Yesterday on "The View," Whoopi Goldberg made mention that Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn was being re-written to remove any use of two specific words.
An article discussing the same subject can be found here. The article also details those specific words, in case you weren't aware.
I immediately knew I wanted to write about this, but I chose to sit on it for a day. Off and on, I was thinking about how I really feel about this.
My first reaction, which is also my current reaction, is that the entire project shouldn't be done. Who is to say that any words that are used in the text are wrong and should be omitted?
Oh, wait. The same people that choose to ban that very book out of libraries years ago.
My complaint is two-fold:
1. If the powers that be felt that the book was unfit to be read, how is their "power of speech" more right than Mark Twain's?
2. How can a book be changed as not to offend anyone with certain words yet the very words in question are an integral part of history?
Sure, we don't use these specific words in daily conversation. But we don't use other words either and some of those words may offend those they reference. Remember the term "politically correct?"
Should someone go through and rewrite any book that references policemen, firemen, secretaries, or handicapped?
From the moment someone begins to understand language, he or she could be offended by a word or two. An educated person can look past certain nuances. An educated person should be able to read the context clues. This skill is taught as early as Kindergarten.
We teach our children from early on that certain words are not acceptable. There are certain words that used to be censored from television, but now are as common as one would say leg, dog, or cat. However, the words that are still censored or not used on television can still be heard or seen. Words that I may not allow at my house may be just fine at yours. For example, we made "shut-up" a bad word. But that is for us, in our home.
My point is this: The first Amendment gives us freedom of speech; however, that seems to be a bit of a misnomer.
You can't yell fire in a crowded room. You can't say anything that can will cause harm to another person (slander). You can't write anything that could cause harm to another person (libel). In various situations, it is just understood that certain language is not acceptable, such as a teacher in a classroom.
But, even with our limits when it comes to words, that doesn't mean words that aren't accepted for general use anymore have to be erased as the times change.
I have never said the n-word. I heard it when I was growing up (not a lot), but I never liked it. As an adult, I chose never to use it, even in private conversation or writings that would that would be contextually correct. But does that mean that I am right?
There are other words that I don't like and won't use. I could become offended and find a few hundred people to back me up and have any literature banned that contains those words. Or request that books be written so that I may not be offended.
No, we don't have freedom of speech in the literal sense, but we certainly to have freedom of opinions.
And in my opinion, Huck Finn needs to be left alone. Should the author go ahead with this project, I am reassured that I still have my copies with the original text, tucked safe on the bookshelf so that my boys may have the same experience of a rich novel that I did.