Thanks Larry for mentioning the afternoon session on this topic. This
topic will also have some bearing on the morning flash session, "How Might
Mark Twain Fit into an Anti-Racist Pedagogy?"
On Mon, Aug 1, 2022 at 2:17 PM Larry Howe <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Thank you, Kevin, for this review of Harris's _The Forbidden Word_." The
> earlier edition of this book escaped my notice, so I'm grateful to have it
> called to my attention.
> For those of you attending at Elmira, we'll have a flash presentation on
> Saturday afternoon that addresses the challenges of teaching _HF_'s racist
> language. The flash presentations are designed as interactive events in
> which the audience has a large share of the discussion. Hope to see you
> --Larry Howe
> Larry Howe
> Editor, Studies in American Humor
> Professor Emeritus of English & Film Studies
> Roosevelt University
> From: Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]> on behalf of Railton, Stephen F
> (sfr) <[log in to unmask]>
> Sent: Monday, August 1, 2022 9:54 AM
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: BOOK REVIEW: _N: My Encounter with Racism_ by James Henry
> [CAUTION: This email originated from outside Roosevelt University. Only
> click links or open attachments if you recognize the sender and know the
> content is safe.]
> Kevin, I appreciated the thoughtfulness of your review.
> Susan, that was a very powerful story you shared, but I sure would like to
> know more about what happened. Especially: what happened next? was there
> any discussion of the event?
> There's no question of how difficult this subject is to talk about, but I
> believe the more we talk about it, the further we can get. Thanks, Steve
> From: Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]> on behalf of Susan Bailey <
> [log in to unmask]>
> Sent: Monday, August 1, 2022 9:06 AM
> To: [log in to unmask] <[log in to unmask]>
> Subject: Re: BOOK REVIEW: _N: My Encounter with Racism_ by James Henry
> This review is very interesting to me and explains some things that I am
> aware of but didn’t quite understand.
> When Hal Holbrook received his honorary doctorate degree from the
> University of Missouri, he used that word a few times at a luncheon speech
> while quoting Twain. A Black server dropped her tray with all the food on
> it. It was a dramatic moment!
> I’m a token member of a private all Black group centered in Hannibal and
> there are members that admire Twain for his writing and for what his
> presence did for Hannibal; Others believe him to be a racist because of the
> liberal use of that word in his writings. I understand this better now.
> Susan Madeline Bailey
> On Mon, Aug 1, 2022 at 8:26 AM Barbara Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>
> > BOOK REVIEW
> > The following book review was written for the Mark Twain Forum by Kevin
> > Donnell.
> > ~~~~~
> > _N: My Encounter with Racism and the Forbidden Word in an American
> > Classic_. By James Henry Harris. Fortress Press, 2021. Pp. 181.
> > $18.99. ISBN 978-1-5064-7916-3. Ebook: 978-1-5064-7917-0.
> > Many books reviewed on the Forum are available at discounted prices from
> > the TwainWeb Bookstore, and purchases from this site generate commissions
> > that benefit the Mark Twain Project. Please visit <
> > >.
> > Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by
> > Kevin Mac Donnell.
> > This volume is a revision of _The Forbidden Word_ (2012), Harris's
> > book about Mark Twain's use of the word "nigger" in _Adventures of
> > Huckleberry Finn_, with a new preface that takes into account the state
> > race relations since the publication of that book. Harris describes his
> > hard-scrabble childhood, growing up in a house with no indoor plumbing
> > no electricity, and surrounded by "sex, lies, drinking, liquor, and
> > (67-68). There was no health care, and the only books in the house were a
> > defective Bible and whatever textbooks he and his nine siblings brought
> > home. These sparse details don't begin to convey the relentless grinding
> > poverty or the crushing weight of the confusions, injustices, losses, and
> > tragedies of his childhood years. As if this noxious brew needed
> > a heavy dose of racism was stirred into this miserable mix.
> > Harris survived, but not without scars. Now a Distinguished Professor of
> > Pastoral Theology & Homiletics at Virginia Union University, more than a
> > decade ago he decided to pursue a Master of Arts degree in English
> > literature at the age of 53, and enrolled in a class on _Huckleberry
> > He was the only black student in the class, in fact the only minority
> > member of the class (xv), and immediately found that reading the word
> > "nigger" on the printed page was one thing, but _hearing_ the word read
> > aloud and bandied about on the lips of the white students and his white
> > professor was something quite different, and not merely offensive or
> > humiliating, but profoundly painful.
> > Hearing the word triggered Harris's memories of being called a "nigger"
> > a child, which felt "like the sharp jabs of a dagger" (25), which had
> > the foundation of his lifetime reaction to the word, knowing that "when
> > hear whites use the word, you know in your spirit that it is intended to
> > harm" (151). Although Mark Twain is not calling Harris or any of his
> > readers a "nigger," Harris's life-long conditioning explains what some
> > consider his overreaction to hearing it spoken from the pages of Twain's
> > novel. Writes Harris, " . . . nobody can tell me I am a _nigger_ . . .
> > nobody has the right to do that, and Mark Twain is no exception" (ix-x).
> > Harris even describes his violent physical reaction to hearing the word
> > spoken by his fellow classmates (18). Harris also feels that when anyone,
> > including "Black intellectuals," substitutes the phrase "N-word" for
> > "nigger" that this is the equivalent of "nigger" and therefore equally
> > disturbing (xiii-xiv).
