Category Archives: racism

Logical Fear


As we drove through Salina Kansas where rich people have bought bunkers in an old missile silo to protect them from the impending chaos, I asked myself, for them what might that be?  I asked myself, ‘What generates fear among rich people”?  Particularly what triggers fear among rich white people?  I think the answer is obvious. They fear African Americans because they know they have the objects of horrific injustice that has never been remedied or compensated, and in many cases even acknowledge.


The election of Barack Obama led to a spike in survivalism. Many of white Americans feared (and this is the operative word) that as a black President he would ignite racial tensions because expectations of Blacks would rise too high and too fast. They thought Obama would react by restricting gun rights and expanding the national debt. Many of them loaded up on freeze-dried cottage cheese and beef stroganoff that had been promoted by Glen Beck and Sean Hannity. As Osnos reported, “A network of “readiness” trade shows attracted conventioneers with classes on suturing (practiced on a pig trotter) and photo opportunities with survivalist stars from the TV show “Naked and Afraid.” The fear of American whites—based on the fear of the tables being justifiably turned over against them—is a deep and pervasive fear. Such fear is a is a well spring of racism.


Not all survivalists think collapse is about to happen soon. Many of them take the position that the risk of catastrophe is so severe if a political collapse occurs that the smart betters will take precautions. They are playing the odds. As one of the techies told Evan Osnos The New Yorker writer, “Most people just assume improbable events don’t happen, but technical people tend to view risk very mathematically.” He continued, “The tech preppers do not necessarily think a collapse is likely. They consider it a remote event, but one with a very severe downside, so, given how much money they have, spending a fraction of their net worth to hedge against this . . . is a logical thing to do.


To them,  in other words is fear is logical. It is not paranoia it is a reasonable fear.  Such fear may be unreasonable. By definition, it that is correct this is  not paranoia. One C.E.O. of another large tech company told Osnos, “It’s still not at the point where industry insiders would turn to each other with a straight face and ask what their plans are for some apocalyptic event…He went on, “But, having said that, I actually think it’s logically rational and appropriately conservative.

I think it is a sign of the decline of western civilization.  The rich elites are losing their confidence. Do they know something we don’t?


Unreality: The Upside-down world of Huck Finn.


When I first read the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn many years ago, I recall I was a bit disconcerted by the scenes that seemed to me to be far-fetched. It seemd unreal. It was unreal. Now I think that was the point.

There is lots of absurdity in the novel: the horrible advice Huck got from his father, the Duke and the Dauphin, Tom Sawyer’s absurd attempts to make the rescue of Jim conform to what he has “learned from novels,” even if that means putting Jim’s life in serious danger.  All of this mirrors the absurdity of the American morality which condemns a slave like Jim, the most good-hearted character in the novel, just because of the colour of his skin. All this while the conventional morality, praised the  casual brutality like that of Aunt Sally who was prepared to separate Jim from his wife and family for a few dollars. After all, in a “topsy-turvy” world as Twain called it what could be more unreal than reality? Reality has to be revaluated, turned on its head, to make any sense at all.

In the novel Huck helps Jim, the black slave, to escape from the bonds of his slavery, even though he believes by doing so he is committing a mortal sin that will lead him straight to hell. He is willing to pay the supreme price to save his friend. Yet at the same time, he can’t help playing tricks on Jim. The two hop on a raft and drift on the Mississippi but of course, the river flows south which is toward ever greater danger. They should be heading north to the free states. Their plan is to drift south until they reach the place where the Ohio river flows into the Mississippi river. Then they will head north. This is where the town of Cairo is located. Their plan was to sell their raft in Cairo and buy a steamboat ticket up north. A good plan, but like so many plans, it runs afoul of reality.

