I have been fortunate to teach H.F. as an only text for a semester, for
nearly ten years. My estimate is that I've had about 1500 students in
classes, and of that approximately 20% have been African-American.
Interestingly, I have never had any African-American student protest reading
the novel because of the N word or because of the racism (let alone refuse
to read the novel). However, I have had 27 white students (I decided, from
year one, to count the number of students who made a fuss over the book
of the items just mentioned) -- ALL females -- raise questions or protests
about reading the text. They all did read it, and once into the novel --
understanding how and why Twain uses the N word and racism --
enthusiastically got involved in the discussion.
I can only speak for me, of course, but I strongly believe the "secret" to
diffusing student concerns about H.F. due to the N word and the racism is in
first day talk and discussion of how the N word was used in the South in the
19th c, its evolution into why its use stirs such violent reactions today,
and its purpose / racism's purpose in the novel.
ERROL CRAIG SULL
Department of English
Buffalo State College