Video and transcript below the fold.
We turn now, as we do every Tuesday, to literary news. By the way, thank you so much for your letters last week on symbols of death in Anna Karenina. This week, we turn to Mark Twain's beloved Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It's a story about a young Southern boy who befriends an escaped slave named Jim. We've all read the book. I'm sure there will be some questions concerning the story. Yes, CBS News?
CBS NEWS (1/5/2011): On one page of Huck Finn, Twain wrote the n-word 6 times.
Should each one be edited out and replaced with the word "slave"?
I feel like that may be a trick question. I feel like really any answer I give is going to get me in trouble. But the publisher of this new book says, "yes". New South, their new edition of Huckleberry Finn aims to appease the sensitivities of modern readers by replacing all 219 instances of said word with the word "slave". Here with his perspective, Senior Black Correspondent, Larry Wilmore. Larry.
LARRY WILMORE: Thank you, Jon. Well, congratulations on the promotion Jim. Wow, this is a huge upgrade, from nigger to slave. Yeah, that's like a show going from the WB to UPN.
JON STEWART: Well, the editors of this new version are trying to make the book more accessible, they say, so that it can be taught without making students in the classroom, who may be uncomfortable, repeat the word nrnrnnrnrnrnr....
WILMORE: I'm sorry?
STEWART: Just so that the children don't have to say, in the class, say nnrnrnrnernnnrr....
WILMORE: I'm sorry, what word were you...
WILMORE: Say it, Jon!
STEWART: Nnnnniiiuuuuuuu.... It's uncomfortable!
WILMORE: And it should be! Look, Mark Twain put that word in for a reason. The n-word speaks to a society that casually dehumanized black people; "slave" is just a job description. And, it's not even accurate! In the book, Jim is no longer a slave. He ran away! Twain's point is he can't run away from being a nigger.
STEWART: Yeah, for that you'd have to be pretty fast, I would....
WILMORE: Nice one, Jon. Nice.
STEWART: But you know, a lot of high schools, though, were refusing to teach the book at all because of the words. And isn't this minor change a way to expose more kids to good literature?
WILMORE: Yeah, but it's bad history. Look, as long as you're changing things, why stop there? What about the illustrations? They're offensive.
Huck and Jim look so poor.
Aw, that's better. Yeah, there you go! Now get them out of those dirty clothes.
Naw, you know, a man and a boy alone, kinda creepy. Hey, make Huck a hot girl!
Perfect! Look, Jon! See, Jim's not a slave, he's the king of the world! You know, fuck it, just turn them both into talking animals.
There you go! Now who could be offended by the Adventures of Huckleberry Turtle and Nigger Rabbit? Nobody!
STEWART: How... in what... how do you, just out of simple curiosity for me, how do you decide which animal is....
WILMORE: You're missing the point, Jon.
STEWART: All right, all right.
WILMORE: Look, using that word doesn't make the book offensive to today's kids. They're very accustomed to it. In fact, if you want kids to pick up the book, emphasize that word! Hey, pimp the cover!
Yeah! See, lookit, he's got a grill. Say it's written by Lil' Twain. Jon, that will be a young adult bestseller. Just leave Jim alone.
STEWART: You know what, you're very passionate in your defense of the character Jim.
WILMORE: I have to be, Jon, otherwise they'd take the brother out of the book completely.
STEWART: Well, I don't think they'd take him out....
WILMORE: No, believe me, they already tried. They made a TV movie version in the 1950s that did away with the Jim character completely!
Look, that's just Dennis the Menace on a raft! What the fuck, 1950s?
STEWART: Larry, when do you think we'll get over this urge to whitewash our history?
WILMORE: Well, not as long as this Congress is in session, Jon. Remember last week when they read the Constitution out loud for us? They chose to leave out the clause designating slaves as 3/5s of a person. Hey, it's our history. Just because you're embarrassed to be caught on C-SPAN reading it doesn't mean we can't handle it. This country's had plenty of blemishes, but it's OK to be seen without your makeup on, America. People still want to fuck you, you're rich!
STEWART: Larry Wilmore, we'll be right back.