Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas from a Land of Hope and Sorrow

"Winter holidays in the southern states." 1857 / PD LOC
I was driving home from work a few weeks ago, flipping through the radio stations and I came upon one of those dedicated progressive/modern/pop holiday formats you hear so often this time of year. I tarried, only planning to spend a moment there. It was a cover version of "O Holy Night" performed by Josh Groban. I'm not the biggest fan of Groban, so my hand instinctively went back to the dial when I stopped.

Groban piped the words, "Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother; And in His name all oppression shall cease."

My mind raced. Had this song I have heard thousands of times from radios and mall loudspeakers, church organs and choir voices, really been a mystery to me the whole time? Where did that line come from? Did it mean what I thought it meant?

In 1847, Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure, a french wine commissionaire 1, composed a short poem for his town's priest. Adolphe Adams, a world-renowned composer of operas set the poem to music and the "Cantique de Noël" was born. The world around the song was one of tumult and strife. Ideas were changing and shifting. The following year, Karl Marx would publish his Communist Manifesto, a treatise on class struggles between, "freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf," and set the world on an alternate course. Cappeau would eventually become an adherent of France's version of socialism. In that light, the third verse of the poem cum carol is striking:

Le Rédempteur a brisé toute entrave:
La terre est libre, et le ciel est ouvert.
Il voit un frère où n'était qu'un esclave,
L'amour unit ceux qu'enchaînait le fer.
Qui lui dira notre reconnaissance,
C'est pour nous tous qu'il naît, qu'il souffre et meurt

The Redeemer has overcome every obstacle:
The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where there was only a slave,
Love unites those that iron had chained.
Who will tell Him of our gratitude,
For all of us He is born, He suffers and dies

How much of European socialist thought American Unitarian John Sullivan Dwight was aware is unclear to me at the moment. He was an avid traveler, and more than likely discovered the haunting melody of the "Cantique de Noël" on a trip to Europe. Dwight was a jack-of-all-trades: theologian, social activist, music critic, publisher and composer. His religious sect predisposed him to American liberal ideologies and the Abolition movement in particular, which was gaining increasing momentum through the tumultuous 1850s.

An ad for Dwight's song from The
New York Musical Review and Gazette
Sometime in the mid-1850s 2, Dwight translated Cappeau's lyrics into a version which fit an English scansion for Adams' score. He titled his piece "O Holy Night." By the Christmas of 1859, J.H. Hidley, a sheet music publisher in Albany, NY was advertising the piece for sale under the simple title, "Christmas Song." For 35 cents, the publisher would send the music post paid.

That Christmas of 1859 must have looked bleak. America seemed on the precipice of destruction. Violence and murder had broken out in the streets of a Southern city over the question of slavery. A rising sectional Republican party stood ready to challenge the Democratic establishment. The world was being torn apart and need of redemption.

In Dwight's translation, the song's third verse took on a new meaning. Now not simply a tale of European class strife, the song embodied an American struggle for freedom in the face of systematized tyranny:

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise us,
Let all within us praise His holy name.

In an age when the Bible had been leveraged to both justify slavery and damn it, when human nature was argued to be both predisposed to and above enslavement, when the very humanity of another man was called into question, Dwight's admonition that the, "gospel is peace," was pure and biting. To the Unitarian mind, the Bible inherently stood against the enslavement of another race.

Gone now is Cappeau's reference to suffering and death. In the Unitarian mind, Christ was not a divine being but only a sage teacher. Christ the rabbi, not Christ the mystical savior, sat at the heart of Dwight's view of the world. In his version of the song, then, Christ is not redeemer through blood sacrifice. Instead he is the ultimate Abolitionist by example of the words and actions he took while living.

Living within this song which we hear everyday this time of year lives the lifeblood of the Civil War. Through its lyrics, we are transported back in time (consciously or subconsciously) to an era when the question of American liberty stood in the balance. At Christmas, through this song, we are immediately taken to a world on the edge of either destruction or redemption, of cataclysm or salvation.

My favorite version of the song, however, never mentions slaves or chains, never faces the theological crisis of Christ's divinity. It is instrumental.

