Google Lit Trips: Reading About Reading
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Google Lit Trips: Reading About Reading
An Educator's Reading List of Contemporary Literature, Literacy, and Reading Issues. Visit us at https://www.GoogleLitTrips.org
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High School Removes ‘Huckleberry Finn’ Over Portrayal Of Blacks

High School Removes ‘Huckleberry Finn’ Over Portrayal Of Blacks | Google Lit Trips: Reading About Reading | Scoop.it
Racial slurs in Mark Twain's 1885 classic are said to make some students uncomfortable.
GoogleLitTrips Reading List's insight:

14 December 2015

 

WHY??? Officially because Mark Twain's insistence upon using the N-word "makes some students uncomfortable."

 

My question and challenge is, "Why isn't The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn taught in every single high school?"  Why in the world would I take that position? 

 

Because "Black Lives Matter too!"

 

What??? Consider...
Ever notice that the only "good" character from beginning to end is Jim, the runaway slave?

 

Ever notice that pretty much everyone else in the story is white and each for a variety of reasons represents the hurt caused to blacks by their unquestioned assumptions that slavery is perfectly acceptable? 

 

Ever notice that Mark Twain creates an episodic tale that includes the obvious evil behaviors of those who would in one way or another profit from slavery?

 

Ever notice that even the characters who are considered "good people" within their society do not question their acceptance of the preachers and judges who use the Bible and the law to justify slavery?

 

Ever notice that Huck is the only white person in the story who becomes uncomfortable with the way Jim is treated?

 

Ever wonder why the book ends with Huck recognizing that he "can't go back" to the brand of "black lives don't matter" civilization that he knows Aunt Sally will attempt to impose on him?

 

Ever notice that Mark Twain was a southern writer who wrote a story about the vices and follies of the slave holding south? 

 

Ever notice that everything Mark Twain wrote after Huck Finn was calling into question the wisdom and virtue of the wide variety of behaviors that were common among those who assume without doubt that they have privilege beyond those they assume do not?

 

Ever notice that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn could not have  been written as an anti-slavery novel. It wasn't published until nearly a quarter of a century after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. 

 

___________

 

I believe Mark Twain's intentions were sharply focused upon the vices and follies NOT addressed by the Emancipation Proclamation. That residual ugliness descended from 200 years of treating blacks as though their lives did not "really" matter even a quarter of a century after the end of slavery. And, any student who pays any attention today to how we still live in a world, both beyond and within, our borders where there is much work to be done in addressing the 21st century parallels to the vices and follies Mark Twain "put in our faces" will know that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn may never have been more relevant than it is today.  

 

Black, Muslim, LGBT lives matter every bit as much as all lives. And, any one treating ANY group, muslim, LGBT, police, gun owners, liberals, and conservatives included, as though the bad represent the whole, is part of a very serious and inadequately attended to problem. 

 

Could it be possible that Twain was using the N-word to intentionally disturb those readers who either see themselves as treating blacks in ways very similar to the despicable characters in his story AND/OR to disturb those readers who who are fed up with being victimized.

 

Finally, a request to those who do teach The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

 

Please do not make excuses for Mark Twain's use of the N-word by "explaining" that we can't blame Twain since this was a commonly used word when Twain was writing. It was not the commonly used word by the "wise and/or virtuous." 

 

Maybe, just maybe, Twain's whole point was to  intentionally disturb the ignorant and/or evil who continued, nearly a quarter of a century after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. to use the despicable word and to behave in the despicable ways as those who Twain criticizes had done. 

 

There's still work to be done. What 21st century Informational Reading might be a perfect match for proving that there is still work to be done.


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10 Children's Books You Didn't Know Were Racist

10 Children's Books You Didn't Know Were Racist Maybe these aren't the best books to teach your child to read with, check out why in 10 surprisingly racist c...
GoogleLitTrips Reading List's insight:

10 December 2013

I seriously debated whether or not I would scoop this video. I certainly do not want to endorse any literature that even remotely promotes racism. And this is particularly true in the case of "Children's Books."

