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Writers Against Racism: Byron Pitts on 60 Minutes Overtime

If you do nothing else today, please watch Byron Pitt’s interview with Ann Silvio, The “N-word”: Is it ever okay to say it? (via 60 Minutes Overtime) *WARNING* the advertisements and other distractions on the CBS website  may need some sorting through.


After watching Byron’s interview I wondered…is the word ‘nigger’ a historical word that has lost its ‘sting’ with today’s young people? How do we know they even feel what we feel from hearing the word? As I analyzed the Pitts interview further, it dawned on me that Byron has had to live through a history of racism that provided a certain perspective for him that even his children don’t fully grasp. Silvio asked him if one of his daughters was the only black kid in a class that was reading “Huckleberry Finn” would he want her to read it. He replied, “Yes.”

I certainly would not want my daughter to be subjected to reading the N-word,  page after page, month after month.  My apologies to my esteemed literature teachers/readers who are gasping right now.  Are there other more contemporary books that serve the same purpose? Are we still teaching history and literature in a 20th century modality?

That said, are we putting our ‘past’ issues on today’s students, in an effort to force them to understand a world they knew nothing about…a world of hurt and humiliation? I don’t know, nor am I naive  to think that racism doesn’t exist but we need to begin to analyze ways to move forward.  One way to begin the forward push is to ask the question of today’s K-12 reading lists. Is GONE WITH THE WIND relevant?

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  1. Mike Jackson says:

    I was born in 1954. My father had a college degree in Science and was a commissioned officer in the Army. My mother graduated from high school. By age four my brothers and me were growing up on a base in France. I was never exposed to Jim Crow signs that said “Colored” or “White Only” nor was I aware of the hatred that some white people had for Black people. My first Valentine card and kiss came from a very nice white girl in kindergarten. At that age I thought that she was not only wonderful, but that someday I would marry a white woman and it would be perfectly normal.

    During one week in the fourth grade we all read aloud chapters of a U.S History book. When we came to the chapter that included the arrival of black people and slavery many of the white student males turned around and stared at me as they read the three or four paragraphs that inadequately explained the existence and accomplishments of millions of enslaved and later freed black people. Some of those boys even snickered. I felt a flush of heat and blood in my head and on my face followed by a great sense of embarassment, worthlessness, distance, and sorrow. My teacher, Mrs. Ryan, showed absolutely no empathy for me. She also unfairly sent me to stand at the classroom corners a number of times for talking when I had not. She made an example of me by deliberate choice. I have never forgotten that screaming, hate filled bitch.

    Some years later my class was introduced to “Huckleberry Finn” and as we started to read it aloud it quickly became apparent that the word “nigger” was repeated so redundantly and its purpose and affects on my fellow students was not only without explaination, but it also failed to stimulate demonstrable empathy and outrage from the white students. I informed the teacher with great emotion that I wasn’t going to continue to read it and that the book was trash. The teacher didn’t force me to continue.

    I understand that we should preserve the original content of books and the intent of Mark Twain. Some whites may feel that racism has been largely eliminated in the U.S., however the act of censorship is cowardly because there are too many critical comparative differences between black and white populations. There are too few national monumnets and social expressions of total acceptance, reconciliation, and love for black people. If it were so then there would have been many publications, movies , photographs, and TV shows depicting integrated relationships and families. The major networks are still tiptoeing around it. Why??

    So to Byron I am saying that if you admire the word “nigger” so much then you must fully accept your containment. I will never accept it.