One dark and foggy night Jim and Huck get separated from each other. Jim is on the raft and Huck on a canoe. To Jim it looked like he had lost his only friend in the world. He was disconsolate. But Huck finds Jim in the night asleep at the rudder and decides to play a trick on old Jim.  A mean trick. When Huck wakes up Jim who fell asleep at the rudder, he pretends that they were never separated at all. He convinces Jim that he had been dreaming. They have a conversation in the night that might just as well have been between the French philosopher Descartes and Jean Jacque Rousseau. They argue about reality! Jim says Huck had been gone. Huck denies it, even though it was true.  Jim says to Huck: “Well, looky here boss, dey’s sumfn wrong, or wha is I? Now dat’s what I wants to know.”  To which Huck responds” “Well, I think you’re here, plain enough, but I think you’re but a tangle-headed old fool, Jim.” To which Jim replies like the most sophisticated philosopher: “”I is, is I? Well you answer me this: Didn’t you tote out de line in de canoe for to make fas’ a towhead?”  From there Huck’s lies completely befuddle Jim who can’t figure out if the separation happened or he just had a dream. Reality is fractured and that is immensely cruel to an escaping slave who must at all times have a solid bead on reality to keep alive. Jim replies: “But, Huck, it’s all plain to me as—” and Hucks cuts him off, “It don’t make no difference how plain it is; there ain’t nothing in it. I know, because I’ve been here all the time.” Jim concluded it was the most powerful dream he ever had.

Eventually, Jim realizes Huck has been tricking him. Fooling him and he is deeply hurt. After all he thought he had lost his best friend! What a cruel joke! Jim laments:

“When I got wid work, en wid de callin’ for you, en went to sleep, my heart wuz broke mos’ bekase you wuz los, en I didn’t k’yer no mo’ what become er me en de raf. En when I wake up en fine you back ag’n, all safe en soun’, de tears come, en I coud’a’ down on my knees en kiss yo’ foot, I’s so thankful.  En all you wuz thinkin’ bout wuz you could make a fool uv ole Jim wid a lie. Dat truck day is trash; en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren’s en makes’em ashamed.”

Jim demonstrates that he is the real moral center of the novel. Not the Sunday school morality of Miss Watson.

When Jim explains it like that he realizes what a terrible thing he did in tricking Jim. Jim loved him and he treated him badly! As Huck said in response:

“It made me feel so mean I could almost kissed his foot to get him to take it back. It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go an humble myself to a nigger, but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterward, neither. I didn’t do no more mean tricks, and I wouldn’t done that one if I’d knowed it would make him feel that way.”


Even though it was unheard of for a white man to lower himself to the level of nigger Huck did exactly that. Reality was turned on its head. That is what Huck had to. Just he turned morality on its head.


Freeing the master and the slave and the victim


Azar Nafisi, the literature critic who wrote that wonderful book The Republic of the Imagination, points out how the slave Jim is the first person who encountered Huck after Huck staged his death in order to escape from his “smothery” world. Huck depends on Jim to show him how to survive on their raft. Nafisi said Jim “resurrects him.” He certainly frees Huck in more than one sense.

Later, when the white mob is after Jim, Huck literally saves or resurrects Jim from a watery grave. They save each other. They help each other to freedom. This is the central relationship in the novel.

This relationship in my mind proves that Mark Twain was right when he said, “Lincoln’s proclamation [when Abe Lincoln proclaimed slavery was abolished]…not only set the slaves free, but set the white man free also. White men were enslaved by a false and wicked ideology—white supremacy—from which they desperately needed freeing. Some have still not been freed.

According to Nafisi, later Huck realizes that “he needs to feel, to empathize with others in order to become more fully himself. All through their adventures Huck finds his own moral compass with the help of Jim. As soon as they meet under new circumstances, Jim is transformed from “Miss Watson’s nigger” to his best mate as they go from “he and I” to “we.”

This is how Huck and Jim free each other. That is a racist and non-racist can free each other. The Adventurers of Huckleberry Finn is a novel about freedom. This is its essential theme. It is a complex book in a simple form. I think it is the greatest American novel and might even be the greatest novel ever written.

