Huckleberry Finn and a Visceral Exercise – A New Approach

I decided to postpone ”N-word” vs “Slave,” The Media’s Biased Coverage of Huck Finn – Part 2 until tomorrow.   This visceral exercise blog was insistent about being birthed today so I surrendered to it.  Sorry if I disappointed anyone.

Ms. Jane, an English teacher, takes her 25 students outside to read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”  Before they begin, Ms. Jane sees a large swarm of bees headed in their direction, so she hurries her students inside a nearby green house.   All except her five Black students.  Ms. Jane tells them to remain seated outside while she and the other students, some wearing pained expressions, watch the bees sting the Black students 219 times.  

Whenever I hear whites and other non-Blacks defend the inclusion of Huck Finn in the school curriculum, I wonder if they’ve ever considered what it feels like to hear someone target their group with racist slurs 219 times or even 19 times in one or two sittings.  I suspect if these people were told that their children would be subjected to a barrage of racist slurs targeting their group, many of these parents would be actively opposed.  That begs the question, “How can they fight for something that racially harms someone else’s child almost 220 times?”

If educators were allowed to teach Huck Finn in tandem with a new (hypothetical) text book whose stories are filled with racist slurs targeting non-Blacks, I don’t doubt many people would object to the new book’s inclusion in the curriculum.  But if that text book really did exist, here’s how it would be used.  Let’s say a classroom is made up of Black, Asian, Hispanic, Jewish and white students, and the white kids are broken into subgroups – Polish, Italian, Irish, etc.  The teacher would poll the students to see who thinks Huck Finn should be taught in schools despite the controversial n-word.  The teacher would then assign them the new text book.  At various points in every story in this book, innocent characters belonging to one of  the aforementioned groups (includes subgroups) would be the targets of 100 (or some lesser number) racist slurs per story.   And all groups would get a turn being the targets of racism as well as the racists.  After completing the book in which every group has been the target of 100 racist slurs, the teacher would then poll the students again to see if any of them changed their position on the mandatory inclusion of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

This new text book approach would provide non-Black students with a better sense of how potentially punishing Huck Finn is to Black students and why it’s so controversial.   Since this book would subject all students to a similar negative racial experience, the students would have something in common and then perhaps meet on common ground and begin a dialogue from there.  I don’t know that this multi-race visceral approach has ever been tried but it is something worth considering.

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