Slave, Please

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 wasn’t much to it. A bunch of ignorant White folks saying ‘nigger’ over and over. If I wanted to hear someone say ‘nigger’ 219 times in a row, I’d go down to the corner of any Martin Luther King Boulevard and, sure ‘nuff, after an hour or so, I’d have heard ‘nigger’ enough to be satisfied.

Hadn’t even thought about Mr. Twain’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 they’ll substitute the word ‘slave’ each time. And I thought that was strange. You know how many ‘niggers’ are in that book? Seems like a lot of work to take out all the ‘niggers’ and replace them with ‘slaves’.

But I just shrugged my shoulders. I don’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 couldn’t get any perspective. Went to my old copy of Huck Finn, but that damn publisher had ruined it for me. Had me replacing ‘nigger’ with ‘slave’ every time I saw it.

Maybe it’s just me, but some of it just don’t make any sense. Like when Huck’s father says, “’There was a free slave there from Ohio—a mulatter, most as white as a white man.’” Well, I was thinking, is he free or is he a slave? The boy Mark Twain got some logical problems there. And my mind’s turning around and I’m all confused. But then I blinked hard twice and realized that I was playing tricks on myself. It never said ‘slave’ in the first place.

I already had problems reading this book, like I said before, but now, because of that crazy publisher it didn’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 can’t get some understanding of what the publisher is trying to do, I’ll stand on MLK and I’ll hear the nigger-word so much that I’ll be sick and tired of it and I’ll be free to get back to serious thinking instead of studying Mark Twain so much.

But don’t you know that I’m out there for three hours and I don’t hear one ‘nigger.’ Not even a ‘negro.’ Did hear one ‘niggardly;’ perked my ears till I looked it up in my pocket dictionary. Don’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.

“What’s up, my nigger,” I say, matching his smile. But now I can see I’ve offended him. His grin takes a sharp downturn.

“Excuse me, but we don’t say that anymore.”

“Say what?”

“Nigger.”

“We don’t?”

“No,” he says. “Ever since NewSouth put out that new Huck Finn we’ve said good riddance to that word. Whenever we get the urge to say ‘nigger’, we replace it with ‘slave.’ Where have you been? Everyone’s doing it.”

“Everyone?”

“Everyone, my slave. Think about it, slave, have you heard it in, say, the last month?”

I think about it and astonished, I can’t recall a single instance. Walking down the street’s like discovering a new world. All the people refer to each other as ‘slaves.’ “What’s up, my slave.” “This slave here….” “That’s the problem with slaves today…” “Slave, please.”

We walk to James’s car and he starts blasting his radio. Even the music’s changed. Here is the rapper DMX chanting: “All my slaves get down like what/ Get down like what/ Get down like what…” Method Man expressing devotion to his significant other by stating: “I got mad love to give/ you my slave…” The chorus to a popular Jay-Z song becomes: “Ain’t no slave like the one I got….” DMX again: “Just cause I loves my slaves/ I shed blood for my slaves/ Let a slave holler/ Where my slaves?/ All I’ma hear is ‘Right here, my slave.’”

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.

“Aww man, slave, I didn’t even tell you the best part,” James says. “Remember how White folks would try to use ‘nigger’ as a term of endearment and it would be awkward at best, or cause a fight at worst? Well, that’s no more.”

“Really?”

“Of course. ‘Slave’ is multicultural. Anyone can be a ‘slave.’ Just the other day, my best friend, a white guy, was like, ‘You’re like a brother to me, man; I love you, my slave.’ I didn’t get offended. He sounded just like Thomas Jefferson.”

Rion Amilcar Scott writes fiction all over the damn place, tweets @reeamilcarscott and blogs at datsun flambe.

  • http://courtmerrigan.wordpress.com/ Court

    Well, you made me chortle into my coffee.

  • http://www.ambernoellesparks.com anoelle

    Oh my god. I lol’d at this LOUDLY in my office. Love this especially: Of course. ‘Slave’ is multicultural. Anyone can be a ‘slave.’ Just the other day, my best friend, a white guy, was like, ‘You’re like a brother to me, man; I love you, my slave.’ I didn’t get offended. He sounded just like Thomas Jefferson.” That’s some funny shit.

  • http://www.roxanegay.com Roxane Gay

    This is just brilliant.

  • Andrea Kneeland

    Wow.