Emanuel Johnson

In George Orwell’s classic novel “1984,” The Party, a governing body that holds complete political power over Oceania, operates on the slogan, “He who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” The slogan explains the way in which The Party seized control over Oceania by promoting a false history of pain and suffering that The Party saved the country from, which influences citizens to push Party ideals as to not return to that history.

Although the story is fictional, the concept is true. In Nazi Germany, for example, one of Hitler’s goals was to influence the people’s interpretation of recent history in an effort to push Nazi goals to the forefront of German politics. German schools taught of the greatness of German war heros and pushed natural selection as a proof of the necessity of racial purity.

Now in 2011, an Alabama-based publishing company wants to inadvertently change history by censoring Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by editing the N-word … no, editing the word “nigger” out and replacing it with the word “slave.”

Although history itself cannot be changed, the public’s interpretation of it can, and the censorship of the novel would, over time, construe the public’s understanding of American slavery.

The book begins in 1845, almost 20 years before the official end of slavery. Southern white people enslaved, purchased and traded black people for use as servants and laborers, whipped them when they disobeyed orders or ran away and constantly referred to them as niggers in a collective effort to psychologically keep them “in their place.”

Yes, American slavery is a big black eye on the face of the U.S., but it happened, and to ignore it or pretend otherwise is an insult to African Americans across the nation.

Part of the reason for the proposed censorship is to make the book more comfortable to read for high school and college students, but the book should reflect the time period in which it was set as well as Twain’s intention when writing it. To take nigger out of the book puts the issue on a slippery slope in which we begin to question what we teach in schools, thus creating a generation of naive Americans who are unaware of the country’s bloodstained history. Do we stop teaching about the Watergate Scandal because we want Americans to believe that the whole of American politics is a cleanly-fought game? Do we stop telling our youth about our nation’s past relationship with Iraq in order to null the idea that the U.S. helped give rise to one of the most ruthless dictators of modern times? Do we pretend that Native American’s weren’t already here to help avoid the notion that European settlers slaughtered hundreds of tribes to claim this land?

No. We understand that it happened, and we move forward.

Nigger was a radically demeaning term, and it continued to be such until African Americans collectively reclaimed it, changed it to nigga and began to use it as a term of endearment. In its former form the word has no place for social use in modern society, but that does not give us license to forget that it is indeed a word. Let us not forget the mistakes that America has made in the past, but instead embrace them so we don’t make the same mistakes in the future.

-Emanuel Johnson

GVL Editor in Chief