Tweekin’ Male Monday

Posted on 10 January 2011 Monday

And what a Monday it is, One Crazy Monday! I’ve already posted several of the day’s winners of the ALA Youth Medal Awards. You can find them all here.  I’ve got a post already started for today and I’m going to stay with that. I’ll digest the winners and have a bigger post on Sunday. Books and words are so powerful! I’m so glad we have the Coretta Scott King,  Pura Bulpre and John Steptoe books to share with children today.

Right now, I have a rather old, classic guy book to talk about.  Huckleberry Finn is certainly a guy book!  It’s an all American tale of adventure, life on the Mississippi river and of race.  If you haven’t heard, they’ve tweeked Twain. They’ve gone pc and taken out the ‘n’ word. I was reading a blog post about this mutilation and I suddenly remembered the first time I read the book.

I was in the 4th grade. Isn’t this book is a bit much for 4th graders? I went to an all white, Catholic grade school. I have to call it all white even though there were my siblings and myself, and the Martinez and Ybarra families and two other families with Black children. We were each isolated in our own classrooms and our culture never, ever entered into any decisions the school or parish made, well except for what they would not allow us to do, but that’s a different issue.
I had this teacher in the fourth grade, Mrs. Steger who was really a high school teacher and in my innocence, I didn’t realize until years later was quite racist. She didn’t like how I spoke so she had me memorize ‘The Swing’ by Robert Louis Stevenson and recite it in front of my class. I read it with so much expression and enthusiasm that all she could do was to thank me and ask me to sit down. There were comments made to my parents along the lines “I don’t believe she can be that smart.” My parents never backed down, never moved me and never expected less of me or my siblings.
So, this teacher decides to to read a few trade books with this gifted class of 4th graders with whom she’s been entrusted, this class with the one Black child who just doesn’t belong. And she chooses to read Huckleberry Finn. Had she read the book before? Did she read it now expecting to make a point about ‘n-words’? Did she not know the book really said something about who is and isn’t civilized and Jim came out looking pretty good?!I remember after she took the liberty of reading the ‘n-word’ as written the first time she encountered it, she announced to the class that we wouldn’t use that word, we would say ‘Negro’ instead. I remember the look on a substitute’s face reading the book to us and coming across that word. And looking at me. I also remember that Mrs. Steger did not return the next year.

Do you remember the first time you read Huck Finn? What were the circumstances and what were your reactions?




Posted in: Me Being Me