Voices: The Huckleberry Finn Controversy

Compiled by Arturo R. García

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
Mark Twain, author, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Seems to me I’m doing something constructive by simply eliminating a word that’s a clear barrier for many people.
Dr. Alan Gribben, Twain scholar, Auburn University.

We’ve got our first official race flap of 2011—and it involves something published in 1884.
Kai Wright, editorial director, Colorlines

All it does is feed the American aversion to history and reflection. Which is a shame. If there’s anything great about this country, it’s in our ability to account for and overcome our mistakes. Peddling whitewashed ignorance diminishes America as much as it does our intellect.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, senior editor, The Atlantic.

At NewSouth, we saw the value in an edition that would help the works find new readers. If the publication sparks good debate about how language impacts learning or about the nature of censorship or the way in which racial slurs exercise their baneful influence, then our mission in publishing this new edition of Twain’s works will be more emphatically fulfilled.
Suzanne LaRosa, publisher, NewSouth Books.

Yeah, it’s a tough book. Which is an excellent reason for teaching it.
Millie Davis, Anti-Censorship Representative, National Council of Teachers of English

If some teachers have the audacity to believe that Mark Twain’s work is still meaningful, even absent the words “nigger” and “injun,” more power to them. If other teachers think keeping those epitaphs in is worth the pain they will cause students of color, I understand that too. This isn’t about censorship, it’s about choice. Either choice will have unfortunate consequences.
Professor Paul Butler, associate dean and Carville Dickinson Benson Research Professor of Law, George Washington University.

5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
– Ranking on 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000, American Library Association.

If a teacher is not prepared to have a social and historical conversation, and place this masterpiece in context, is she prepared to teach that text? Should it be to those students? So, when we get into changing words, unwriting history, rearranging art, we start to put our democracy in danger.
Michaela Angela Davis, former fashion editor, Essence magazine.

We recognized that some people would say that this was censorship of a kind, but our feeling is that there are plenty of other books out there—all of them, in fact — that faithfully replicate the text, and that this was simply an option for those who were increasingly uncomfortable, as he put it, insisting students read a text which was so incredibly hurtful.
Suzanne LaRosa.

The idea that we can somehow make any of these cultural products clean and nice is foolish. The whole point of culture and of literature is to challenge us.
Professor Melissa Harris-Perry, associate professor of Politics and African-American Studies, Princeton University.

For a single word to form a barrier, it seems such an unnecessary state of affairs.
– Alan Gribben.

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

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