"Huckleberry Finn," almost always regarded as an American classic, is a story of an unlikely friendship between Huck, a white adolescent, and Jim, an enslaved black man. I find it peculiar that the concept of human chattel is not too harsh for young readers, but a six-letter word renders this work obscene.
The value of "Huckleberry Finn" is that it explores racism and friendship in a way that shows the complicated relationships between blacks and whites. Huck and Jim certainly care for each other, but at the same time it's true that Huck refers to his friend as "Nigger Jim."
This is a complicating dynamic that should not be omitted. In the hands of a skilled teacher, this can lead to a frank discussion that interrogates modern relationships. After that day in class, the well-worn "But some of my best friends are black!" will no longer seem to be an adequate defense against charges of racism.
Furthermore, prettying up the language also pretties up the historical record of antebellum life in the American South. If we are in a position in which schools cannot be honest about what African-Americans were called during slavery, what hope is there that students will ever be told the reality of what enslaved people experience?
The revisions to "Huckleberry Finn" have been described as "politically correct," but I disagree with this characterization. Political correctness is not about airbrushing history to allow us to remember our past in a way that more closely resembles our present. Though more honorable in intent, these changes are more in line with recent Virginia textbook scandal in which units of black soldiers were said to have fought for the Confederacy.
I agree that "Huckleberry Finn" is an important novel, but if altering history is the cost of its inclusion in schools, then it's just not worth it.
Tayari Jones teaches at Rutgers-Newark University. Her new novel, "Silver Sparrow," will be published in May. Read her blog on Red Room.