Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Freedom To Be Offended

We Americans have taken our brilliantly unique gift from the Founding Fathers, that being our Freedom of Speech, for granted. It is such a part of America and Americans, that we just assumed that, like the blood flowing through our bodies, freedom of speech would always flow through the U.S.A. I can't help but believe that the reason it is being so easily stolen away, is that we are largely a nation of immigrants now; people who were not raised in America and have no sense of the liberty we cherish...and, amazingly, there is no greater example of that than our own Obama (whether you accept his citizenship or not, there is no debate that he was raised abroad).

The criminilization of Christianity (through hate crimes legislation, outlawing Christmas and crosses, etc.) and social Marxism (which some call "political correctness") are two glaring examples of the loss of our Freedom of Speech. However, today, it's censorship that's on my mind. In an age where, in the name of free speech, libraries are forced to give free access to pornography, and our government funds pornographic art for public display, you would think censorship was a thing of the past.

Nope. After decades of ignorant, rambling protest, a new version of Mark Twain's classics Huck Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is being published, one which eliminates the "n-word". This news comes at a pertinent time for me because I bought Caleb The Adventures of Tom Sawyer for Christmas, and he is nearly through with reading it after only a few days. Having read the books and loved them in my childhood, I knew he would enjoy them as well. We had an intelligent discussion (yes, 13 year olds are capable of that) before he read it. I explained to him that the use of the n-word and the issue of slavery were prevalent in Tom Sawyer, but would actually be the themes in the next book on his list, Huckleberry Finn. For anyone who has actually read Huck Finn, it is obviously one of the most anti-slavery, anti-racist books that has ever been written. It isn't some boring, academic thesis about the evils of white men. Instead, it is a moving, personal story of one boy who recognizes the human dignity of his beloved friend, Jim, a slave. The climax of the novel is when Huck chooses to let Jim go free (instead of turning him in). He does so even though he has been convinced by society that this will damn his soul to hell.

Michelle Malkin wrote a great article about this in 2001 called "The Book Burners Against Mark Twain". Here is a quote from her article, click on the link to read it in its entirety:

Two gifted black writers, Booker T. Washington and Ralph Ellison, understood Twain's medium and message. Washington wrote that Twain "succeeded in making his readers feel a genuine respect for Jim." In creating Jim's character, the moral center of the book, Washington asserted that Twain had "exhibited his sympathy and interest in the masses of the negro people." Ellison noted similarly that "Huckleberry Finn knew, as did Mark Twain, that Jim was not only a slave but a human being (and) a symbol of humanity ... and in freeing Jim, Huck makes a bid to free himself of the conventionalized evil taken for civilization by the town."

Twain opposed racial inequality in many of his works of fiction and non-fiction, and came to reject slavery after moving East, marrying into an abolitionist family, and meeting Frederick Douglass. Twain used the vernacular of the antebellum South in "Huck Finn" not to denigrate black people, but to keep it real. Whitewashing the word "nigger" out of the book's dialogue would have played into the hands of those who prefer to sanitize history than confront it.

It's true that the freedom of speech carries with it the freedom to be offended. But even for those who don't like the "n-word" (MYSELF INCLUDED), reading Mark Twain's novel will only help your cause and concrete your beliefs, not offend you. I can't imagine any white supremacist who would appreciate a story about a Southern white boy who goes on a journey of self-discovery and finds that the runaway slave he encounters is not only a human being, but an honorable soul that teaches him some of the most important lessons of his life. What a pity that future generations will have to read the "whitewashed" version! Perhaps Huck said it best,

"H’aint we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?" Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Chapter 26.

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