Racism Essay Assignment

English / American Authors –Mr. Dawursk



Due: ___/____/___

Assignment:  Read the following three sections.  The first is the definition and history of racism. The next two sections are actual news articles about the use of Huck Finn at a school in California.  Write a one to two page typed paper about the following: 

1) What is your definition of racism? Have you experienced racism? Explain.  Compare your experience to the book Huck Finn.


2) Do you feel that Huck Finn is a racist book or a book which
exposes racism
? Why?  Give examples.


3) Do you feel that the book should be censored? Why or why not? React to the articles below about censorship.


Racism: Definition/History

One unfortunate result of biased and unscientific studies on racial and ethnic differences has been racism--the notion that some ethnic groups or races are naturally superior to others. Racism has probably existed ever since separate races came into being. One of the most influential modern racists was the 19th-century writer Joseph-Arthur Gobineau. In the United States the teachings of Gobineau and his British-born disciple Houston Stewart Chamberlain were promoted early in the 20th century by Lothrop Stoddard and Madison Grant. During this same period the work of American anthropologist Franz Boas served to correct racist thinking. Boas, in refusing to accept the superiority of any one group over another, pointed out the natural human inclination to view as indications of inferiority what are actually mere differences . Later, Gunnar Myrdal of Sweden and others in the social sciences also helped expose the fictions that are the bases of racism.

Situations stemming from racist feelings and conflicts between ethnic groups remain a serious problem. Apartheid in South Africa, social inequality and unrest in the United States and other parts of the world, resentment in Great Britain directed against immigrants from former colonies, reluctance on the part of many nations in many areas to accept Southeast Asian refugees, and the ongoing strife in the Middle East--all of these are based at least in part on conflict between racial and ethnic groups.

(Taken from: San Diego County Board of Education, http://www.sdcoe.k12.ca.us/score/huckcen/ComptonRacism.html)



Tuesday, October 17, 1995

Huck Finn's Fate to Be Decided

Jamie Beckett, Chronicle South Bay Bureau

A school group in east San Jose is to decide tomorrow night whether ``The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn'' should be removed from required reading lists in 11 area high schools in response to objections raised by African American parents.

The parents cite the classic Mark Twain novel's liberal use of racial stereotypes and racial epithets -- it uses the ``n'' word more than 200 times -- which they say is damaging to their children. In one four-page passage, the word appears 15 times, the parents say.

Although supporters of the novel defend it as an indictment of racism in the 19th century United States, the African-American Parent Coalition argues that their children already are bombarded with racial slurs that erode their self-esteem and affect their performance in school.

``The word `nigger' has meaning for African American people that no one else can really get inside of,'' said Chester Stevens, a founder of the coalition, noting the word's association with lynchings, segregation and slavery.

The coalition wants the book removed from required reading lists in the 11 high schools or replaced with an alternate version that deletes racially offensive language. A 12-member committee of teachers, parents, students and administrators will meet tomorrow to make a recommendation to the superintendent of the East Side Union High School District. The school board makes the final decision, but the committee's recommendation carries considerable weight, officials said.

``We're not saying ban the book or take it out of the library, but we need some other books that reflect other images of African Americans,'' Stevens said.

Others argue against any restrictions on the novel.

``Restricting access to any material through the classroom is censorship,'' said Jean Hessberg, California director for People for the American Way, which has been tracking attempts to ban books since 1982. ``What people forget is that we can't take away parts of history as if they didn't happen.''

Charleen Silva Delfino, who coordinates the English curriculum for the school district, pointed out that teachers already can choose not to teach ``Huckleberry Finn,'' and parents can ask that their children read another book. The novel is one of five on a list from which two are selected. Delfino said she is withholding judgment about the book's fate until the committee makes a decision.

