat for me, but I'm more amused than offended at the insult, TBH.

I really have no idea, for the record, why anyone must choose between class or race being more important. I really don't have any idea why you can't be for social justice on a large scale and still try and be concerned with the feelings of your allies on a small scale. (If that's what teaching the book to children with no alterations really is.)

Ironically, while I learned a lot about race issue in America and elsewhere while posting/reading on some anti-racist boards, it's the unwillingness to choose that made me go from posting/reading to just straight-up lurking. I couldn't understand why it was impossible for Americans to be racist AND for Obama to be a complete jaggoff who cared no more about advancing racial (or class, or any other) sort of meaningful harmony than I care for Dancing With The Stars. The two facts are not mutually exclusive. They can and do co-exist.

The funny thing is that my wife is just now teaching "To Kill..." to a mixed-race class (there is in fact one African-from-Africa student in addition to African-Americans, whites and other ethnicities in the class) and they had a talk about "the word" before reading the book.

Apparently the kids have been handling it just fine. Interestingly it's the white kids who don't want to read those passages out loud for fear of offending their classmates.

On the whole it seems to have been a good platform for teaching more than just literature, which is the point of these books after all...

Ms. Xeno -

It's pretty simple to me why class is more important than race.

If every iotum of racism disappeared in the morning - and I'm not holding my breath for that - we'd still have a billion people on Earth living on less than $1/day and another billion doing only slightly better.

It so happens the vast majority of these people ain't white.

Minimum wage earners and the unemployed here would still be poor, schools by district would still be funded in an inherently inequitable fashion, undocumented immigrant labor would still be exploited, Wal-Mart would still fight unions.

The list goes on and on.

The material condition of poor people - and poverty hurts no matter what your skin color is - would not change in the slightest.

Conversely if magically in the morning class differences were made to disappear I rather doubt that racism would have much appeal or power.

I sometimes wonder whether I'd rather have right-wing fascists, doctrinaire Marxists, religious fanatics, or social science liberals like Gribben ruling the world with an iron fist

I'll take Marxists for 200, Alex. At least with them you know what you're in for. The rest are too batshit insane to have thought anything through.

The comments to this entry are closed.