In 1884, Mark Twain published his masterwork, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” A satirical, subversive tome about the failure of reconstruction and the failure of the United States to come to grips with the lingering question of race. Twain was one of the most powerful and influential writers of his day, but faced resistance from librarians in placing the book on their shelves. The most common canard cited was the books “poor grammar.” Primarily the poor grammar used by the novel’s two central characters, a poor mistreated white child, “Huck” and an uneducated runaway slave named “Jim.”
A black man as the novel’s central figure? No, no, no that just won’t do. A black man sheltering and caring for a white child? No, no, no that just won’t do. Huck Finn is Twain’s canvas, where he paints the ugliness and vicious, mean-spirited humbugs of American life.
Jim talked out loud all the time while I was talking to myself. He was saying how the first thing he would do when he got to a free State he would go to saving up money and never spend a single cent, and when he got enough he would buy his wife, which was owned on a farm close to where Miss Watson lived; and then they would both work to buy the two children, and if their master wouldn’t sell them, they’d get an Ab’litionist to go and steal them.
It most froze me to hear such talk. He wouldn’t ever dared to talk such talk in his life before. Just see what a difference it made in him the minute he judged he was about free. It was according to the old saying, “Give a nigger an inch and he’ll take an ell.” Thinks I, this is what comes of my not thinking. Here was this nigger, which I had as good as helped to run away, coming right out flat-footed and saying he would steal his children — children that belonged to a man I didn’t even know; a man that hadn’t ever done me no harm.
I was sorry to hear Jim say that, it was such a lowering of him. My conscience got to stirring me up hotter than ever, until at last I says to it, “Let up on me — it ain’t too late yet — I’ll paddle ashore at the first light and tell.” I felt easy and happy and light as a feather right off. All my troubles was gone. I went to looking out sharp for a light, and sort of singing to myself. ~ The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Trayvon Martin’s body lay faced down and the American public questions the character of an unarmed, murdered teenager. Michael Brown, it is alleged, was jaywalking, prompting an altercation with a white policeman, which led to his death. So what has changed in America? An unarmed black man is killed by police and almost automatically, almost reflexively, the American public assumes, he must have done something to deserve being killed. 130 years after Twain’s masterpiece, Americans still live in a dream world. The media pounce on factoids; did marijuana in Michael Brown’s system cause him to behave erratically? I don’t know, does it make Willie Nelson act erratically? Did it make Michael Phelps act erratically, when he won 22 gold medals in the Olympics? Ah, but they’re white men aren’t they? Ice–T sings “Cop Killer” and there is a national outrage and congressional investigations. Eric Clapton sings, “I shot the Sheriff, but I didn’t shoot the deputy” and America sings along.
If you’re poor in America, you don’t stand a damn chance; if you’re poor and black, that goes double. The dunces and duffers shout, what about black on black crime? But it’s not black on black crime; it’s poor on poor crime. No one ever called the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, Italian on Italian crime, or Italian on Irish crime. It isn’t racially motivated; it’s economically and geographically motivated crime. Gangsterism is a raw form of capitalism. It is seizing whatever opportunity is viable to rise above poverty in a society precluding legitimate social improvement. In the Nazi concentration camps, inmate kapos guarded the water supply, extorting payment. The strong exploiting the weak, because that is what capitalism really is: systemized exploitation.
No one ever called it Jew on Jew crime or inmate on inmate crime: The reason was brutally obvious — death waited around every corner; Your chances of survival in the concentration camp wavering somewhere between slim and none. Your life expectations becoming small, matching you’re horizons, you don’t think about next month or next year, you think only of surviving tomorrow. For the prisoners locked inside the ghettos of America’s inner cities, life isn’t much different.
The Stanford experiment illustrated that anyone given unlimited authority over others, will abuse that power. Not sometimes, not some people, but all the time and everyone. Almost immediately, those in power lose respect for the inmates and conversely, the inmates unite, taking vengeance on anyone who crosses over to the other side. White America calls black gang members “thugs”, but when George W. Bush says, “You’re either with us or you’re with the enemy” its hailed as leadership.
When looters in Ferguson, Missouri steal shoes from a shoe store White Americans said, “Aha! Eureka! Look at that, using a tragedy to steal!” The official unemployment rate in Ferguson is 53%, that’s the official unemployment rate; the actual unemployment rate is much higher. The people in Ferguson looted a shoe store because they needed shoes! America refuses to address the reality of poverty in America. If you’re unemployed in this country you are eligible for $180 per month in food stamps. Forty-five dollars per week in food stamps which won’t pay the rent and won’t pay the power bill yet, white America still speaks despairingly of mythical, fat welfare programs. We hear it all the time, unemployment and food stamps make people lazy and not want to work.
The killing of Michael Brown has brought to the fore, just how awfully racist this country actually is. A country obsessed with the height of a black man’s drawers, pours funds in to support the white policeman who lost… what? Who will pay the policeman’s legal defense, the city? What did the policeman lose that needs reimbursement? Why are people sending this policeman cash? Mark Twain told you why, give’em an inch and they’ll take a mile. You can pretend there is an out. Oh… any boy can be President, but in fact, only three or four in a lifetime can. We can pretend that substandard schools, substandard housing in a substandard existence can produce stellar citizens, but it’s a cartoon.
One in four African-Americans lives in poverty, 40 percent of all the incarcerated inmates are African-Americans. Black Americans are given disproportionately harsher sentences for similar crimes. Kalief Browder, a sixteen year old African-American youth was on his way home from a party when he was arrested by New York City Police, charged with robbery. Police tipped off by a single witness that Browder had allegedly robbed someone, three weeks earlier. Unable to put up the $10,000 bond, Browder was incarcerated at the notorious Riker’s Island prison. After 33 months in jail, the D.A. offered the youth a plea bargain in exchange for a guilty plea — Browder refused, and one week later, the police dropped all charges.
Jeffery Skilling was the former CEO of Enron Corporation; after the company’s financial collapse, Skilling was charged and convicted of conspiracy, insider trading, securities fraud and making false statements to auditors. Skilling was eventually sentenced to 24 years in a minimum security Federal Prison, guarded by a split rail fence and a jogging track. Skilling spent forty million dollars on his legal defense and was able to move his appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, faster than Kalief Browder was able to go to trial. Skilling was neither poor, nor black, Kalief Browder was never convicted of a crime, and Jeffery Skilling was.
Why does the United States of America hate these people? What have they ever done to deserve such treatment?
The disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, appeared on CNN, trying to redeem himself. He apologized for his “terrible mistake” claiming he was “baited” into making racist statements. This is who we are as a people; if he wasn’t racist, how could he be baited into making racist statements? The American duality of saying, associating with black people was somehow demeaning to his reputation, but not meaning any harm by it. Sterling isn’t some backwoods, tobacco-chewing redneck; he’s an influential white American. Sadly, one hundred and fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation, African Americans still aren’t free.
Social equality, forsooth! Is the black man pressing his claims for social recognition upon his white burden bearer? Is there any reason why he should? Is the white man’s social recognition of his own white brother such as to excite the Negro’s ambition to covet the noble prize? Has the Negro any greater desire, or is there any reason why he should have, for social intercourse with the white man than the white man has for social relations with the Negro? This phase of the Negro question is pure fraud and serves to mask the real issue, which is not social equality, BUT ECONOMIC FREEDOM.
There never was any social inferiority that was not the shriveled fruit of economic inequality.
The Negro, given economic freedom, will not ask the white man any social favors; and the burning question of “social equality” will disappear like mist before the sunrise. ~ Eugene Debs, 1903
“Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And hain’t that a big enough majority in any town?” ~ Mark Twain