Pine Nuts: Was Mark Twain a racist?
The Sandra Day O’Connor Federal Courthouse in Phoenix is a glass behemoth designed by a Boston architect that is hellishly hot in the summer and cold as an untipped blackjack dealer’s stare in the winter.
This particular November day was a perfect 72 degrees, though this idyllic temperature did nothing to stop me from sweating under my arms, as I was about to be tried in the courtroom of the Honorable Federal Judge G. Murray Snow for publishing racist literature.
The plaintiffs were 80 Deer Valley High School students from Mrs. Allen’s three Advanced Placement English classes. I was advised they bought new clothes for the trial and that the prosecution encrypted their digitized arguments so they could not be seen by me.
They were fully prepared to present evidence of racism gathered from “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” or so I thought. As it happened, these resourceful sleuths had plumbed “Roughing It” for damning material regarding the Native American Indian that I could not refute.
As more foreboding winds would blow for me, Judge Snow had recently rung up Sheriff Joe Arpaio for racial profiling and I looked to be the next notch on his belt.
The prosecution opened their offensive with an 1853 letter from Sam Clemens to his mother. “…he ‘reckoned he had better black his face, for in these Eastern states, niggers are considerably better than white people.”
I took a Rubio-sized gulp of water and confessed I had written the same. (Now, I don’t mind what the opposition says about me, so long as they don’t tell the truth of me. But when they descend to telling the truth about me I consider that is taking an unfair advantage.)
This dipping into obscure private letters did not stop. “His 1872 book Roughing It started with initially slow sales, but after he got a favorable review he was so overjoyed he said, ‘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.’”
I found myself sinking lower and lower and lower in the witness stand and wishing I was in Jerusalem or Tahoe or anywhere other than the Sandra Day O’Conner Federal Courthouse. But then, with an elegant air of confidence and poise, my defense team took the floor.
“Mark Twain tells us, ‘There are many humorous things in this world, among them is the white man’s notion that he is less savage than all of the other savages.’ Mark Twain is guilty of one thing and one thing only, that of employing satire to expose, denounce and condemn racism, prejudice and narrow mindedness. The very definition of racism assumes an attitude of superiority, and he is here today to tell us today that he has no prejudices as to cast, no prejudices as to creed, and no prejudices as to color. All he needs to know about a man is that he is a human being. He can be no worse than that.”
The verdict? Hung jury -mistrial. This being the fifth year we have conducted this Trial of the Century in Phoenix, we are now 2-2 & 1. It looks like it will require a sixth year to determine if Mark Twain was a racist or not.
Learn more about Mark Twain at ghostoftwain.com.