Books

Huckleberry Finn: conscious resistance against unconscious racism

Around the same time BLM marches gained momentum, I read Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Set in the 1840s when slavery was still an industry in some southern US states, it offers a view into how attitudes, no matter how immoral, can be justified so long as they are normalized. Despite being his friend, Huck sees Jim as property belonging to someone else, not out of maliciousness, but from taught social conventions.

You only need to watch the news to see echoes of the same prejudice. From controlling how hairstyles are worn to deeming some dialects as “unprofessional,” Britain has a lot to realize about its failure to deal with unconscious biases. The active opposition against taking down statues of slave traders, subtle otherings in media language and the PM’s firm stance against omitting lines from ‘Rule Britannia.’ Although the book is set in America, I couldn’t forget that Britain was where this culture derived and mutated from.

Looking at friends and family, I was reminded of Tom; friendly, hospitable, altruistic people who take action if faced with extreme racism but excuse subtle racism as normal. This book forced me to seek out unconscious racial biases in others and myself.

22/09/2020

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Jim Gell