The announced revisions of Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—“replac[ing] the ‘N’ word with slave, ‘injun’ with Indian, and ‘half-breed’ with half blood”—have demonstrated that leftists don’t always practice what they preach when it comes to respecting artist’ creative work or sheltering children from controversial subject matter. Other leftists, however, will respond more consistently—and, if the controversy over Roger Ebert’s contribution to the debate is anything to go by, they’ll get pilloried by their own for doing so:
Ebert responded to the ‘Huck Finn’ announcement on Wednesday by tweeting to his 300,000-plus followers, “I’d rather be called a N***** than a Slave.”
The tweet set off a storm of heated feedback toward the influential critic, describing him as “disrespectful” and “ignorant.”
“Fair point, from some1 who’s likely to be called neither,” @urbanbohemian said.
Others accused Ebert of believing he’s allowed to take liberties with the word because his wife, Charlie “Chaz” Hammel-Smith, is black.
“R U OUT OF UR freakin head? jus cos ya wife is black dont give u the right to throw tht word around like its nothing. A*******” @iamichelle said.
Ebert retracted his statement Thursday by conceding that, as people like @urbanbohemian pointed out, he would never be called either word.
Ebert’s offense, I take it, is minimizing a slur whose full implications he as a white man can’t fully understand. True, Ebert doesn’t know what it’s like to endure such bigotry at all, much less have such experiences be a recurring part of daily life. But the observation that racial epithets can’t compare to actually being enslaved hardly implies that the word is “nothing”; indeed, the point seems so obviously true that no unique racial or cultural experience is necessary to understand it. Substitute the n-word for any number of racial, ethnic, cultural, or religious slurs—are any of them worse than being a slave? (“Insensitive” though it may be to say so, let me remind you that modern-day black Americans don’t truly know what slavery was like any better than whites.)