> > For Harris, Twain's satire often backfires; he writes that "satire works
> > too well for Black people. It reinforces the stereotype it was intended
> > obviate" (156). But he also acknowledges his admiration of Twain's use of
> > satire and irony, especially in the portrayal of whites in the novel, and
> > praises Twain's "marvelous" use of words and phrases (147). Harris makes
> > clear that "any author willing to send his dear protagonist Huck Finn all
> > the way to hell on behalf of one of my African American ancestors is
> > certainly worthy of my acclamation" (47-48), but he still objects to
> > Twain's use of the word "nigger" and describes his "dialectical
> > relationship with the writer and the novel" as "Love and hate. Admiration
> > and disgust" (150).
> > At times he seems to confuse Twain's putting the word into the mouths of
> > his characters with Twain uttering the word himself, but either way it
> > makes no difference to Harris (148-149). However, this distinction is no
> > small distinction, and is a valid explanation of Twain's utilization of
> > word, but Harris explicitly rejects that argument (xv). To Harris, Twain
> > a racist because he uses the word "so flippantly. So cavalier-like. So
> > wrenchingly and so unashamedly" (31) and that "there is a persistent
> > and cultural hierarchy that permeates the written and visual texts in
> > _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_" and that "this does mean that Twain
> was a
> > racist, and he certainly took advantage of being white" (152). Harris is
> > either ignoring the satire or simply missing Twain's point; perhaps both.
> > Even at key moments in the novel, Harris does not soften his objections
> > the word, asserting that Aunt Sally's revealing expression of relief that
> > the steamboat explosion only killed a "nigger" was an example of "racism
> > and white supremacy" and not a moment of "literary genius" (155).
> > although Harris accurately cites Pap Finn's racist rant about "niggers"
> > the government as Twain's way of showing "the racism of the times" he
> > nevertheless concludes that "it is symptomatic of the reality of white
> > supremacy in both Pap, the character, Mark Twain, the writer, and Huck
> > protagonist" (171).
> > Harris refuses to distinguish the racism of Twain's characters from their
> > creator, and is consistently confrontational and defiant, or else a
> > provocateur (130). At other times he is admittedly mischievous (136), and
> > admits that his imagination sometimes may be getting the better of him
> > (132). He questions his own sensitivity to the word, and addresses the
> > different attitude among younger blacks today, but defends his position
> > (35, 165-166). In class he swallows his anger and instead contributes
> > mostly "good trouble" to classroom discussions, sometimes getting
> > jaw-dropping reactions from his fellow students, and sometimes their
> > understanding.
> > At the end of the "brutal and uncomfortable class" (177) which he also
> > describes as a "slug-fest" that left him feeling "battered" (46-47), each
> > student was required to recite a one-hundred-word excerpt from the novel
> > front of the class. Unable to bring himself to say the word "nigger" in
> > front of a classroom of white students, Harris instead recites two poems,
> > ending with Langston Hughes's "Refugee in America'`:
> > There are words like Freedom
> > Sweet and wonderful to say.
> > On my heart-strings freedom sings
> > All day everyday.
> > There are words like Liberty
> > That almost make me cry.
> > If you had known what I knew
> > You would know why.
> > The recitation brings him to tears and hushes his classmates into a
> > silence" (178).
> > The arguments Harris makes have been raised before by black writers; John
> > Wallace's _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Adapted_ (1983), and Sharon
> > Rush's _Huck Finn's "Hidden" Lesson: Teaching and Learning Across the
> > Line_ (2006) come to mind. Most Twainians familiar with _Huckleberry
> > will disagree with Harris's indictment of Twain as a racist, his
> > of how the word "nigger" functions in the novel, and his conclusions that
> > "the ubiquitous use of _nigger_ by Twain is the basic reason why his
> > has attained the status of an American classic" (141) and that "Twain's
> > of the word _nigger_ . . . is so much a part of his being white that he
> > does not have to think twice about its use" (147).
> > Readers might conclude that _Huckleberry Finn_ was poorly taught in
> > Harris's class, or more likely, that Harris's visceral but understandable
> > response to hearing the word spoken in class clouded his perception of
> > Twain's deliberate use of the word to signify the racism of the
> > in the novel. Some readers might also notice that while Twain puts the
> > in the mouths of his characters more than 200 times in _Huckleberry
> > Harris himself uses the word more than 175 times in his own book. But how
> > else could either man show his readers the evils of a systemic racism
> > has continued to infect American culture from Twain's era to our own?
> > Readers who find it difficult to understand why Harris (and others) react
> > this way to the word "nigger" in _Huckleberry Finn_ will find the answer
> > the last two lines of Langston Hughes's poem. White readers may question
> > Harris's arguments, but not his black experiences. This white reviewer
> > cannot imagine very many black students willing to express themselves in
> > front of other students--especially white students--as candidly and
> > emotionally as Harris does in the pages of his memoir. For that reason
> > alone, anyone, black or white, who teaches Twain in the classroom to
> > students, black or white, will profit from reading Harris's account.
> > T. S. Eliot, commenting on _Huckleberry Finn_ in his introduction to the
> > 1950 edition, said that "_Huckleberry Finn_, like other great works of
> > imagination, can give to every reader whatever he is capable of taking
> > it" (Eliot xiv). Black and white readers each bring different experiences
> > to the table, each capable of taking things from this novel that the
> > will not, each necessarily viewing the book through black or white-tinted
> > spectacles. But none can be excluded from the table if a meaningful
> > discussion is to take place.
> Susan Bailey
> Co author
> The Twain Shall Meet
> Twain Page <
> Greenville, SC
Director, Writing & Speaking Center
Editor, *The* *Mark Twain Annual*
Director, Twain Lecture Series on
American Humor and Culture
St. Mary's College of Maryland