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This is a short post with a few insights on recent debates regarding the N-word and a recent release of a revised version of the Mark Twain classic.
First, I am not a fan of the word nor one who believes that the word can be effectively used as a term of endearment without any negative connotation. Aside from general greetings where use of the word could arguably be replaced with any number of other neutral nouns, most other uses imply some insult no matter how slight. Think about other words that would replace the n-word in all kinds of different uses and you'll see what I mean.
It's not that I'm on some holier-than-thou integrity trip, for me, it's more out of respect for a generation of black people who are still alive and well and who remember and recall the anger of being called names or seeing their parents called names during a time when society condoned being beaten or killed if you been dared to respond. Today, we think nothing of challenging anybody who would dare insult or or use the word "inappropriately" with little regard for why so many believe the word carries a legacy of hurt and harm that should never be minimized or appropriated.
When it comes to an author's right to use the word--whether Mark Twain or Jay-Z--the author's use is free speech that I believe should be protected even though I don't like the word. Those of us who argue in favor of the endearing use of the word but then support its removal in the Twain text are actually arguing in favor of censoring themselves.
The bottom line on the Twain text debate is that, aside from a philosophical debate about whether the word should or shouldn't be used or if it can be used in some contexts and not others, the original Twain text has not been changed or censored. Since the book was written prior to current copyright law protection and the author died over 100 years ago, it has fallen into the public domain. This means that anybody is free to create a new version from the original work and promote it as their own. This New South version is an independent work based on the original that can be used or not used for educational instruction--the original remains intact and will always be credited to Twain whether you like the word or not.
Let's stop getting distracted by our need to rationalize divisive words and focus on understanding why the words are divisive in the first place. In a technological age where ten years seems like an eternity, it's easy to miss the fact that the ugliness at the base of our debates isn't ancient history and that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
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