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Banned Books Countdown: The Book of Negroes, Huck Finn and the N-word

February 16, 2013 | P@ | Comments (0)

Spike Lee has recently declined to go to Quentin Tarantino's latest film. One of the issues is clearly the frequent and debatably excessive use of a certain racial epithet.

Of course none of this actually constitutes anything like censorship.  What happened to Canadian author Laurence Hill's Book of Negroes last year is closer to the mark.  A group in the Netherlands objected to the Dutch title, Het Negerboek (a faithful translation I'm told) and demanded a change to the title or they would burn copies of his book. 

But Hill had chosen the title on purpose since Book of Negroes was the actual name of a British document reciording the names of former slaves who supported the British side in the American Revolution and who had been promised freedom and land in exchange. The group did not follow through on the originally reported threat because they objected not so much to the text as the title and contented themselves by burning the book in effigy.

This is only the latest event in a long history of challenges to materials based on the fact that they contain a particular word, regardless of context.  That history goes back at least as far as Huckleberry Finn, and the controversy surrounding that book continues into this century with a bowdlerized edition of Huckleberry Finn being released only last year.


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