Dear Twain Aficionados:
I would like to think that these recent postings reflect
the progress we've made in this country over the last
By that I mean we've learned to recognize the power
of the written and spoken word, and the harm, inadvertent
or intentional, that casually bandied about phrases can bring.
Racial remarks, smears, epithets, and slurs are the third
rail of American discourse. That we generally no longer
use or tolerate them indicates an increasing and overdue
sensitivity to their ability to scorch, even when one's own
upbringing may make them appear relatively benign or
In 1872, Twain wrote to Howells concerning the reception of
"Roughing It" by the reading public:
"I am as uplifted and reassured by it as a mother who has given
birth to a white baby when she was awfully afraid it was going to
be a mulatto."
Who among us would venture forth in public today with such a remark?
Only an idiot. Yet the man we study, revere, and respect -- the man who
penned the ultimate "hymn to brotherhood" and paid for a black man's
college education -- wrote those very words, and with all due respect,
probably expected their effect to elicit a laugh, or at the very least a
wry grin. And he wrote them in a private correspondence to a dear
friend, without intending them for public consumption or dissemination.
So I suspect they carry weight as "a true supplication of the heart."
While the above quotation may have been somewhat humorous in its'
day as an expression, to quote it in public now, or to use it on the stage,
would needlessly offend, and border on the inflammatory. One might
consider asking Michael Richards if he would have done things differently,
had he the chance to reprise his standup routine.
As a Caucasian, I laugh uproariously at D. L. Hughley's performances.
Could I ever entertain the notion of saying what he says from the stage?
Not in ten thousand years. I have not earned the right, and believe me,
I pray I will always have the good sense never to assume that I have.
Times change. People change. Societal expectations and mores can
also change, and, regarding these recent rebuttal posts, for the better.
Or so it seems to me.
While Mr. Fears is free to express himself in whatever fashion he chooses,
we are also free to cry "Foul," to register our discontent and revulsion,
to hold him, or anyone else, accountable in our minds and hearts for an
unwelcome polarization and coarsening of the discourse on this list.
The heedless effrontery that may have spawned them, and the damage
thereby inflicted, seem worthy of our individual and collective
They can be, as we all know, the difference between lightning,...and the