Thursday, 13 January 2011

Reappropriation

    Mark Twain has been on my reading list this week. I'm about half way through Tom Sawyer and when I've finished it I'll be reading Huckleberry Finn. I probably last read them both when I was at primary school, but something that happened last week prompted me to download them to read again.
    If you were on Mars last week you might have missed the news that a small American publishing house is to produce an edition of Huckleberry Finn that has had all references to the N-word replaced with "slave". They were working on the advice of a Twain scholar and their intention was to create a version that would be acceptable for American schools. Instead they caused a worldwide furore, accused of having missed the whole point of the book's shocking anti-slavery message and of attempting to sanitise history by removing references to the episode not to avoid offending the descendants of the slaves but to save the descendants of their owners from embarrassment.
    It was interesting to watch the debate unfold. African Americans among those condemning such censorship throwing the word around like confetti, and the inevitable riposte from other quarters along the lines of "If they're allowed to use it why aren't we". Even I can understand the answer to that question, and I live in a country whose lexicon of common racially offensive words does not contain that particular one.
    Reappropriation is the process of a minority group adopting a formerly pejorative word as a badge of honour. If you are a follower of hip-hop you might be forgiven for thinking it seems to be well under way for the N-word, but somehow I can't imagine it losing its offensive power to the extent of being used in the same way as queer, fag, or faggot are used within the gay community. (Incidentally both fag and faggot have completely different meanings in the UK from their US-origin meanings in a gay context)
    A friend of mine who identifies herself as a full-time crossdresser will not suffer the word tranny to be uttered in her presence. To her it is about as bad an insult as could be applied, yet other people of my acquaintance are busy reappropriating it as quickly as they can. They seem never to miss an opportunity to use the T-word in reference to themselves or others in our community.
    I find myself uncomfortable with both those standpoints. Because I know there are people who find it offensive it's a word that doesn't appear in my vocabulary very often, yet I understand the others I hear using it are doing so in the best spirit of reappropriation and are not using it as an offensive term. I guess the test I am applying is not to my friends in either camp, but to the general public. My friend who hates the word does so because it has all-too-often been directed at her by unpleasant people, and while that is still the case I who she and others like her are most likely to only meet in my scruffy bloke guise am not going to make those associations by using it.
   

9 comments:

  1. Nice article Jenny. Isn't it strange that the word negro is more, far more acceptable than 'nigger' or the word transvestite is seemingly far more acceptable than 'tranny'? Well not when you consider how those original words were used and the tone in which they were used being more to the point. I have never been called a nigger and never will be as I am caucasian but I can appreciate a negro being offended by the term. It is offensive, a slur and is meant to be such just as 'tranny' is said usually in a degrogatory way. I do not remember having ever read the adventures of Tom Sawyer (probably because I was rebelling against conforming to male status?). In any event I didn't read it, consequently I cannot pass comment on the original text or the intended or perceived meaning of certain words within the story. It appears though that this is what you are pointing to. On a personal note I never liked being called a tranny because the people who used the word had no real understanding of transgender issues and used it as a blanket term for all those who (to them)'walked on the wild side'. I always considered myself female but didn't mind being called transsexual before I had the operation. Now of course it has to be female all the way. To re-arrange the words in literature that was written many years ago during different times when values were far different from those of today I think is a stupid idea. We can only appreciate how people lived in ages passed by studying them as they were and not as we would like them to have lived. The books should be left alone and read in the knowledge that they were written when times and conditions were far different than those of today. Political correctness is inexcusable when applied in retrospect as it usually is when applied at any time!

    Shirley Anne xxx

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  2. I read that story last week, and it bugged me. I like to think that Mr. Clemens would have been rankled by the idea that someone wanted to censor his work.

    I saw another story online today saying that Canadian radio have banned the playing of Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing" for a number of reasons, but mostly because of the line about "that little faggot". Is nothing sacred anymore? Asks the atheist. ;)

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  3. Doesn't bother me in the least. Just don't call me a tranny...

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  4. And don't call me 'hunky' ;)

    xx
    Helen

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  5. Any efforts by the politically correct police to rewrite hostory or to tamper with the classics is wrong. Twain, along with scores of others, would roll over in their graves if they knew that the pinheads were adulterating their work.
    History is not always pretty but neither is fudging and changing what went on in the past, especially for the false premise of being politically correct.
    Pat

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  6. I take heart from the reaction to these stories. I'm sure sales of Twain's work will have spiked in this week, and it wouldn't surprise me to find Brothers in arms was a big seller in Canada too. The general public can see through this stuff, and rightly so.

    I have to say, for me Brothers in arms is forever ruined by its close association with late-80s chavs in Ford XR3is. A very British stereotype!

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  7. Shirley Anne, my apologies. I hadn't seen your comment hiding in the spam folder!

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  8. The best way to disarm the offensive use of a word is for everyone to fall about laughing when it is uttered.

    Unfortunately getting all serious and politically correct has the reverse effect.

    I might have had a little trouble naming my blog if I was from a different background though.

    Suzie x

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  9. Very true about the reverse effect. Sadly the "t" word and her aversion to it seems to always come into conversations whose subject is my friend.

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