In Canada Canadian non-indigenous people urgently need to be saved from their ideology of white supremacy. Allowing indigenous people to liberate themselves would lead to the liberation of non-indigenous people. This is an essential insight we can gain from reading a novel like the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.


Fear and Slavery and Injustice


I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. America is a wonderful country but it is consumed by fear. They need a military that costs them as much as the next 9 most expensive militaries cost combined! They need that fire power because they fear retribution for their sins of slavery of blacks and genocide of indigenous people. The more guilty your conscience the more protection you need.


There is a good example of this in the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The incident happened on the Phelps farm, a small plantation of slaves. There was a minor slave revolt on the Phelps farm; what every slaveholder dreaded. They dreaded that justice would be imposed on them.


The rebellions started when “one nigger was crazy but there was “a dozen helping him” to steal a nigger slave.  There was a “plumb crazy” nigger  with a dozen disciples! Who else would make a “ladder out of rags,” to steal into and out of a white man’s house.


The white folks figured the slaves must have been spirits because even their dogs could not track them. The white women of course were terrified. They were afraid to live!  They could hardly go to bed, or lay down or get up.  They were amazed the niggers hadn’t stolen any of their family. Why were they afraid of that? Because that is what they would have done!


She said, “I was just to that pass I didn’t have no reasoning faculties no more.” She was so scared for her children she locked them in their room. As she explained, “when you get scared that way, and it keeps running on, and getting worse and worse all the time, and your wits get to addling, and you get to doing all sorts of wild things.”


The people are of course entirely credulous, expecting the worst that is imaginable, because that is what they would do. They think the time for retribution is at hand. In a nation built on the twin original sins of black slavery and indigenous genocide such fears are as real as fears can be.




The first trick of the racist and the slave holder is to convince himself that the blacks are not fully human. Once we dehumanize someone, we can do anything to him or her. Dehumanization is the first step on the long journey to genocide, or slavery. And when one realizes the slave is actually human, as Huck  did, the long road to justice has begun.

Huck was astonished to learn from Jim that he missed his wife and children and longed for them. How was that possible? This was an epiphany for Huck. Miss Watson never learned that. She was prepared to sell Jim and his wife and children to different owners. As Huck said of Jim,

“he was low and homesick; because he hadn’t ever been away from home before in his life; and I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their’n. It don’t seem natural, but I reckon it’s so.”

It was like when Huck was asked by his aunt, another good Christian woman, if anyone had been killed in the steamship accident, and Huck said no. Only a nigger was killed, and his aunt responded gratefully, “Well, it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt.” Niggers are not people. They don’t count.

When Huck arrived at the plantation that was owned by Phelps, he learned the white children were just like the children of the adult slaves: “acting the same way the little niggers was going.”

Later Huck admits to Tom Sawyer that he helped nigger Jim to escape and he was ashamed of that saying, “it’s a lowdown business, but what if it is? I’m low down.”

Of course, it is not just conmen who are infused with unreality. So too is the “Sunday-like” small plantation owned by whites and filled with a family of black slaves.” Reality is forbidden to intrude there too. You can tell from Huck’s description of the plantation that he understands the reality of it. It deadens all who live there. Not just the slaves, but the slave owners too.

Here is the reality of the plantation: Niggers, it goes without saying, are not people. They don’t count. They’re suffering is not real. That is the reality of the plantation. And we learn it without a sermon, because a sermon is not necessary. We understand the reality of the plantation, even if nice people like the Phelps family did not. We learn that reality because we hear it from a magnificent story teller.

Here is the reality of the plantation:

His aunt asked Huck when he arrived and told about an accident on the river steamer:

“Goodness gracious! Anybody hurt?” Huck replies: “No’m. Killed a nigger.” Her quick response: “Well, it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt.”

