Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “slave”

The New American Slave (Roger Ingalls)

Remember that game teachers played to help develop our logic and reasoning skills? They would hold up a picture and ask, “what’s wrong with this picture” and we would have to figure it out.

Well, my fellow Americans, what’s wrong with this picture?

Based on the incarceration numbers shown in this chart, it appears that many Americans suddenly became criminals during the Nixon administration and turned more evil during the Reagan administration.

Now, I ask you, does this really make sense? Did the citizens of the United States exponentially turn to the dark side during the 70s and 80s? Your gut is probably saying no, people don’t change that drastically. Your intuition is correct, the people didn’t change but the laws did.

Virtually overnight, human behavior was criminalized by Nixon’s War On Drugs legislation. This was conservative backlash for the 1960’s Enlightened Movements. Ten years later, the Reagans stepped into the Whitehouse. While the country was in a recession, Nancy spent a few hundred thousand dollars on new dinnerware and this didn’t go over well with the public. The spin doctors came to her rescue and she became the Just Say No First Lady. The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 came into existence along with harsh penalties for drug related crimes.

Nixon’s prohibition of recreational drugs and the subsequent draconian penalties are responsible for the exponential growth of the prison and jail populations. To make matter worse, incarceration is becoming more privatized and the bigger prison companies are publicly traded. Wall Street expects these for profit companies to grow annually at a rate that is faster than the real crime rate. Do we see a problem here? The prison industry, their lobbyists and law enforcement need more criminalization of human behavior and harsher penalties to maintain jobs and profits.

Throughout history man has used mind altering substances, it’s our nature. It is estimated that 30% of those incarcerated have committed non-violent drug related crimes.

Taxpayers can no longer afford an annual $70 billion bill for the War On Drugs.

We need to do away with the prohibition of recreational drugs and regulate them similar to tobacco and alcohol. We also need to do away with for profit incarceration that creates incentives for enslavement.

The 40 year experiment of criminalizing human behavior has failed.

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Roger Ingalls is well travelled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

The N Word Revisted

A couple of days ago I wrote about the controversy surrounding the new edition of Mark Twain’s The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn that has changed the N-word for slave.

I wrote that I wasn’t comfortable as it is not for a white person to decide how a person of color feels when they hear the word in the context of literature. I have been thinking about this ever since. Before I share my own thoughts, I want to give the floor to Suzanna La Rosa, co-founder and publisher of NewSouth Books. While admitting their offices have been flooded with negative e-mails and phone calls, she states:

“We didn’t undertake this lightly. If our publication fosters good discussion about how language affects learning and certainly the nature of censorship, then difficult as it is likely to be, it’s a good thing.”

Others, however, have attacked the publishers for “censorship” and “political correctness,” or simply for the perceived sin of altering the words of a literary icon. The hefty “Autobiography of Mark Twain,” published last year, has become a best seller.

English teachers have also expressed their objection to the idea of cleaning up the novel. Elizabeth Absher, an English teacher at South Mountain High School in Arizona, says:

“I’m not offended by anything in ‘Huck Finn.’ I am a big fan of Mark Twain, and I hear a lot worse in the hallway in front of my class.”

Ms. Absher does not teach ‘Huck Finn’ because it is a long book. She does, however teach many of  Twain’s short stories and makes “Huck Finn” available for students.

“I think authors’ language should be left alone,” she said. “If it’s too offensive, it doesn’t belong in school, but if it expresses the way people felt about race or slavery in the context of their time, that’s something I’d talk about in teaching it.”

In another New York Times editorial, That’s Not Twain, the opinion was made very clear.

“When “Huckleberry Finn” was published, Mark Twain appended a note on his effort to reproduce “painstakingly” the dialects in the book, including several backwoods dialects and “the Missouri negro dialect.” What makes “Huckleberry Finn” so important in American literature isn’t just the story, it’s the richness, the detail, the unprecedented accuracy of its spoken language. There is no way to “clean up” Twain without doing irreparable harm to the truth of his work.”

I am not going into the sanctity of literature or the censorship of authors. There is plenty of such reactions on the blogosphere. But, in my previous post, I wrote about how as a white person and even as a Jew, I felt this was for African-Americans to decide. If I am offending them by reading such words and having our children read them.

This is what has been on my mind. As a Jew, I resent when people use the word Holocaust freely. I believe it cheapens what the Nazis did to my people. I think where anti-Semitic words are used in a historical context, I want them to remain so. When my son heard the N-word being used in the audio book I was listening to, he challenged me. What came out of that was a discussion of slavery, of racism, and of the way we can hurt people by using offensive words.

If literature can facilitate such discussions and empower a greater understanding of slavery and racism, I think I side with those who want the N-word left in Twain’s work. Nothing will come out of burying our sins. We need to face them, admit to them, and ensure they will never happen again.
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

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