 

I won't defend any of the stories because my recollection of them is vague at best. The evidence condemning them in 17.3 seconds certainly doesn't paint them in a good light. 

 

Truthfully, I really have only limited recollection of most of the stories condemned. I remember "Little Black Sambo" and even the Sambos Restaurants that eventually closed because the restaurant, though actually named after founders SAM Battistone, Sr. and Newell BOhnett, chose to emphasize the assumed relationship to the story in their decor decisions. The book did seem racist to me as I recall. Though, I won't defend the story, I did Google it and discovered a complete copy of the book on Project Guttenberg and came to realize that I had not really remembered the story so much as the controversy. I don't think as  a child that I ever realized that the story was set in India not Africa. Nor did I recall that Sambo was a victim throughout the story.

 

 

But, I will come to the defense of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. And, in doing so I hope to at least suggest that there may well be a variation of racism in the form of stereotyping via cherry picking evidence in the video maker's .17.3 second condemnations that do a great disservice to at least one of the titles if not many of those mentioned in the video.

 

My challenge...

How in the world could a video proclaiming The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to be racist ever generate 1,779,378 views and gather nearly three times as many "thumbs ups" as "thumbs down"?

 

Oh, I know the controversy regarding Huck Finn. It is a story to which I have probably devoted more attention than any other book I've read. For the record, I taught a Mark Twain course for three years. That course evolved into a Satire course that I taught for over 30 years where there was always at least one work by Mark Twain in the syllabus.. I've actually held the hand-written pages of the original manuscript that are housed in the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. I've been invited to the Green Room backstage to meet Hal Holbrook after a performance of "Mark Twain Tonight." (Hal Holbrook actually called me at school to let me know he'd arranged for two tickets and personally invited me to come back stage after the performance).

 

But back to, the video...So, I've done a bit of math. the producers of this video condemn 10 famous "Children's Books" in 2 minutes 53 seconds. That means the case against each book averaged 17.3 seconds. Not a lot of time for evidence. And, certainly no time for the defense to present its case.

 

I'll only present a defense of Huckleberry  Finn, a book commonly criticized unfairly as being racist on lists like this one. The criticism is of course based upon Mark Twain's having Huckleberry Finn and many others, use the despicable N-Word way too many times for sensibile readers to ignore.

 

It's pretty easy to hate Pap for using the word. He's clearly an antagonist. But, it does challenge readers' sensibilities and comfort levels when Mark Twain puts those words in Huck's mouth, the character we so much want to consider as the story's primary protagonist.

 

What a position to put the reader in! "We want to like Huck, but how can we if he's a racist?" And, we squirm at the frequency of the word's appearance.

 

I would suggest that at worst Huck was a "racist in training." He WAS A CHILD whose biggest drawback was that he believed his teachers, guardians, preachers, and judges as most children would.

 

The only possible acceptable resolution for the reader's predicament is if The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is actually the story of one boy's coming to realize that what he has been taught was wrong. And, this is exactly what Mark Twain does.

 

The story is actually attacked for TWO reasons. The lesser known criticism is of a scholarly nature. The story is criticized by many for the "much too long" concluding episodes where Tom Sawyer who had NOT YET had the eye-opening experiences regarding the injustices of racial relationships that Huck had had, returns bringing his limited sensibilities about what is okay in terms of childhood play with him. This leads to another excruciating challenge to readers. As Tom thinks nothing of the cruelty of his tormenting Jim we just don't find Tom all that amusing as he was in his own book.And, after awhile, because the torment goes on for so long, readers become quite anxious for a happy ending that does not come as quickly as we'd like. Huck is pretty darned silent during that long and painful-to-read series of unrelentingly cruel ending chapters.The criticism? Why did Mark Twain go on for so long? He could have ended the story much sooner!"

 

Could he have? Really? Why relieve the reader quickly? Why not drive the point home to Huck AND to the readers that there are reasons why we need to stare at serious social issues squarely in the face and face whatever our own responsibilities my be as participants in those injustices?

 

Mark Twain has accomplished a remarkable feat in that criticized ending. He forces us to accept a not very satisfying "happy ending." We're happy to see that Huck gets fed up with Tom and when the time comes to go home again he can't. 

