What do today’s virulently anti-racist thought police and the racist southern whites of the late 1800s have in common? They both fear Huckleberry Finn—enough to ban it.
Friends’ Central School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania recently banned Mark Twain’s famous novel— a centerpiece of the American literary tradition—for its use of the “N word.” In a letter to students explaining his decision to exclude the book from the 11th grade curriculum, principal Art Hall wrote that “we have all come to the conclusion that the community costs of reading this book in 11th grade outweigh the literary benefits.”
Many Layers of Absurdity
Hall’s decision proves unnecessary on many levels. Even if it were necessary to take The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn off of the 11th grade reading list, the school need not have announced its removal.
As The New York Post’s David Marcus explained, the school could easily just explain that great works of literature are often switched out for others. “If asked why, they could have truthfully said that great, important books move on and off curricula all the time, for myriad reasons,” Marcus wrote. Reading lists change all the time, and there are so many great works of literature for schools to choose from.
Instead of silently filing Huck Finn away, however, the school put the classic work under fire. As Marcus said, “they put it on a blacklist” and “told their students—and, eventually, the media—that this is a dangerous book.”
This precedent will make it seem that any work which includes the “N” word is a threat, no matter its literary or societal merits. Ironically, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn only uses the word as a way to highlight the racism in the old South, to condemn it, and show how a young white boy (Huckleberry Finn) and an escaped black slave (Jim) can have true friendship.
Other people throughout history have agreed that Huck Finn is dangerous, but for very different reasons.
In Hateful Company
As Marcus noted, “this isn’t the first time Huck Finn has been officially prohibited. In the 19th century it was widely banned for depicting a close friendship between people of different races.” The racial reconciliation between Jim and Huck was viewed as dangerous—perhaps leading upstanding whites to see blacks as their equals. Heaven forbid we judge people by the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin.
“It’s quite an accomplishment for a book to get challenged both for being too racist and not racist enough,” Marcus quipped. Book bannings make strange bedfellows.
The Battle for America’s Heritage
This is far from the first time the culture of “political correctness” has turned on a cornerstone of American history. Recently, students have called for the statues of Woodrow Wilson and Thomas Jefferson to be removed from the campuses of Princeton University and William and Mary College, respectively. Nevermind that Wilson was president of Princeton as well as of the United States, and Jefferson famously wrote the Declaration of Independence. Fortunately, administrators have yet to acquiesce to these demands.
If Wilson and Jefferson—strong pillars of the Democratic Party—are not safe from liberal protestations, will every part of our heritage soon be under assault? Will we not be allowed to have a statue of someone unless they were truly perfect?
Such willful ignorance, especially when coupled with increasingly stringent speech codes (even the word “American” has been considered “problematic”), reeks of totalitarianism.
Few will defend the use of the “N word,” but when a centerpiece of American culture like Huck Finn is publicly blacklisted, it should serve as a wake-up call to the dangers of a “liberal” anti-speech movement.
The attacks on Huck Finn merely reveal the dangers of PC culture—either we embrace it or we hold onto our heritage. We cannot do both.