``I can tell you why I was in favor of putting it on the list in the first place,'' she said, describing Twain as a ``master of satire'' whose work has been used as a model by other American authors. The novel chronicles the adventures of Huck and the runaway slave Jim as they travel south on the Mississippi River. Huck, an uneducated teenager, is forced to confront his feelings about slavery and racism as he develops a deepening friendship and respect for Jim.

Controversial since it was published in 1885, ``Huckleberry Finn'' has been among the most frequently challenged books, according to People for the American Way. During the past year, attempts have been made to remove the book from schools in Connecticut, Texas, Georgia and in Santa Cruz, where the school board voted instead to expand diversity training for teachers.

People for the American Way found 458 attempts to censor books and curricula in the 1994-95 school year -- up from 153 attempts in the 1982-83 school year -- and censors were successful half of those times. Other novels that frequently make the ``most challenged'' list include ``Catcher in the Rye'' by J. D. Salinger, ``Of Mice and Men'' by John Steinbeck and ``I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings'' by Maya Angelou.

``Huckleberry Finn'' is the second textbook challenged by the African-American Parent Coalition. They persuaded school officials to move Theodore Taylor's novel ``The Cay'' from required to optional reading lists in middle schools in San Jose's Oak Grove School District.

Chronicle South Bay Bureau


Friday, October 27, 1995

South Bay School Board Tackles `Huck' Debate

by Jamie Beckett, Chronicle South Bay Bureau

More than 80 people packed an East San Jose school board meeting for a long-awaited vote on whether the classic American novel ``The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn'' will remain on required reading lists.

After nearly three hours of often emotional public testimony, the board of trustees of the East San Jose High School District was still debating late last night whether to grant a request from a group of African American parents who want the Mark Twain novel either removed from a reading list in 11 high schools or replaced with an version that omits offensive language.

Much of the testimony consisted of passionate declarations from African American parents and others on how the word ``nigger,'' which appears more than 200 times in the novel, affects them.

``For me, each sound of the word `nigger' rings out like the sound of rifle fire, as the bullet tears through the face of Dr. (Martin Luther) King,'' said Chester Stevens, a founder of the African-American Parent Coalition.

The coalition argues that the book erodes their children's self-esteem and affects their school performance, because it includes racial epithets and negative stereotypes.

But others, including several students, said the book serves a valuable purpose.

``We can't shelter everybody from everything. We have to realize how cruel people really are,'' said Christine Cortinas, a junior at Andrew Hill High School in East San Jose.

School officials have said they chose ``Huckleberry Finn'' for the list because it is considered by many critics to be the beginning of an American literary tradition. In addition, they cited Mark Twain's masterful use of satire and the novel's potential as a starting point for discussing racism.

The book is one of seven on a list from which two are selected, usually by teachers. The required list and an optional reading list encompass a diverse group of authors and novels, including Amy Tan's ``The Joy Luck Club,'' Richard Wright's ``Black Boy,'' Isabel Allende's ``House of the Spirits,'' and Harper Lee's ``To Kill a Mockingbird.''

A panel of parents, teachers, students and administrators urged trustees last week to keep ``Huckleberry Finn'' on the reading list. Acknowledging that ``some students may be adversely affected'' by the book, the committee said teachers should be trained to teach the novel sensitively.

``Huckleberry Finn'' is the second textbook challenge by the African-American Parent Coalition. Earlier, the group persuaded school officials to move the novel ``The Cay'' from required to optional reading lists in middle schools in San Jose's Oak Grove School District.

The American Civil Liberties Union called any proposal to limit access to ``Huckleberry Finn'' or other novels on the reading list ``fundamentally misguided.'' In a letter to school board President Manuel Herrera, the ACLU said that allowing outside groups to intervene in school curricula encourages ``a tug-of-war among ideological opponents.''

``Huckleberry Finn,'' which tells of the adventures of young Huck and the runaway slave Jim as they make their way down the Mississippi River, has been controversial since it was published in 1885. It is among the most frequently challenged books in schools, according to People for the American Way, which has been tracking attempts to ban books since 1982.

Chronicle South Bay Bureau