In a March 27 letter to the editor, Ryan Matzinger, a student from an intermediate English class, wrote complaining about an assigned reading of a Flannery O'Connor short story entitled, "The Artificial Nigger." As a Southerner and a liberal, I too find problems with the word "nigger." I am not, however, prepared to strike literature containing this word from any reading list.
To deny the literary merit of a work of literature due to the fact that it uses a word that makes readers uncomfortable is, forgive my candor, stupid. To deny O'Connor on this basis would be to deny Faulkner, Conrad and Twain-and this is the shortest of short lists. We must remain uncomfortable with this word as readers. To pretend that there never was a slave culture, or blatant and daily racial discrimination against African Americans, is to pretend that an era of history did not occur-an action that reeks of historical revisionism of the most dangerous sort.
I would like to point out several things to the proponents of Matzinger's position concerning O'Connor: First, imagine being a Southern, Catholic woman writing in the early part of the 20th century, when any combination of the above qualities was anything but a blessing in Savannah, Georgia. Secondly, please re-read O'Connor's story. I am sure you will find a bitterly ironic tale of two ignorant men, a father and a son, rendered hopelessly incompetent by the city of Atlanta-which has historically been home to many extraordinary African Americans who navigated it without problem.
At a university the caliber of Duke, we as students cannot afford to jeopardize academic freedom in the name of comfort. It is only by embracing the discomfort raised by tales like "The Artificial Nigger" that any real change can be affected. To address a problem is to begin to solve it-to pretend a problem does not exist only allows it to gain strength.
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