Last night The Daily Show weighed in on a plan to sanitize Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.
NewSouth Books recently announced that it would release a version of Twain’s classic novel that replaces 219 instances of the word “nigger” with the word “slave.”
“Well, congratulations on the promotion, Jim,” Comedy Central’s “Senior Black Correspondent” Larry Wilmore said of Twain’s fictional slave “Jim” character. “Wow, this is a huge upgrade, from nigger to slave. Yeah, that’s like a show going from WB to UPN.”
After Wilmore tried to entice Jon Stewart into saying the word, The Daily Show host finally admitted, “It’s uncomfortable.”
“It should be,” Wilmore replied. “Mark Twain put that word in for a reason. The n-word speaks to a society that casually dehumanized black people. Slave was just a job description.”
“Jim is no longer a slave. He ran away. Twain’s saying he can’t run away from being a nigger,” he added.
“Look, using that word doesn’t make the book offensive to today’s kids. They are accustomed to it,” Wilmore continued. “If you want kids to pick up a book, emphasize that word!”
“Say it’s written by Lil’ Twain,” he joked. “It will be a young adult best seller. Leave Jim alone.”
The decision to sanitize the book has been met with outrage from students and scholars alike.
“[I]s it really that adolescents can’t comprehend the layers inherent in the word and its usage?” John McWhorter, contributor to The Root, asked readers. “[I]t’s hard not to notice that the typical black view regarding NewSouth’s action is that it would be a whitewashing of history. Black people want their kids to see the real Huckleberry Finn.”
“We’ve come a long way indeed when there are cases in which white people are more offended by the n-word than the people it refers to,” he added.
“‘Slave’ may suit the whims of today’s public, but it compromises the story’s tone and historical context,” 12th-grade student Sarah Gittens opined.
“After all, if we republish Huck Finn, we will have to republish every single classic for one reason or another,” she wrote. “Once censorship begins, it will see no end.”
This video is from Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, broadcast Jan. 11, 2010.