Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Color(ful Vocabulary) Antipathies

I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of colors that I dislike so much that I avoid them, but even neon colors (which I extremely dislike) look all right in certain contexts – like Las Vegas (which I also dislike). So I googled this title, and aside from being proud that The Daily Theme was number three on the listed results, I was surprised to discover this expression has racial and sociological connotations. So Kelly suggested this could seg nicely into a comment on the recent Huck Finn scandal over the replacement of certain words in a new edition intended for children.

We were driving to a grocery store yesterday when my phone beeped with an incoming email and when I checked I saw that it was my daily update from the ALA’s discussion group on LinkedIn. “The Librarians,” I said, turning to Kelly, “are Angry!”
Censorship, which is what this revision is being called, is one of several issues librarians are ethically bound to have an opinion on (another is Privacy).  However, a well-reasoned argument on either side of this issue is difficult to achieve when the forum restricts character length (as in Twitter, which is where some of this conversation is taking place), and people react from a hardwired emotional place. And actually, this emotional reaction is what the publishers of the new edition are trying to avoid from young students of color.

From the censorship angle, I just have this to say: we are not being called to burn all former editions of Huck Finn. No one is trying to erase the original text – this new edition everyone is so fired up about is not even the first abridged version to censor the racist lingo. See here a Junior Classics edition published 12 years ago.  I am no fan of censorship in any situation, and if and when I have children, I will make sure they read the original version once they have reached an appropriate age. But like me, they also will never be able to understand the genuine devastation and outrage provoked by that word.

In the course of our discussion, Kelly and I realized that as two highly educated, middle-class, white women our ability to rationally discuss the context and literary value of the n-word was exactly the sort of ‘white privilege’ we heard Black scholars rail against in college. We do not have emotional reactions to this term because we have NO IDEA what it’s like to be systematically oppressed and subjugated (no matter what we might claim when our feminist hats are on) and to claim a place in a discussion of the appropriate use of the N-word is arrogant and disrespectful. 

*This post was originally published at The Daily Theme on January 12, 2011

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