A Powerful Word

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A fierce storm is surrounding the announcement of a new edition of Huckleberry Finn in which the word “nigger” is replaced with “slave.” Drawing less comment is the replacement of the word “injun” with “Indian.” A professor at Auburn Univeristy, Alan Gribben, approached the Alabama-based NewSouth Books about making a new edition for students and the general public, not for scholars. His concern was that the book was being dropped from reading lists because of hesitation with use of a reviled term in the classroom.

Read some provocative comments on the controversy at Publisher’s Weekly and The New York Times.

Can students be taught the historical significance of the power of this word to dehumanize African-Americans, and its impact on generations today, without using the word? Is there a risk that censorship of an offensive word will also divert teachers from an opportunity to discuss the implications of its contemporary use?