Thursday, March 2, 2017

America's Inseparable Halves

George Sauders' critique of Twain's classic novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, claims that there exists a dichotomy between America's 'Huck' and America's 'Tom'. That is, between the hopeful spirit open to progress, and the rather bullheaded spirit that feels as though nothing needs changing. In the words of Saunders himself, "Tom likes kings, codified nobility, unquestioned privilege. Huck likes people, fair play, spreading the truck around". Just under 200 years later, that clash still exists in the struggle against systematic racism and xenophobia, for LGBT+ rights, women's rights, immigrant rights, and many more rights struggles that I'm less aware of than I should be. The question remains: on which side of the debate does the majority of America lie? Though our current government seems to be leaning heavily towards Tom, a good portion of he citizen body (and especially the young citizen body) seems to be set in a Huck-like resistance to those in power.

Earlier this week, I heard on NPR an ad for a news story to come later in the day. The announcer said they were having on Pat McCorny, the man behind the notorious North Carolina Bathroom Bill in order for him to give his "take on trans rights". Last time I checked, giving humans basic human rights wasn't an outlandish request, yet McCorny and so many other political leaders like him base their whole platforms on that idea of "unquestioned privilege", go into office planning on strengthening already existing discrimination. Trump's entire campaign revolved around xenophobia and racism, about shutting down and demonizing people who have been inherently deemed as lesser, about creating this great divide between "True Americans" and "Others", feeding heavily into this Tom-like idea of stratification of the populous. The call to "make America great again" and return to our traditions of old reflects eerily Tom's nonsensical call to follow 'prisoner's tradition' when leaving the farm straight away would have been far easier and less dangerous for all parties involved.

As bleak as this Tom-ish direction that our leaders are trending in seems to be, I can take hope in the Huck-ish resistance of the people. Black Lives Matter, for example, embodies all of Huck's ideals - encouraging fair treatment and truly equal opportunity for black people because, surprise, they're also people worthy of respect. Though Black Lives Matter has been a force for a significant number of years, our society is also springing up with many different movements in these last couples months as a retaliation against all the political Toms. Take the Dakota Access Pipeline protests with indigenous Americans risking their literal lives and safety in order to protect their land and access to clean water.  Or perhaps you'd like to look at the Women's March - a powerful (albeit a little white) force pushing to "spread the truck" to women. Consider the lawyers gathering in airports to combat the Muslim Ban or the LGBT protest recently held at the historic Stonewall Inn. The public is not standing for this "traditional" Tom mentality. Instead, they're using the guts that the actual Huck lacked and standing up to Tom, turning the nation's eye onto their cause. Though many of our positions of power are currently held by Toms, searching to maintain and even strengthen our current state of unequal privilege, they are facing resistance from a nation of Hucks, unwilling to sit down and let certain groups benefit off the suffering of others.

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