This is a re-post from my January 7, 2011 blog for the late unlamented Multiply.Com.
As one who has frequently been accused of speaking in an “inappropriate” way, I am still grateful that no one has attempted to apply a muzzle to my face. (Not that some haven’t been thinking about it.) If someone tried, I would resist—which is more than poor Mark Twain can do a hundred years after his death.
Unless you have spent the last few weeks visiting the moons of Jupiter, you’ve probably heard that some publisher has attempted to bowdlerize Huckleberry Finn by giving the slave Nigger Jim a more respectable name, and I don’t mean Reginald or Percival. It’s the first word of his name—the so-called N-word—that many find objectionable.
So be it! While I would never venture to call a person of color a nigger under any circumstances, I find any attempt to tinker with a great author’s work objectionable on the face of it. If the name “Nigger Jim” is objectionable, I suggest that the offended parties restrict themselves to reading kiddie books written by the oh-so-politically-correct.
You can’t wipe out the sins of the past as if with an eraser on a clean board: People thought and wrote differently then. The past, they say, is a different country.
Yet it has not stopped people from trying. In the Eighteenth Century, Shakespeare’s plays were substantially re-written before being put on the stage—just to make them more acceptable. As soon as the powder fell out from peoples’ wigs, the changes were canned and the original was restored.
So you PC types can get all het up about this nonsense. Me, I’m going to go home and read Joseph Conrad’s The Afro-American of the Narcissus.
The picture above is a detail from a mural by Thomas Hart Benton of Huck Finn and Colored-Person James from the Missouri State Museum.
I have just read a library book in which the entire text was edited for political correctness by some ignorant vandal. The book was Rosario Santos’s The Fat Man from La Paz: Contemporary Fiction from Bolivia. If you’ve read yesterday’s post, you know that I am interested in visiting Bolivia, which is one of two Andean countries I have not seen (the other is Colombia).
The copy I checked out from L.A.’s Central Library is full of ballpoint editings enforcing a rigid code of PC relating to feminism, religion, sexual preference, and aboriginal peoples. The stories ranged from interesting to outstanding, but I was constantly being outraged by the marginal comments.
Below is a table showing some typical examples:
PC Corrections and [Notes]
a prayer of health to the Virgin
a prayer of health to Mary
Since Rosemary had her baby
saints with expressions of satisfaction
“saints” with expressions of satisfaction
they went around poisoning the lives of others
why her grandmother hated men
why her grandmother hated marriage
a mestizo born of an Indian woman
a mestizo born of a native woman
the spire of the Mother Church
the Indians shifted restlessly
the people shifted restlessly
his worn out little love of his dreams
his worn out love of his dreams
making holes for their women to toss in seeds
making holes for the women to toss in seeds
the Indians maintained their balance
the workers maintained their balance
I have decided that the only punishment worthy of this vandalism is to locate the individual responsible, strip him or her naked, and tattoo them all around their body with the most politically incorrect terminology possible. Anyone want to join me?
We’ll Have To See About Adding More Colored Stripes
What do minority groups (of any stripe) do to get back at people who give them a hard time? Very simple. They keep changing the officially approved name by which they are to be referred. Needless to say, that doesn’t make for open communication—especially as one is always uncertain if one is using the right term of address. For instance: Negro, Black, African-American. Or: Indian, Amerind, Native American.
For sexual preference, there are any number of mostly pejorative terms. What is Fred Astaire’s The Gay Divorcee really about? Can an American teenager see that film without wincing at its title?
That wince is now a feature of American life. It even extends to Latin America. I once wrote a blog mentioning Peruvian Indians. The next morning, I noticed a comment that the moniker I used is now considered racist and I should call them campesinos. What? Does that mean that all Peruvian farmers are descended from native peoples? That can’t be true, as I know there are Peruvians of Japanese extraction, many of whom are profitably engaged in agriculture. And where do all the Chinese vegetables at Peruvian chifas (Chinese restaurants) come from if not from Chinese farmers living in Peru?
The most ridiculous politically correct minority name by far is LGBTQ. The Q (for Queer) was added later. Why? Who likes the idea of being referred to as a Queer? That’s a term from the bad old days, no?
I predict that sexual minorities will not be successfully integrated into our culture until all these politically correct terms are trashed. Whatever dignity is gained from the term is lost by the unwillingness of the majority culture to engage on that level. And what about that flag with all the colors? It’s like the American flag in the old days when they added not only a new star but a new stripe every time a state joined the union. And besides, how many other colors can we add?