 

It's happy on one hand as Huck ends the story...

 

"I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can't stand it. I been there before."

 

If "sivilized" people act the way Huck has come to understand their parameters of civilized behavior. He chooses not to return as a participant.

 

YEAH! we can love Huck and forgive him his trespasses.

 

But, Mark Twain also withholds the most important element required by stories that readers want to believe end "happily ever after." Huck may be off in hopes of finding a better place, but those he leaves behind are left where they are and have always been and history has shown were to be slow in coming to the same realizations that Huck has come to. Mark Twain offers little indication that Aunt Sally or Tom or so many of the others whose behaviors we found despicable had learned any lessons worthy of contemplation of self-righteous doubt.. Well, there is one glimmer of hope. Old Miss Watson does set Jim free as a result of her shame resulting from her nearly choosing to cash in on Jim by selling him down the river.

 

But, of course, Twain kills her off too. 

 

The second and far more common reason that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is attacked is of course, the extreme irritation caused by the use of the N-word.

 

Unfortunately, too many defenders of the book address this by suggesting that the N-word was a common word in those days so we have to "excuse" Huck for using it.

 

NO we don't have to excuse Huck unless we base that excuse upon his childhood naivete. The word was not an acceptable term in those days by thinking people. It was an intended irritant to the sensibilities of readers of the day and a constant irritant even today as it reminds us that racism is still rampant among large elements of our society.

i.e.,

All Muslims are _______.

All Mexicans are _______..

All gays are _________.

All Jews are ________.

All Liberals are _________.

All Conservatives are ________.

All blondes are _________.

 

Let's not kid ourselves. Mark Twain put it in our faces. Stereotyping is the seed of racism, sexism, and Xenophobia.

 

Huck Finn was the bravest writing Mark Twain had done at the time. 

 

One of the finest presentations I've ever seen was made by Jocelyn Chadwick, a Harvard Graduate School of Education assistant professor and Twain scholar who authored, "The Jim Dilemma: Reading Race in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

 

A must read article for anyone who teaches The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn AND for anyone who criticizes the teaching of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is this article published in the Harvard University Gazette by Alvin Powell.. (http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/2000/09.28/huckfinn.html)

 

The article begins...

_______________

"Mark Twain knew darn well what he was doing when he wrote "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn": he was pokin' at a beehive.

 

And for more than one hundred years, the bees have obliged, swarming out with criticism of the tale of the friendship between a poor white boy, Huckleberry Finn, and an escaped slave, Jim."

______________

 

According to Chadwick,  "Twain's writings stopped being just stories and began to reflect his social conscience."

 

They weren't necessarily racist before Huck Finn. One need only take a close look at the shift in Mark Twain's focus between the publishing of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. In the earlier works the focus was upon children's antics and not on the deeper themes that he introduced in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

 

One can not read The Prince and the Pauper or Pudd'nhead Wilson parallel books to see Twain's focus upon issues of social conscience. The first focuses upon the inequality of the rich and the poor; the later upon the inequality between whites and blacks both sharing the basic plot structure of having one character from each side wind up swapping places with the other to see how the other group lives.

 

Read The Mysterious Stranger, Letters From Earth, and The War Prayer and then make a case that Mark Twain was a racist.

 

As the maker of this video relies on cherry-picked evidence and does not bother to consider overwhelming evidence to the contrary, at least in the case of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and I suspect in the cases of the other books he condemns in 17.3 seconds or less. He or she or they are ironically guilty of the same stereotyping and maligning as he, she, or they condemn the stories as being.

 

__

AN AFTERWORD.

So why isn't there a Google Lit Trip for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? 

It is a notoriously difficult story for identifying specific locations other than a very few obvious ones.

 

BUT, I'm happy to announce that the Google Lit Trip IS underdevelopment nevertheless. I don't know how soon it will be ready, but there will be an announcement right here as soon as it is.

 

 ~ www.GoogleLitTrips.com ~

Google Lit Trips is the legal fictitious business name for GLT Global ED, a 501c3 tax exempt educational nonprofit.

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