I wonder what Mark Twain would think about the recent change in his beloved Huckleberry Finn? Would he be up in arms? Canada recently joined the censorship debates via Dire Strait’s song “Money for Nothing” being censored due to derogatory word in the lyrics.
These points were discussed last night in my Feminist Political Thought, when we were thinking about words and their power. Now, we did chat about how some argue that words don’t have power unless we give them that power. I disagree with this. I think there are loaded words, if you will, that have such a heavy history.
But, what do we then owe to one another? In today’s local paper (the Times Colonist) several people wrote in to continue this discussion about censorship. And, one of the things that I was left with–is that it’s so easy to cast easy uncomplicated opinions when you are from a place of privilege. When you might not be the “out” group who experience racism or heterosexism, for instance.
I agree that words have power (and the idea that we only “give” them power is a load of hooey). However, censorship often does further harm to “out” groups. For one thing, it makes it difficult to have public discussion about the meaning of words and their power.
To take the Huckleberry Finn example, particularly in a teaching context, I’d want to have the original words there and then discuss the historical context, why it was used (and why it was shocking at the time, for other reasons) as well as why we no longer use that word and some of the reasons why the names we use for particular racialized groups have changed.
Sometimes, by making is unacceptable to use particular words (especially in an educational context), privileged groups get to sweep the issue of the power words have under the carpet. Similar to “they only have power if you give them power”, it can stand as a solution that doesn’t really address the problem.
Right, it ends up that the “they only have power if you give them power” is one of those conversation stoppers. It absolves people of any guilt or plausible apologies when they use these words. It really frustrates me. I was just thinking about this, again, after reading some really terrible comments in today’s paper. So, glad that the seminar weighed in yesterday with thoughtful comments. Now, we didn’t all agree and that isn’t the point of seminar, but at least we had more than the knee-jerk letters offer.
Laughing that I sent the post off incomplete. I was between moments and wanted to jot them down! So, thank you for your thoughtful response to my early musings about this issue! I think I might ask two colleagues to participate in a public talk about this issue.