Listen to the Studio 60 version
of the song by clicking above.
In 2006, on Aaron Sorkin's short-lived series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, a makeshift band was featured in the Christmas episode. The nation was still reeling from the pictures which had flashed across our televisions of the suffering and destruction in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I worried, personally, about the future of that place. And more so, I worried about the future of that culture. Jazz lives within that city. Would jazz live beyond the tragedy?

At the close of the episode, a group of musicians from New Orleans play a reverent but deeply New Orleans version of "O Holy Night." Played by black hands, in a style grown out of the spiritual tradition, the piece sings in a way that it never had before to my ear and really hasn't since. The pain and heartache, the hope and joy, the future and the past are wrapped in the sound of those brassy notes. As the last tone fades, you smile. The world will go on.

Made wholly possible because of the song itself and the Abolition movement it embodies, there is deep meaning within those notes. They make us hope. They help us see a world beyond suffering and oppression. They let us live.

Merry Christmas from the 1850s.

A time of peace. A time of war.
A time of sorrow. A time of hope.

Because, after all, what time isn't all of those things.


^1 - A wine commissionaire worked for a wine producer, undercutting prices on grapes and pitting vineyard versus vineyard in bitter rivalries for the lowest bids.

^2 - Often this date is listed as 1855, and Dwight's own Journal of Music is listed as the place of publication. Searching each issue for 1854, 1855 and 1866 yields no results for any combination of the lyrics to the song. More than likely he published the song in another publication.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Experience + Interaction

Or, my final thoughts on the Illumination...

What do our historic sites and museums offer to visitors? More importantly, what should we strive to offer? Right now, I think many of our historic sites offer two different things: a variety of experiences and access to a wealth of information. Sites like Antietam offer a number of different experiences – from taking a tour over the battleground where so many fought and died, to driving through the battlefield at night seeing thousands of luminaries, each one representing a life. Our historic sites also offer access to knowledge and information – many times through those experiences they offer. Continuing to use Antietam as our guide, this access to information includes things such as a talk with a park ranger who has studied the battle for many years, to a movie that explains the battle complete with maps and reenactments in the park theater.

In our increasing technological age, the old gatekeepers of knowledge are dying fast. Archives are making their holdings accessible online and anyone can search Google or Wikipedia to find a wealth of information about any historical topic. Historic sites and parks are no longer the “go to resource” when trying to find information about that historical place, and I think that’s generally a good thing. But it means that parks can no longer see themselves as the only places to access that information about history. We have to see ourselves as places where you can experience history.

Experiences such as the Antietam Illumination are a start. Depending on the person, each experience will affect them in a different way. For some, the experience of the illumination is enough. Just being there where your ancestor fought, just walking into slave quarters where people lived, or just seeing all the shoes that were left behind by those killed during the holocaust is enough. That experience alone triggers a reaction. It might trigger a sense of meaning. It might trigger a feeling that this place is important, and needs to be preserved. It just makes sense to some people. They get it through experience alone.

What can it all mean? / courtesy of GWNPpublicaffairs

Just as many visitors, though, don’t. The experience isn't enough for them. It is sterile and lacks meaning. It might be because the experience is new and they don’t have anything to fall back on or relate to. It may be because they had no ancestor who fought in the Civil War, or they can’t relate any type of meaning to what their eyes show them, or they may just feel confused and don’t know what to think. They need experience + interaction. One such experience that isn’t just enough for me is the Antietam Illumination. For that experience to mean something, I need to interact with that experience, to think it through, and mull over it. I need to openly talk about it with others. I need to relate what I’m seeing to myself and I need a little help. Does that make the experience worthless? Certainly not. But in order to reach as many as possible, in order to reach people like myself in this case, sites have to offer both experience and interaction together.

