Editorial White-Wash

Mark TwainTwo things have been in my proverbial crawl this week regarding the use the editorial pen to seemingly not acknowledge our own history. In fact, the two matters I am thinking of not only do not seem to acknowledge the history, but in fact seem bent on the rewrite of our history, in which the ugly parts of it are white-washed under the rug so to speak. The two issues, briefly are the newest version of Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in which the n-word has been replaced or eliminated. And of course, the reading of our most revered constitution on the house floor, but with things that reference the 3/5 counting of slaves and even the repelled prohibition of liquor were left out.

In regards to Mark Twain’s epic and classic work, I fail to see how changing the word makes the situation presented in the book any more palatable to anyone that would be reading it. In fact, one can argue that in his own way and as near as would have been appropriate for a man from the mid-south at the time, Twain was questioning the institution of slavery itself. I think, in my own mind Twain clearly was doing just that. I think also, just as Huck as the thought at some point that in reality, according to the letter of the law, Jim is just property, so to did Twain himself think at times.

More importantly, while Huck is able to travel with and even seemingly accept Jim as a full companion, this is during his adventure and it is largely the two of them. His continued thinking of Jim as a n-word clearly shows that at some level Huck does not see Jim as an equal human being and indeed by losing that element of the classic story, I am of the opinion that a certain part of the story is lost. Taking it a step further, by dropping the term out of the work entirely, giving the time and location, causes, again my opinion, a certain amount of doubt about the reality of the story.

Moving to the constitution, I really feel like by leaving out the points that show both that the founding fathers and authors of the esteemed document were human and subject to fault and at the same time showing that the document is still a work in progress is a great dis-service to those of young and impressionable age about such matters at this time. Indeed, there are some that would point to the original constitution as the ideal document for the premise of government. But one part that was left out the reading actually specifically defines aspects of slaves, including that they were only to be counted as 3/4 of a human being.

Clearly, by leaving that out of the document, a lesson is lost. The founder fathers can and indeed did make mistakes. Similarly too, can the legislative members of todays and even yesterdays congresses. I wonder if that is the reason such things were left out? It also clearly suggests, by leaving out such parts, that the document is unquestionable and never subject to change. When in fact, the exactly the opposite is true. The constitution should not be changed willy-nilly, which is precisely why it is so hard to get amendments to the document passed, but indeed it is subject to change as is needed.

** – Image from http://commons.wikimedia.org/.

2 Replies to “Editorial White-Wash”

  1. Ray,
    Even though The Adventures of Huck Finn is not one of my favorite literary classics, I understand your sentiments on the removal of certain words, albeit offensive words, in historical documents. The revisionist approach to historical review and research has both negative and positive arguments, however, I agree that the language included in original documents should remain.
    Why? Because it is important for us, as a society, to remember the lessons learned form the past and the need to ensure that we fight hard to maintain a civic and just society. We still have work to do in the arena of race relations and these records are imperative to the conversation. I wouldn’t want all of our grandchildren to think the civil rights movement was an aberration because all the ugly parts of America’s great history have been effectively sanitized and re-written.
    Cheers,
    Elizabeth

  2. Very much in agreement. You have to figure some of these people that think the causes of WWII are way overblown have read things where the power hungry Nazi’s are toned down as well as the atrocities that were committed.

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