Niggers, it goes without saying, are not people. They don’t count. They’re suffering is not real. That is the reality of the plantation. And we learn it without a sermon, because a sermon is not necessary. We understand the reality of the plantation, even if nice people like the Phelps family did not.

We learn that reality because we hear it from a magnificent story teller—Mark Twain. He does it all without preaching about it.




Mark Twain and White Supremacy


Mark Twain knew what white supremacy was worth.

Twain certainly was not an unmixed champion of the white race, like so many of his contemporaries and ours. He made this clear in his landmark novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

During Twain’s youth in Missouri he had seen how slaves were treated. Then he travelled the world and saw more. It made him ashamed of his own race. And caused him to say this:

 “In many countries we have chained the savage and starved him to death. In  more than one country we have hunted the savage and his little children and their mothers  with dogs and guns through the swamps for an afternoon’s sport. In many country’s we have taken the savage’s land from him and made him our slave and lashed  him every day and broken his pride and made death his only friend and overworked him until he dropped in his tracks. There are many humorous things in the world among them the white man’s notion that he is less savage than the other savages.


Actually white supremacy is not  as humorous as it is absurd. This is equally applicable to the early Canadians’ and Americans’ treatment of indigenous people. Blinded by their sense of white superiority, they claimed to be civilizing the savages. How blind could they be?  But how much better are we today?


My Country right or Wrong


Unlike the so-called modern patriots, exemplified by the insurrectionists on January 6 in the US, Mark Twain was not a nationalist.  As Azar Nafisi said,

“defending the Jews, women, the people of the Congo , workers, and all of the oppressed; claiming to be a revolutionary, already predicting the ideological wars to come when he declared not, “My country right or wrong, but “my country when it is right.”


Twain realized what modern conservatives often don’t—that his beloved country could do wrong. They were not exceptional. In many ways his countrymen and women were wrong. Even some of the maiden aunts like Miss Watson who seemed to be so perfect taking Huck into the closet to pray and making him go to Sunday School, but was actually utterly spoiled by their own racism. After all, she would decide to sell Jim, her slave, and then his wife and children to someone else. What could be more utterly degenerate than that?  No amount of church or Sunday school could wash away that sin! Yet people believed that was natural and good. How was that possible? America, Twain knew, must look the dreadful truth in the face and not shrink from its own sins.


Twain told a story from his youth when he saw a German hotel manager who mistreated his Indian servant who accepted  his punishment without a word of protest.  Twain realized that beatings were the way white people demonstrated their disapproval of actions of their slaves. Beatings were as natural as rain. Twain remembered how his own father, whom he had been raised to honour and respect, would cuff their slave boy. Again this was completely natural. Twain even admitted in his notebook that he had thought such actions were natural although he also “felt sorry for the victim and ashamed for the punisher.”

Of course, one cannot be a brilliant novelist like Mark Twain without having deep empathy. It is the stock and trade of the artist. Later in life Twain realized that his parents had mistaught him. Slavery and racism was profound sin. His parents were not always right. This is what he wrote in his notebooks:

“In those slave-holding days the whole community was agreed as to one thing—the awful sacredness of slave property. To help steal a horse or a cow was a low crime, but to help a hunted slave, or feed him, or shelter him, or hide him, or comfort him, in his troubles, his terrors, his despair, or hesitate to promptly betray him to the slave catcher when opportunity offered was a much baser crime, & carried with a stain, a moral smirch which nothing could wipe away. That this sentiment should exist among slaveholders is comprehensible—there were good commercial reasons for it—but that it should exist & did exist among the paupers, the loafers, the tag-rag & bobtail of the community, & in a passionate & uncompromising form, is not in our remote day realizable. It seemed natural enough to me then; natural enough that Huck & his father the worthless loafer should feel it & approve it, though it seems now absurd. It shows that strange thing, the conscience—that unerring monitor—can be trained to approve any wild thing you want it to approve if you begin its education & stick to it.”


