01/06/2011 07:00 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Roger Ebert Misses the Boat

Twitter claims another victim. The chalk outline of film critic Roger Ebert decorates the expanse of the information superhighway; a painful reminder of the internet roadkill struck down by the speeding blogosphere.

Twitter gets celebrities in trouble, this much we already knew. Established writers on the other hand are arguably more careful with their words/context and less prone to such 140 character missteps. Nevertheless, it's been known to happen, and Ebert is the next and latest victim to fall prey to his own poorly crafted social networking stream of consciousness.

Ebert, in an attempt to offer commentary on whether there is legitimate controversy or even conversation to be found in NewSouth Books' forthcoming edition of Mark Twain's novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, stepped where he had no business walking at all. The proposed updated edition of the classic novel would replace all N-words with the... ahem, "euphemism" of "slave."

More HERE.

Proponents of the update have argued the original language was (among other things) antiquated, inflammatory and inconsistent with the country in which we live today. Opinions from opponents ranged from it being a form of censorship to something borne out of sheer stupidity.

Mo'Kelly is in the middle, because both sides are correct. Yet, both sides heretofore have missed the more salient point. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is all of those things: antiquated, inconsistent with contemporary American social ethics and changing it in any way would be sheer stupidity.

And for that matter, so are Shaft and the "landmark" television show, Good Times. You see where Mo'Kelly's headed.

Presumably nobody, including Mo'Kelly would want an "updated version" of the film Birth of a Nation either... just in case any "other" film critics want to weigh in on merging political correctness with historical hatred.

This isn't an either/or proposition, it's both. The proposed solution of "updating" is ridiculous, to solve an inaccurately identified problem.

Enter Roger Ebert, stage right.

Ebert in his haste to anticipate the response from the African-American community, offered a preemptive Twitter strike.

See his tweet HERE.

Poor conception, poor execution... yet richly deserved subsequent criticism.

It's clear what Ebert is trying to convey; the N-word should never carry the injurious weight equal to that of actually being called (i.e. being) a slave. Ebert's implication is that the condition of enslavement is far worse than any mere insult.

Um... yes, in theory Roger.

Ebert's argument fails because he blithely omits the inextricable link between the two in this case.

No slavery... no N-word. See how that works? They explicitly reference one another. To trace the etymology of the N-word is to go back where this country came from, including the dusty back roads of the Jim Crow South and the strange fruit of burned, lynched black men hanging from the trees which lined them. Keep on that path and you'll eventually find yourself all the way back to the Middle Passage.

They explicitly reference one another.

The easy part is to simply criticize and lambaste Ebert for not knowing his "editorial place," for commenting outside the bounds of his personal knowledge or professional expertise. Ebert's history is clear -- he has long celebrated African-Americans and culture, irrespective of him dating African-American women such as Oprah or eventual wife Chaz. There will be plenty of negativity directed Ebert's way for "getting too comfortable" and commenting on that which he had no business commenting. There will be plenty of predictable "two thumbs down" jokes and arguments that merely liking black stuff and black women doesn't make one an authority on all things black...

That's the easy part and easy way out.

The hard part is getting America to fall out of love with the idea that she is a "post-racial" nation. We cannot and should not deny the history that brought us to this moment in time in a political, social and even economic disparity sense.

When we look at America's urban communities, its inferior education system and the impenetrable cycles involved in both, "slave" and the N-word are not merely historical footnotes as to how African Americans are treated in a contemporary sense. Don't let the discussion end with just quips about Roger Ebert.

When we look at the open and brazen disrespect for President Obama, such that has never been seen before; neither "slave" nor the N-word is a relic of a forgotten America. When we get to the heart of the matter and are honest about the nature of the mean-spirited animosity directed at the president (under the guise of supposed principled, partisan politics), "slave" and the N-word aren't historical artifacts, they are present day mentalities. Don't let the discussion end or focus solely on Roger Ebert.

Not so fast. Hold on. Calm down, it's coming. Breathe... breathe. Wait for it... wait for it...

When we as African Americans continually and woefully argue that the N-word with an "a" at the end instead of an "er" is a term of endearment through its use in our conversations, comedy routines, music and movies, we perpetuate and promulgate the deleterious impact of both. This is nobody's fault but our own and no other ethnic group on the planet has fought tooth and nail to cling to such ignorant filth. We have to be honest about our own role in this evolution. We as African-Americans must acknowledge and own this truth as well.

That needs to be said again.

"We as African-Americans must acknowledge and own this truth as well."

Roger Ebert was well within his right to express his opinion on whether the N-word is less offensive or injurious than the institution that gave it life. He's wrong, but that's the beauty of America -- there's room for all opinions, even the misinformed ones. All men (and women) are created equal in America, but not all opinions. Some are much more informed than others.

Again, highlighting and chastising Ebert's misstep will always be the easy part. The hard part is in being honest about who we are and where we are as a country; not engaging in revisionist history of how we got here.

"Updating" The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in this manner is wrong. Roger Ebert left alone on Twitter without adult supervision is wrong, and most importantly, the quest to sanitize the truth about America's history and cover up her liver spots with fresh makeup is wrong. Don't let the discussion end with only quips about Roger Ebert.

Morris W. O'Kelly (Mo'Kelly) is author of the syndicated entertainment and socio-political column The Mo'Kelly Report. For more Mo'Kelly, go to his site. Mo'Kelly can be reached at and he welcomes all commentary.

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