This interaction between visitors and their experience already takes place in several different ways. Whether it be attaching makeshift art to a monument’s fence or just talking out loud on a blog about an event you’ve recently experienced (see here and here) both of these are examples of that interaction. They are conversations between the past and the present built upon experiences. The goal now, though, is figuring out how we can foster that experience and interaction for all when they visit our historic sites.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday Extra: Guerilla Civic Engagement on the Landscape

WTVR-TV in Richmond has all the details
and more photos
of the "vandalism"
Over at Civil War Memory, Kevin Levin brought the community's attention to some installations placed on the fences surrounding a few of the statues along Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. The signs are a redress of sorts to the Confederate narrative told through granite, marble and bronze on the massive monuments. They highlight black citizens of Virginia who challenged the racist establishment of the state throughout its history.

Levin characterizes the signs as "vandalism," while the local CBS affiliate WTVR calls the signs, "street art." So which are they?

The incident reminded me of a clear-cut instance of vandalism which happened back in April on the same street in the same city. On the night of April 6th, someone spray-painted "NO HERO" across the bases of both the Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis monuments. This was a destructive act at its core, attempting to permanently change the landscape.

rvanews had excellent coverage of the
in April.
But this type of vandalism is weird and different than a simple tag in an alley behind a 7-11. There was true, deep meaning behind both the act in April and the most recent one. The spray painting in April was not a tag or a gang sign. It was simple black block letters, with two words. Those words spoke to the monument. The vandal was having a dialogue with the monument. Yes, that dialogue was destructive, but the thought and meaning behind that act was pure and deeply intellectual. The person working the spray-can could not find themselves represented in that place. They found a way to talk back to it in their own language.

They were engaging with the meaning of the place. The medium they chose was destructive and illegal, but the engagement with the place and the thoughts behind the act were deep.

Fast-forward to this week. Another voice entered the dialogue. The same deep thought took place, the same pure sentiment was expressed. This new artist chose a different mode of expression, that of wood, cheap hardware and mixed-medium. The installations were bolted to the fences surrounding the monuments, not leaving a mark on the outdated marble and bronze. They serve as stark counterpoint to the Confederate narrative. They plaques speak to Davis, Jackson and Stuart. They hold a dialogue with the historical landscape. And, most importantly, they do so without destruction of the landscape.

Are the plaques vandalism? No. They could be best classed, if called a crime at all, as littering.

The newest actions are truly civic engagement through constructive artistic expression. They begin a discussion on the landscape, shift its meanings and help the citizens of Richmond see multiple perspectives in sharp, geographic contrast.

Poll results on as of 12:01am seem to show the community at
large sees the tablets as harmless expression, not vandalism.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Past is a Foreign Country: But They Still Eat Ketchup There

Earlier this week, the folks over at the Gettysburg National Military Park Facebook page posted a link to their Gettysburg School Bus blog highlighting a post on integrating the Civil War into a language arts curriculum. I love the concept. I think in the current educational environment, which seems to be spurning history and social studies in primary classrooms, anywhere we can integrate the stories of the past into the state's standards, sneaking the history back in, is awesome.

But the Facebook post got me thinking. Particularly the way it was phrased, and especially this tidbit:

In our world of instant communication the idea of handwriting a letter home to loved ones seems quite foreign. But for these soldiers it was their only way to express their thoughts, feelings and concerns for their families.

The concept of difference, of discontinuity with the past, is often the first place our minds drift as both historians and visitors at historic sites. It is one of the stumbling blocks of many living history presentations. The "gee-whiz, they were so darned different back then," factor can make the past seem like "a foreign country," as L. P. Hartley described it.

But is it really? And is accentuating the differences really the most powerful technique when we try to help visitors connect and find relevance within the past?

One of my students, a promising historian and avid 19th century chemist named Cory, was frantically trying to polish a paper Monday night in the office on campus at the same time I was entering this semester's grades across the room. We started talking about 19th century photographic techniques and that particular Facebook post. The conversations began to weirdly cross wires...

I recently listened to a story on NPR's Fresh Air about a cave in France filled with prehistoric paintings. The Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave, and the travails of documentarian Werner Herzog to capture its wonder, caught my imagination. It still swirled in my mind Monday night discussing the weakness of interpreting the differences.

