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March 25, 2017

What we do, not say


In one of my classes this semester, the teacher showed us a PowerPoint that included a quotation containing the word "Negro." After she read it, she turned to the one black person in our class and said, "Sorry, (his name)."

There was a brief but palpable silence, and then several people in the class, myself included, couldn't help but laugh awkwardly.

Personally, I couldn't believe she had done what I think every teacher at Richmond tries to avoid: making any reference to race at all that could possibly be interpreted as offensive.

When I talked about it after class with the classmate who'd been called out, he said he wasn't bothered by it at all, and that he knew she meant well. He thought it was "cute."

Thinking about it later, I agreed with him that she had probably meant well. Our teacher is extremely kind-hearted, and she probably was sincerely sorry.

This instance really brought to my attention, however, how truly scared our society today is of being called "racist."

I was incredulous when I heard that NewSouth Books, a publisher based in Alabama, planned to release a new version of the classic book "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" in February that erases all instances of the n-word.

Alan Gribben, a professor of English at Auburn University, approached NewSouth with the idea in July because he didn't feel comfortable using the word when teaching the books to his classes.

"I'm by no means sanitizing Mark Twain," he said in the New York Times. "I just had the idea to get us away from obsessing about this one word, and just let the stories stand alone."

Isn't it a bit ironic, though, that he wants the stories to stand alone yet he wants to completely change what they say?

The word is used 219 times in Huck Finn, so if they're all removed, that's actually a good portion of the book that's changed.

It makes me wonder what's next, taking slavery out of history books because it's "too offensive?"

Last year, Toronto's Fun Guide got caught superimposing the face of a black man onto its cover in an attempt to depict the "diversity" of Toronto residents.

The picture is almost laughable it's so obviously fake, but it's also laughable that the photographer couldn't just go out and find an actual diverse family to take a picture of - especially if Toronto's residents are as diverse as the guide's cover was trying to suggest.

Even on Richmond's website, it's obvious that the photographer is very aware of the races of the people he or she is including in an attempt to communicate the idea that Richmond is a racially diverse school.

While I do love Richmond, "racially diverse" is definitely not the first term I would use to describe it.

My point is that I think our deathly fear of being perceived as "racist" is driving us to make mistakes - like changing the wording of classic books, or apologizing to the one black student in class.

By trying so hard to avoid the topic of race and racism, we're only placing more emphasis on it, which further exacerbates the problem we're trying so hard to solve.

I think if we teach history how it happened, stop trying so hard to craft a "racially diverse" picture of ourselves and let people live without having to be attached to their races if they don't want to be, it would be a step in the right direction.

It sounds cliche, but actions really do speak louder than words, so instead of trying so hard to say the right things and avoid saying the wrong ones, we can just show what we think in how we treat each other every day.


Tagged: alabama, classes, diversity, family, guest-column, history, new-york, opinion, racism

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