The “conscience” is what we are taught by elders and others in authority in our society and it can be horribly wrong, as Huck discovered.

Huck felt miserable when he helped the slave Jim escape. It was in his world the worst thing anybody could do, because property, especially slave property was sacred. Huck felt “trembly” and “feverish” when he did that. He was to blame because Jim was almost free. He was rightly to blame for that and knew he had committed a horrible sin. He felt horrible that Miss Watson was deprived of her property because of him. This is the conclusion Huck’s conscience led him to:

“Thinks I, this is what comes of my not thinking. Here was this nigger, which I had as good as helped to run away, and coming right out flat-footed and saying he would steal his children—children that belonged to a man I didn’t even know; that man that hadn’t ever done harm to me.”


This shows  the abject poverty of  complete acquiescence with the conventional morality can be. We moderns must remember that.


The skin of every human


Although Mark Twain was brought up believing slavery was natural and good he gradually learnt better. He came to realize, as he said in his notebooks after he wrote Huck Finn, “The skin of every human being contains a slave.” We don’t have slavery any more in North America, at least to the extent we once did,  even though we still have racism aplenty. Racism has taken over from slavery in many places (though slavery has not disappeared) and it is just as wicked. So long as we have racism, in our system, the skin of every human will contain a racist.


That is why we all need liberation from racism. The racists need liberation as much as the oppressed races. Just as Twain was right when he said “Lincoln’s proclamation…not only set the black slaves free, but set the white man free also.”


The person who most exemplifies the wickedness of slavery and racism was Huck’s father: Pap. Though Aunt Sally and the widow Watson exemplify a more subtle racism that is perhaps more reprehensible because it is so sly. Pap is the most repulsive character in the novel. He also demonstrates the close connection between hatred of slaves with hatred of government. He would no doubt today be a card-carrying member of the truckers’ convoy movement. As Huck pointed out, “Whenever his liquor begun to work he most always went for the govment. Pap was appalled that the government would take a man’s son away from him because he was abusing his son. For  Pap like a slave belongs to the slave owner, the son belongs to the father! As Pap lamented:


Call this a govment! Why, just a look at it and see what it’s like. Here’s the law a-standing ready to take a man’s son away from him—a man’s own son, which he has had all the trouble and the anxiety and all the expense of raising. Yes, just as that man has got that son raised at last, and ready to go to work and begin to suthin’ for him and give him rest, the law up and goes for him. And they call tdo hat govment!”


And if that is not clear enough—if the connection between parenting and slaveholding is not clear enough, Pap, speaking of the judge who ordered that Pap had no more right to be considered a parent of Huck because of his deep misconduct, he adds, “The law backs that old judge Thatcher up and helps  him to keep me out of my property.”He saw his son as his property.


To Pap it is irrelevant that he never did raise Huck or pay his expenses because that does not matter. What matters is that as a son Huck is his property!


Pap was also disgusted that in some parts of the country, like Ohio, there are free niggers!  Imagine that! And this nigger was allowed to dress in fancy clothes and carry a fancy cane and “talk in all kinds of languages and… be a “p’fessor in a college.” What was the country coming to he asked? There were even states where niggers were allowed to vote! That was why he decided he would never vote again. And he could hardly believe that a nigger would not make way for him unless he shoved him out of the way. And the last straw, in some states they could not sell niggers!


This was the father who taught Huck morals and educated his conscience. No wonder Huck needed to be freed from him and his views.


And even though bald-faced racists like that are now less common, racism is very common. And unconsciously we are taught it from our parents and our world. Revolting from it is not easy. It is hard.

Mark Twain and Spiritual Slavery


Mark Twain had a deep aversion to slavery.  That was an unusual attitude at the time. In fact most people in the south of  the United States, and elsewhere for that matter, including many people in Canada, felt slavery was natural. That was just how things worked.  But Twain did not always feel that way. Like Huck Finn he grew into hatred of slavery, because he grew up with it and thought it was normal and therefore right. Only later in life did he realize that slavey was a sin and must be resisted.