A human eye saw these animals and
a human hand captured them on
a cold cave wall in modern day France.
/ CC Wikimedia Commons
In the cave are paintings encrusted with thousands of years worth of calcite, brilliantly preserved. Crafted in charcoal, the pictures can help conjure the image in the mind of an itinerant early hominid, obsessively studying a majestic herd of bison crashing over a dale. He rushes back to the dank cave and by the dim light of a half-extinguished torch frantically tries to fix the image on the wall, trying to freeze the fleeting moment in time.

Just a few millennia later, you can conjure an itinerant enlightenment artist standing at a canvas. He glances over the edge, back and forth from taught fabric to blushing beauty to canvas again. He obsessively studies every line and crease of her evanescent youth as he places brush to canvas. Then he frantically tries to fix the image on the canvas, trying to freeze the fleeting moment in time.

A human eye saw these men and
a human hand captured them on
a cold glass plate in Gettysburg. / PD
Less than a century later, an itinerant early photographer, obsessively focusing his camera on a putrefying landscape of death and destruction. He stares at the frosted plate on the back of the camera, obsessively studying the death and destruction before it succumbs to its transformation from human to dust. Then he frantically shuttles the sensitized medium from wagon to camera to fix the image on a glass plate, trying to freeze the fleeting moment in time.

Just a century and a half later, an American, living in an increasingly itinerant culture, obsessively studies a sunset as the burning orb creeps toward the horizon. She squints at the bright neighbor-star, all the while adjusting the exposure rate of her Nikon digital camera. Then she catches the precise color in he eye, raises the camera and frantically snaps shot after shot, trying to freeze the fleeting moment in time.

We are the early man. We are not separated from him. Our humanity unites us. Our impulse to preserve the moment, the ephemeral and the fleeting unites us. You can understand, for just a moment, the ancient man. You feel the weight of his crude brush in your hand. Then you dip that brush in oil paint. Then you adjust the hand-ground lens of your camera. And you push the button, you snap a shot to preserve the moment.

What is a Civil War soldier's impulse within his letter? Nothing different than our perpetual impulse as humans. He wanted to connect. He wanted to, if only for a moment, feel the warmth of his family and friends. And he wanted to update the folks he left behind on his status.

The Civil War soldier's letter was not simply a private affair. It was to be read aloud in the parlour for aunt and sister and cousin. It was to be shared with the neighbors, reprinted in the newspaper, preserved for generations as a final sentiment of love from a dying son.

Facebook updates live from 1861...
This status update was a human impulse, an impulse we still have. We post quick notes letting our friends know how life is going. We send them far away, hoping and praying those that see them read them and know we're in good spirits, happy, content, safe and still OK. Or that we're not and we desperately need help.

What is a Civil War soldier's letter but a 19th century Facebook update?

Isn't that sort of sameness far more meaningful, more able to put the pencil in your hand after frantic battle than pointing out how different a pencil was from an iPhone?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men!"

This past Saturday night, I was standing in one of my old haunts. The Dry Goods Store at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is perhaps my favorite place to be an interpreter, especially at night. Low wattage lightbulbs (simulating whale oil or tallow lamps) and the darkness outside the windows make that building a perfect time machine. Near the end of the night, a family came in with two enthusiastic sons. One wearing a toy kepi and carrying a brand new souvenir envelope of Confederate money rushed around the store asking if he could, “buy that with this.” His excitement at being in the historical space could not be contained.

The other boy was more sedate. He was wearing glasses and bundled in a sweatshirt against the dark cold outside. He quietly looking over each of the objects near the back of the store, studying them.

“Is that a knife,” he asked me.

“Well, there’s some knives in there, but there’s also a razor for shaving your face, and a strop to keep the razor sharp,” I replied.

“And what type of pistol is that,” he continued down the line of windows guarding artifacts.

“I believe it’s a Colt,” I said, “after John Brown’s raid here, thousands of pistols were solid all across Virginia. People were scared of abolitionists and wanted to protect their families from violence. So they bought weapons.”

Then the magic really began.

“I saw a bigger gun than that on Pawn Stars,” the boy excitedly shared, “it had a lever and went like this.” He mimed a lever-action repeater in his hands.

“Oh, it sounds like maybe a Remington repeater?”

“No, it was from the Civil War!”

“Maybe a Henry repeating rifle…”

“Yes!” he jumped, “that’s it!”

