The Gold in Niggers and Injuns

Steve Roberts Color Photo: Stone sculpture and teepee frame

The push to change the words “nigger” and “injun” in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, because the so-called offensive nature of those terms might limit today’s readership and appreciation of that literary classic, is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how we avoid taking responsibility for our feelings––and therefore miss the chance to become more awake, more whole, more useful friends to one another.

The real issue in the “nigger/injun” argument is values.  And I don’t know how any of us can have a meaningful opinion about values without first defining the purpose of life as we understand it.  So here’s mine: life’s purpose is growing our capacity to love.  Everything else is color commentary.

To that end, perhaps the single most important human activity is learning from our experience.  The reasons aren’t obscure.  All we know of anything––an apple pie, dancing with our sweetheart, Einstein’s theory of relativity, or God––is our experience of it.  We filter existence through our own perceptions, which means through not only our five senses, but also through our fears, hopes, beliefs, preferences, addictions and so forth.  Whatever we decide is “real.”  As so-and-so said, we don’t see the world as it is, but as we are.

Which means, all we ever learn about is us––all the ways we define reality, all the ways we create our own sense of well-being … or lack of it.  

I’m partial to the notion that every experience is a fabulous gift from the universe to help us learn about ourselves.  The extent to which we embrace our experiences as such a gift is the extent to which we grow in self-understanding.  The more self-understanding, the more love.  Especially valuable, then, are those gnarly gifts that challenge our “comfort.” 

Huckleberry Finn the story means nothing; our experience of that story means everything.  And if there are parts of the story we find “offensive,” guess who is 100 percent responsible for that feeling. 

Blaming Twain’s writing for our reaction to it is a way we deny that responsibility. 

What if, instead, we chose to welcome finding something “offensive,” considering it an opportunity to grow a more peaceful heart by freeing ourselves from the tyranny of beliefs and fears that do nothing but fuel our discontent and keep us small?

“When you learn to love hell, you will be in heaven,” says Thaddeus Golas in The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment, a pocket-sized piece of dynamite.

In that light, those “niggers” and “injuns” just may be another couple of life’s beautiful teachers.


  1. Steve,
    This is a terrific message, I couldn’t agree more. We had to change our High School mascot from the Indians several years ago. Given what the white man did to them, I felt it was a tribute.

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"I honor that we are killing the earth for the same reason I consider being an alcoholic a privilege: it is a doorway to the profound self-understanding required to make truly healthy choices."

The Essay: Honoring the Killing of the Earth