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Terrell Dempsey <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 15 Feb 2003 17:01:33 -0600
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I would not wade in on this word issue, but I am weathered-in here in
Hannibal.  The president of the Illinois Underground Railroad Association
couldn't make it over to speak at the Hannibal Free Public Library, so I had
to cancel that event.  I am just about bored out of my mind.
    Here are my thoughts.  Say the word.  If Sam had intended to use a
different word, he would have written a different word.  I have spent most
of my free time for the past three years reading newspaper articles,
speeches, sermons, and letters from this area.  You may be assured the word
is historically accurate and was very common. I am far more concerned with
what Quintin Tarrantino and his Hollywood friends have done with the word
nigger than what Twain has done with it.
    For those of you who are inclined to tell me about the awesome power of
this word, be assured I know it.  Let me share this very intimate anecdote
with you.  My wife and I are both of European descent.  We adopted children
who are of Euro-African-Hispanic descent.  They were four and six when we
adopted them and had been in rather horrible foster care for three years.
The week they came to live with us, I enrolled them in school one evening.
Afterwards, we stopped for a root beer at the Mark Twain Dinette (don't you
love Hannibal).  The oldest one looked up at me and said, "you know I'm a
nigger, don't you?"
    That was a lot like getting smacked with a softball bat. (And yes, we've
dealt with those self-esteem issues and that particular young lady is very
proud of who she is and an honors student at university.)
    So, my thinking is, if you don't know how to tell your children what
kind of language is appropriate to use at home, school, playground, church,
mosque or synagogue -- and especially what kind will get the bejeezies beat
out of you -- then you don't have any business raising kids anyway.  Them
hearing it in Huckleberry Finn will not negatively impact them any more than
seeing nudes at the art museum will make them exhibitionists.
    Terrell Dempsey