“You know, by 1864, soldiers started being issued those guns in Georgia. They were called Bummers. They foraged for supplies and food for the army when Sherman was trying to end the war.”

My friend and one of my mentors, John King, tucked his hand and voice into the conversation. He dropped a chuck on something in front of the boy and it thunked on the glass case like a rock. “You know, that killed more than all of the repeater rifles and pistols combined in the Civil War?”

“Do you know what it is?” I added.

The boy studied it. The hunk of something was pitted with tiny holes, hard and mummified.

“Is it a rock?” he asked puzzled.

I responded, “No, it’s bread.”

His face twisted. “Bread!?”

“This is hardtack, what the soldiers were issued to eat. It’s so tough that they had to soak in it coffee just to bite it sometimes. See those holes there. What do you think caused them?”



“Ewww!” he withdrew, “What’s it made of?”

“Do you have Playdough at home?” I asked.


“The same stuff as is in your Playdough: flour, water and salt. Do you think you could live on nothing but this and bacon?”


“Don’t you need vegetables?” I asked with a smile.

“I like them,” he responded.

“Good! They keep you healthy,” I said, “If you ate nothing but this bread and bacon, your digestive system would be a big waterslide. Men in the Civil War died of diarrhea. They pooped themselves to death because they couldn’t keep any water or food in their bodies.”

“That’s terrible,” the boy responded.

It is. It’s facts like that, when you say them aloud, that force your body to quite physically commiserate with the people of the past. Your stomach sinks for them; you want to vomit on their behalf. You feel, for just a fleeting moment, the Civil War alive inside your stomach.

He wandered down the counter, still studying every single thing he could touch and see. After a fascinating few minutes spent with a stereo-viewer, imagining visiting Paris or Jerusalem in his own living room, just like he can with his TV remote today, I plunked another photographic technology on the counter in front of him. A small ferrotype photograph of a face in profile.

“You know what that is?”

“It’s a picture of someone.”

“Exactly, do you see anything weird about it?” I asked.

“Well,” he puzzled, “he’s not looking at the camera.”

“No, he’s not,” I encouraged him. The boy’s mother began to hover over his shoulder to catch a peak as well. I revealed the answer: “he’s dead.”

“Oh!” the boy said with piqued curiosity.

His mother exclaimed, “It’s a person! I didn’t even see that until you just said that. Look at the detail!”

“I know, look how detailed it is,” I said. The boy took the picture in his hands, holding it close to his face to inspect every line in the corpse’s face.

“Photographs took a few seconds to expose in the middle of the nineteenth century,” I explained, “but when you’re not shooting a picture of someone who needs to stand still, the detail can be perfect.”

The boy lowered the photo and looked at me again. “I saw a picture like this on Pawn Stars, where the person was dead.; it was easier to take their picture because they had to wait like 10 seconds to make it and they didn’t move because they were dead,” he blurted out fast, like it was all one word spoken in a single breath.

“Why might you want a photo of a dead person?” I asked.

“I dunno,” he replied.

“How many pictures of your Mom do you have in your house,” I asked, looking to catch his mother’s eye.

He replied: “a lot!”

“If your Mom died, and you couldn’t see her anymore, you would still have lots of pictures to remind you of how much she loved you, right? They’d help you if you were sad?” I asked.

“Yeah, I could look at the pictures of her.”

“Imagine,” I said, “if you were in the 1850s. You might get your picture taken every few years, maybe. What if someone you loved died and you didn’t have a picture of them?”

“You could take one of these,” the boy exclaimed.

“And then you’d have at least one picture left to remind you of what they looked like and how much they loved you,” I helped him along.


A time machine, giving us small glimpses of the 19th century, is an amazing tool. You don’t have to step into a jury-rigged Delorian or a blue Police Telephone Box to travel into the past and try to feel what it was like to live then. You don’t personally need to wear an expensive set of period clothing to wear on an immersion weekend in the backwoods of Georgia or Pennsylvania.

All you need is a heart, some dim lamplight, a good story, a piece of 'the real' and a cold December’s night.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Huck Finn, Robot Jim and John Denver: Language, Young Man!

