By Travis Reynolds
Im*gine how life might ch*nge if certain key ind*v*duals possessed the power to dec*de what constitutes an immoral, dangerous or hurtful phrase. Im*gine that this authority – likely a panel of government officials – could leaf through the entire catalogue of recorded h*story, choos*ng words, phrases and entire bodies of text to hide underneath a black cloth and shove into a corner of the l*brary at w*ll.In this hypothetical world, fr** ind*v*duals would lose the r*ght to ch**se their own sets of morals. Instead, said ind*v*duals would be forced to adhere to standards set by people who may or may not follow the same moral guidelines as the people they set out to protect.
Did I say hypothetical?
The American Heritage Dictionary defines a “censor” as “A person authorized to examine books, films or other material and to remove or suppress what is considered morally, politically or otherwise objectionable.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t we already have those? Haven’t we for some time?
Some of my favorite attempts at censorship require very little rational thought to oppose. For the sake of argument, I’ll employ one of the more venerable censorship debates of the last century. But first, allow me to lay down my cardinal rule of censorship: If it offends you, walk away; just don’t try to take me with you.
“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” vs. Gangsta Rap.
While hailed as an American classic, Mark Twain’s tale of a pair of Mississippi runaways has done nothing if not boil blood since its original publication. This book contains the word n*gger, repeated at practically astronomical length, while Jim (the black slave) tends to carry himself in a more or less dim-witted fashion.
Therefore, the book must be racist and degrading toward black people. As a result, the book has been pulled from school shelves, out of classroom curriculums and generally harped on as socially destructive .
Let’s ignore the fact that, at the time of Finn’s publication in 1885, the general public probably would’ve referred to Jim as a n*gger. Let’s ignore the fact that Jim, as a slave, probably did not have access to a formal education or encouragement to do anything intelligent, justifying his simplistic nature.
Let’s also ignore the fact that Huck, who begins the story with the same sense of bigotry everyone else seems to possess at the time, gradually sheds his sense of white superiority to develop a bond with Jim.
Now that the book has been stripped down to its most superficial parts, we can judge and censor it without worrying about any redeeming value underneath. Someone else can now step in, look over the offensive bits of the story, and tell me that teachers can no longer teach Finn to my children-whether or not I agree with the decision.
But let’s play one of my favorite games before we move on. I call it “double standard.”
This American classic contains the word n*gger. So does modern literature. Am I the only one who saw the movie “Office Space” and heard the Geto Boys song “Damn, it feels good to be a gangsta?”
As I write this, I’m reading the lyrics to this piece of free expression. In the first verse the song contains the word n*gger eight times– that’s eight out of 86 words.
At 110,668 words (according to www.searchlit.org), Huckleberry Finn would have to employ the word n*gger 10,292 times to match its use in “Damn, it feels good to be a gangsta” by percentage.
So should “Damn, it feels good to be a gangsta”, which contains so many more slurs by volume, wind up underneath a black cloth? Of course not. Gangsta rap is a part of black culture; but more than that, it is a part of American culture and protected by the First Amendment just like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
I’m not suggesting instructors teach gangsta rap in school, or that schools require students to read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” I’m suggesting people lighten up and stop taking so much offense at a fictional white kid saying n*gger while turning a deaf ear to countless adult blacks slinging the word around like their personal battle axe.
I’m suggesting we do not sit idly by while someone else’s belief system puts a leash on what we can and cannot re*d, he*r, s*y or th*nk.
I suggest we savor our freed*m, instead of lamenting it.