Friday, February 20, 2009

Race in America

I'm sure that many of you have read the news articles on the Attorney General's speech at the Justice Department about race. If you haven't, you can read the actual speech at:

His remarks, no matter how you feel about them, have to make you think about the change that has happened in this country's history in terms of race. Mark Twain certainly had a lot to say about that during his time. He grew up in the slave holding South (born 1835) and was able to see first hand the effects of slavery. From his childhood Clemens often refers to Uncle Dan'l, a slave who lived near his home, and talks about going to the slave cabins to hear Uncle Dan'l tell stories. Clemens remembers him as being "a faithful and affectionate good friend, ally and adviser." Once he begins to travel the rest of the country he is able to juxtapose his experience growing up in a slave state to his growing experiences with the rest of the country, and comes to his own conclusions about race and humanity. He grew to have very strong opinions about people's differences. His famous quote; "Travel is fatal to prejudice" had come from his time traveling the world, meeting different people and seeing new cultures that looked nothing like his own, and recognizing that though people were different, the one thing they all had in common was that they were all human. It was that simple. Twain was no coward to be writing and publishing his opinions on race and equality at the time he was. By the time Twain writes The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) slavery had legally ended, but racism still ran rampant in the South. His book, while well received, had its critics. To this day there are still schools, even here in Connecticut, that continue to ban this book. Twain was outspoken on topics such as race during his lifetime, he certainly had the courage to put his opinions out in the open, publish them, and discuss them in any public forum.

"I have no race prejudices, and I think I have no color prejudices or caste prejudices nor creed prejudices. Indeed I know it. I can stand any society. All that I care to know is that a man is a human being--that is enough for me; he can't be any worse" -Mark Twain

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