The "book trailer" for a new edition of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn.

I'll be teaching a section of Civil War Era Studies 205, Intro to the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College this spring. I had been puzzling over my book list for the past month or two, trying to decide which tomes to assign to students who need an overview of the era and a firm grounding in the four Civil War historical schools: social, military, political and memory. While Drew Gilpin Faust and Charles Dew have drifted onto and off of and back onto my list as I've been planning, one firm holdout has always been Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Like all college survey courses (I believe it is required by Commonwealth of Pennsylvania charter), I needed to include the requisite novel. Instead of Killer Angels or The March, I've decided to punch my ticket with a primary source.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens' birthday was yesterday, so I've been thinking about him a lot over the past 24 hours. Clemens is this particularly troubling character for a modern viewer, specifically because of his transformation. In our age of denigrating flip-floppers and those who periodically reevaluate their views, Clemens strikes an odd chord. An unabashed racist in his youth, a true product of his surroundings, Clemens through the voice of the crafted character Twain overcame his prejudice and became one of the most ardent voices for social reform our nation has ever known.

It is this deep, inside-baseball understanding of the imbecility of the racist system of slavery which gives Adventures of Huckleberry Finn its raw power. Twain turns the entire social order on its head through his use of language, through his subversion of words' meanings and through his conjunction of incongruent thoughts in Huck's simple yet profound mind. The language matters.

All of the above just stands as prologue as to why I am not assigning the NewSouth Books edition of the book. New South's edition, which replaces each use of "the n-word" with the word "slave," destroys the subversive meaning behind Twain's work. Twain's use of language, and his particularly crafted subversion of "the n-word", is critical to the plot of the novel and its deepest meanings. But "the n-word" has such deep and rightly-earned emotional baggage for America, no matter skin color or heritage, that many see that word as unprintable. But "the n-word" is necessary to fully understand Twain's meanings, that Jim is not simply an "n-word", a label attached by an oppressor, but a reasoning and thinking human being.

Annie's Song... the radio edit.
Did you see what I did there? Every time you got to "the n-word" in the above paragraph, what did your mind do? Did it fill in the blank? It is very similar to the psychological phenomenon of pareidolia; your mind fills in the chaos with order. You subconsciously read "nigger" each time I wrote "n-word." Your mind will do the same thing to you when you listen to the John Denver song embedded at the right. This is the classic Annie's Song, but this is the version edited for airplay on national radio. Go ahead, click play. I'll wait right here.

Comedy duo Gabriel Diani and Etta Devine have created an alternate-alternate version of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, instead replacing "nigger" with "robot." The trailer for their book appears at the tops of this post. The replacement is as meaningless and simultaneously disastrous to the book as replacing it with "slave." The new-new edition is brilliant satire. Your brain will still fill in the word, but now it will be keenly attuned to the absurdity of the matter. The character of Robot Jim, fundamentally altering the entire meaning of the book for the base level comfort of the reader, is the most absurd concept possible and points to the fundamental problem with NewSouth's edition and schools' propensity to censor the book.

The word nigger should be retired, much as the Confederate Flag. Both are hateful symbols, at their core working to deny the humanity of a race of people. But likewise both should still be displayed where they can teach and educate as to their hatred. That means that we can still show the flag in museums, we can still talk about the tough stuff of history in a proper context. We should never call anyone a nigger again as an insult or an epithet. But we can say the word in the right time, place and manner. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of those places. Here the word is displayed in all its hateful meaning, the fallacy of its concepts being slowly unveiled across the novel until finally Huck utters those words which show how absurd the word and its concept is. Jim becomes a man, not the sub-human concept characterized by the word "nigger".

Huck contemplates sending a note he has written to Jim's owner:

Miss Watson your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. Huck Finn.

He hesitates. He realizes that he, "was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he's got now." Huck is left with the choice to either send the note or go to hell for trying to free his friend. His answer:

"All right, then, I'll go to hell"

And he tears up the note; he tears up that word. Which is more powerful, Huck tearing up "nigger" or tearing up "slave?"

...or maybe tearing up "robot" instead?