I don’t know – I really do not know – how much clout little old limey Samizdata has in the big wide world out there, by which I mean the USA, but I hope it has some, and that if we flag up this article in City Journal (Autumn 2002), then it will count for a little something, or at any rate an extra little something to set beside the fact that Instapundit has already flagged it up a few hours ago. Maybe it will influence these particular PC witchfinders that they are now getting themselves detectably, internet searchably, despised all over the world (by which I mean in Britain).
The author of the article is a new name to me, Harry Stein. Stein is the author of the book How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (and Found Inner Peace), and the article is about his trials and tribulations on the road selling his book, and specifically about a speech he gave in Dallas and its gutter-journalistic aftermath.
Perry likes quotes so that this will make sense even if the link one day goes dead, so let me see. Well, here’s quite a lot of the piece, but it’s a good piece, so …:
I concluded the speech with a story about my son. As a high school sophomore, he had an English teacher, a white liberal, who began the unit on Huckleberry Finn by announcing that, though he was obliged to teach it, he wasn’t happy about it. It was a “racist” book, he said, the word “nigger” appearing with appalling frequency. There has, of course, been a lot of this lately. Twain’s masterpiece, a work not only famously cited by Ernest Hemingway as the progenitor of “all modern American literature” but widely esteemed as the most moving attack on racism ever written, routinely appears on lists put out by groups like the ACLU and People For the American Way of works under most sustained assault by book banners—a target, as columnist Michele Malkin succinctly observes, of those “too busy counting Twain’s words to understand them.”
Indeed, Twain himself wrote that he intended Huck’s growing recognition of Jim’s humanity to reflect the nation’s ongoing struggle with slavery’s legacy of deeply embedded racism. For any even semi-sentient reader, it is all there in the pivotal scene where Huck agonizes over whether to send the letter he’s written to Jim’s owners betraying the runaway slave, knowing that, as the beliefs of the time had it, failing to do so will mean forfeiting his soul: “I was a-trembling because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: ‘All right, then, I’ll go to hell,’ and I tore it up.”
My son, already very familiar with the Twain classic, raised his hand and told the teacher that, in fact, it was an anti-racist book—indeed, one of the most powerful ever written. Thus began an increasingly heated back-and-forth that went on for a good 15 minutes, culminating with the teacher saying, “It’s clear you have to work on your racial sensitivity.” “Are you calling me a racist?” my son demanded, deeply aggrieved. When the teacher turned away, refusing to answer, he stalked out of class. He returned home from school that day remarking: “Well, I’m starting out with a C in that class, and working down from there”—a prophecy that proved, alas, all too accurate. But, as I told the Dallas crowd, I was never prouder of him in my life. That concluded my talk. I got a round of applause and waited for questions.
Immediately a black guy in the middle of the room stood up. Later identified as William Jones of the San Diego–based CityLink Investment Corporation, described in a Fed press release as “an enterprise that acquires, develops, and manages real estate ventures and helps to renew urban areas,” he announced that he didn’t have a question, but a statement. He said he was “very personally offended by your jokes about black people and your seemingly rationalizing the use of the word ‘nigger.’ I’m a businessman, my wife is a prosecutor, my children go to college, we pay our taxes. The overgeneralization doesn’t really help to further what I think you really want, which is understanding.”
I stood there for a moment at the podium, stunned, not knowing how to respond. I hadn’t the slightest idea what I’d said to provoke such a response. Told jokes about black people? Not only had I not remotely done such a thing; the suggestion that I ever would was beyond outrageous. Rationalized the use of the word “nigger”? I was describing what had happened between my son and his teacher. It was the word Twain used, what the two of them were arguing about—the very point of the story!
And of course there’s more. It gets written up in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Stein has already been in touch with this organ and fears the worst. He’s right:
Early the following week, I heard from a friend who lives in Dallas. “What the hell did you say down here?”
Mike Lee’s article, co-written with a staffer for the paper in Washington, was an exceedingly nasty piece of work, a catalog of half-truths and insinuations, profoundly unfair, but also rather deft, in that none of that was readily apparent to the untrained eye. Starting on page one and running over 1,100 words, it began with a fundamental mischaracterization of what had occurred and took off from there: “Federal Reserve Bank directors from the Dallas and San Francisco districts were stunned when a conservative author’s luncheon speech at the Dallas bank turned into a lecture about political correctness, blacks, gays, and women who put their children in day care.”
Throughout, things I had said were taken out of context, stripped of tone and otherwise misrepresented. Lee had been granted access to a video of the speech but was highly selective in what he used. On the key issue, the Huck Finn anecdote, the point I was making is nowhere to be found, but Jones’s noble-sounding declaration—with its damning accusation about my “seemingly rationalizing of the word ‘n——-‘ ”—is quoted in full. (In fact, that’s the only reason I can reproduce it verbatim here.) Of course, my response goes unrecorded. What, then, had provoked Jones’s outburst in the first place? “[Stein] also described an argument his son had with a teacher about Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and repeated a racial slur that is in the book.”
And so on. Bastards. Please read the whole thing. Which I hope stays up there for ever.
A final thought, concerning the title I’ve used for this posting. The word “witch” is used to describe the communist hunts of the fifties, but that’s wrong. Witches never did what they were accused of, by such horrible people as the man played by Vincent Price in Witchfinder General. They were not guilty as charged. But the communists? How dare they call it “witch” hunting. Communism existed then and still exists. Then as now, communists supported it and lied for it and fantasised about it.
But to describe what happened and is presumably still happening to Stein, the word witch is entirely proper. He did none of the things he’s accused of, and I hope his vile accusers get a thorough going over from the blogosphere. They deserve much worse.