Late in his life Twain said this:

“In my schoolboy days I had no aversion to slavery.  I was not aware that there was anything wrong about it. No one arraigned it in my hearing; the local papers said nothing against it; the local pulpit taught us that God approved it, that it was a holy thing, and that the doubter need only look in the Bible if he wished to settle his mind—and then the texts were read aloud to us the matter sure; if the slaves themselves had an aversion to slavery they were wise and said nothing.”

This reminds me of an argument I had once had with a young lawyer. I don’t remember what we were arguing about, but it was an ethical argument about whether or not a particular action or activity was wrong. His ultimate position was that he had been brought up to believe that so he believed it. He was a slave to his parent’s opinions. He was not free.

Frankly, I was stunned that an educated person who had spent 7 years in a university could hold that was an answer to my argument. But really, he was just clearly enunciating a position held by many people in society. They implicitly believe what their parents believed and do not question the authority of the parent to control their beliefs even deep into maturity. This is what I call spiritual slavery.  When we are growing up we naturally believe what our parents tell us, but I believe when we are mature we have a duty to question what we have been  told us, even if we continue to respect the parents.  What Friedrich Nietzsche said about teachers and students is equally applicable to parents and children: “One repays a teacher badly by remaining always a pupil.” Would you want your children to believe as you believe just because you taught them to believe it? I think not. We want our children eventually to think for themselves. Perhaps even to teach us where we went wrong!

I would even hold this position if I were God. I would not want people to believe me only because I said something was true.  I would not give them a Holy book with prescriptions that must be followed. I would want them to think for themselves. Again, I would want them to teach me if I was wrong. I want people—all people—to be spiritually free!

Later in his life Twain realized what he had been taught by his elders was wrong. Slavery was wicked.  As Azar Nafisi said, “his childhood memories left such a mark on him that slavery became to his mind a universal symbol of man’s cruelty, stupidity, and depravity.” This is what I now think about racism. It too has been inculcated in us since the days of our youth by a system of systemic racism that we have not recognized, because we were like fish who don’t see the water in which they swim. At one time slavery was  like that. It is not like that anymore. But racism is still like that. And we must resist it.

If we are not free to think for ourselves we are not free.



Deep Freedom


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a book about freedom.  It is about the freedom of young boys who are smothered by demands that they conform to narrow constraints of maiden aunts and Sunday schools. And that is important. Revolting from such constraints is the freedom Huck seeks. That is the freedom that Huck seeks and is willing to pay the ultimate price when he lights out for the territory. He wants it even if means hell.


But it also about freedom that a large portion of Americans didn’t enjoy, namely the indigenous and black people of America. The freedom extolled by Americans since the time of the Puritans that for some reason was not for them. Some of them in fact were enslaved—i.e., as unfree as they possibly could be in this land lauded as being the land of the free.  It was free only for some. Most them were white and most of them were men.

The novel is also about freeing humans like Huck from the ideas that enslave him. These are the ideas—like making humans into property—that Huck must learn to renounce. And it is hard to renounce ideas with which we have grown up.

How can anyone who believes in and relishes freedom as so many Americans and Canadians do, ever think that slavery is acceptable? Canadians have to remember that slavery was also prevalent in Canadian society. Canada was much more than the underground railway inviting in slaves to sanctuary.

When charlatans, murderers, and thieves join the “God-fearing” white folks of the community to chase down en mass Jim the runaway slave, Huck says, aptly, “It was enough to make a body ashamed of the human race.”

Mark Twain once said, “Lincoln’s proclamation…not only set the black slaves free, but set the white man free also.” I believe that is profoundly true.

This is beautifully materialized in the character of Jim the black slave. Jim frees Huck. In pursuing freedom for Jim, Huck is also freed from the chains of the Sunday school marms.