I must have read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a long time ago, back when I was a teenager or something like that. Never finished it. Figured there wasnâ€™t much to it. A bunch of ignorant White folks saying â€˜niggerâ€™ over and over. If I wanted to hear someone say â€˜niggerâ€™ 219 times in a row, Iâ€™d go down to the corner of any Martin Luther King Boulevard and, sure â€˜nuff, after an hour or so, Iâ€™d have heard â€˜niggerâ€™ enough to be satisfied.
Hadnâ€™t even thought about Mr. Twainâ€™s novel since I was 16 or so and would of probably been content to keep not thinking of it except I read about how they planned to publish the book without the nigger-word. Instead theyâ€™ll substitute the word â€˜slaveâ€™ each time. And I thought that was strange. You know how many â€˜niggersâ€™ are in that book? Seems like a lot of work to take out all the â€˜niggersâ€™ and replace them with â€˜slavesâ€™.
But I just shrugged my shoulders. I donâ€™t really see any benefit in it. Publisher, NewSouth Books over in Montgomery, Alabama, say now students can discuss the book in class, but seems to me they could do that before.
I put the whole thing out of my thoughts and tended to my life, but the nigger-word popped into my head at random times. When I was with my woman. Brushing my teeth. Sitting on the toilet. You know what kind of weird feeling it is to think about the nigger-word while your bowels move?
Anyway, I kept trying to make sense of it. Turned it over and over in my mind and couldnâ€™t get any perspective. Went to my old copy of Huck Finn, but that damn publisher had ruined it for me. Had me replacing â€˜niggerâ€™ with â€˜slaveâ€™ every time I saw it.
Maybe itâ€™s just me, but some of it just donâ€™t make any sense. Like when Huckâ€™s father says, â€œâ€™There was a free slave there from Ohioâ€”a mulatter, most as white as a white man.â€™â€ Well, I was thinking, is he free or is he a slave? The boy Mark Twain got some logical problems there. And my mindâ€™s turning around and Iâ€™m all confused. But then I blinked hard twice and realized that I was playing tricks on myself. It never said â€˜slaveâ€™ in the first place.
I already had problems reading this book, like I said before, but now, because of that crazy publisher it didnâ€™t even make any goddamn sense.
Since reading was getting me nowhere, I put down the book and went out to the closest Martin Luther King Boulevard. Figure, if I canâ€™t get some understanding of what the publisher is trying to do, Iâ€™ll stand on MLK and Iâ€™ll hear the nigger-word so much that Iâ€™ll be sick and tired of it and Iâ€™ll be free to get back to serious thinking instead of studying Mark Twain so much.
But donâ€™t you know that Iâ€™m out there for three hours and I donâ€™t hear one â€˜nigger.â€™ Not even a â€˜negro.â€™ Did hear one â€˜niggardly;â€™ perked my ears till I looked it up in my pocket dictionary. Donâ€™t got nothing to do with the nigger-word.
Just when I turn to leave, I see James, my old buddy from high school. He greets me with a broad smile and we shake hands and hug.
â€œWhatâ€™s up, my nigger,â€ I say, matching his smile. But now I can see Iâ€™ve offended him. His grin takes a sharp downturn.
â€œExcuse me, but we donâ€™t say that anymore.â€
â€œNo,â€ he says. â€œEver since NewSouth put out that new Huck Finn weâ€™ve said good riddance to that word. Whenever we get the urge to say â€˜niggerâ€™, we replace it with â€˜slave.â€™ Where have you been? Everyoneâ€™s doing it.â€
â€œEveryone, my slave. Think about it, slave, have you heard it in, say, the last month?â€
I think about it and astonished, I canâ€™t recall a single instance. Walking down the streetâ€™s like discovering a new world. All the people refer to each other as â€˜slaves.â€™ â€œWhatâ€™s up, my slave.â€ â€œThis slave hereâ€¦.â€ â€œThatâ€™s the problem with slaves todayâ€¦â€ â€œSlave, please.â€
We walk to Jamesâ€™s car and he starts blasting his radio. Even the musicâ€™s changed. Here is the rapper DMX chanting: â€œAll my slaves get down like what/ Get down like what/ Get down like whatâ€¦â€ Method Man expressing devotion to his significant other by stating: â€œI got mad love to give/ you my slaveâ€¦â€ The chorus to a popular Jay-Z song becomes: â€œAinâ€™t no slave like the one I gotâ€¦.â€ DMX again: â€œJust cause I loves my slaves/ I shed blood for my slaves/ Let a slave holler/ Where my slaves?/ All Iâ€™ma hear is â€˜Right here, my slave.â€™â€
There was apparently a whole world that evolved while I was looking the other way. James, already smiling, chuckles and claps to his music. Then he jumps up and down and becomes even more animated.
â€œAww man, slave, I didnâ€™t even tell you the best part,â€ James says. â€œRemember how White folks would try to use â€˜niggerâ€™ as a term of endearment and it would be awkward at best, or cause a fight at worst? Well, thatâ€™s no more.â€
â€œOf course. â€˜Slaveâ€™ is multicultural. Anyone can be a â€˜slave.â€™ Just the other day, my best friend, a white guy, was like, â€˜Youâ€™re like a brother to me, man; I love you, my slave.â€™ I didnâ€™t get offended. He sounded just like Thomas Jefferson.â€