The Guardian has picked up the story we reported last week about the teacher in Seattle who wants to drop n-word books from the cirriculum because racism died on January 20th. Letters to the editor are generally incensed and, as usual, online comments are even worse.
His piece provoked an outpouring of enraged emails and letters to the paper. “What Foley wrote is indeed a lucid example of apostasy. Obama would be horrified if he knew this censorship was done in his name,” wrote Trudy Sundberg in a letter to the editor. “Now seems like an odd time to downplay the American tragedy of slavery and its linguistic legacy – the N-word,” agreed Molly Hackett. “There is nothing in American literature that more succinctly and directly attacks racial prejudice than Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” said one respondent.
Foley’s reasoning is that Huck Finn “contain[s] the N-word and demeaning stereotypes”, while Harper Lee’s Pulitzer prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird sees Atticus Finch tell his daughter “not to use the N-word because it’s ‘common’” – a “hopelessly dated” attitude. Teaching Huck Finn and explaining that Twain wasn’t a racist “is a daunting challenge”, writes Foley, who teaches at a predominantly white school. Despite explaining that Jim, a black man, is the hero of the book, that Huck eventually sees the error of his ways and commits himself to helping Tom “steal that nigger out of slavery”, he says that “with few exceptions, all the black students in my classes over the years have appeared very uncomfortable when I’ve discussed these matters at the beginning of the unit”. And he never wants “to rationalise Huck Finn to an angry African-American mom again as long as I breathe”.