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Vicki Dempsey <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 5 Jan 2011 22:41:00 -0600
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Dear Friends,  I am certainly no literary scholar or educator, but I  
do know a bit about slavery in the upper Mississippi Valley from 1840  
until 1865.  If one is to understand slavery, one must understand the  
dehumanization of the enslaved by the master class.  The word nigger  
certainly does not equal the word slave.  Slavery ended in Missouri in  
January of 1865.  The niggerization of a substantial portion of the  
population continued for another sad century denying people social,  
political, educational, and economic opportunities.  The word nigger  
still floats around Northeast Missouri.  "Nigger work" is used by the  
rougher sort of white people today to indicate hard dirty work.   
Asbestos siding made to look like bricks is referred to as "nigger  
brick."  The latter has roots in a whole class of cheap goods  
manufactured and sold to the master class for use by slaves.  Of  
course, it is still used by some to refer to African Americans. Though  
today most whites do not use these terms in the presence of non- 
whites, I still hear them from my clients from time to time.
        I think that Twain understood exactly what he meant when he  
used the word "nigger."  It certainly entailed far more than "slave."   
A slave could be freed, but the person remained a nigger.  Surely we  
have progressed far enough that our students can discuss this  
concept.  It is not necessary to whitewash the institution and clean  
up Twain.  I understand the power of the word and I still wince when I  
hear it.  However, it always strikes me as ironic when I hear my older  
non-white daughter use the word with her boyfriend (a practice she did  
not have until she moved to New York.)  I think Gribben is taking a  
very wrong and misleading step with his sanitized Huck.
         Terrell Dempsey