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HUCK AND THE HOUSE
January 7, 2011
 
Snow again.

Is Q going ahead with the book study tonight? A couple of the regulars want to know. I look out the window; it's still coming down. I think he is, I tell them. I'll email you if he isn't.

This month's selection is, of all books, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. We decided to read it at the last meeting, which was back in November -- who knew then that ole Huck would be as much in the news as he is this very week? But he is: just as his creator's posthumously-published autobiography hits the top 5 on the New York Times bestseller list, Huck himself makes headlines in a new edition, now famously devoid of what we now coyly call "the N-word." Instead of the word "nigger," which is Huck's word of choice for Jim, his companion on the legendary Mississipppi voyage, as well as for every other person of color he knows about, the new edition chooses the word "slave."

Hmmn.

This is the same week in which the House of Representatives noisily chose to begin its session with a reading of the U. S. Constitution, its new majority's way of expressing the perennial belief of the newcomer: Those who came before me were all liars and thieves. Finally this job is going to be done right! The House, too, chose the draw a veil over some of the unlovelier parts of our history, leaving out those clauses of our founding and guiding document which uncritically assume the right of human beings to own other human beings, including the imaginative calculus of our earliest census instructions, in which a slave was to be counted as "three-fifths of a man." They also chose to leave out the 18th amendment, the one mandating the prohibition of alcohol -- that the less said about that, the better, I suppose.

Thus the tracks of our journey toward learning how to live together have been hastily covered over, enshrining the Consittiuion as we now have it as the only Constitution that matters. This is a pity -- it's important for us to see where we have been, and what we've learned from having been there. There are many people who think that this or that moral belief they hold dear should be an amendment to the Constitution -- it might be helpful to them to learn, if they do not already know, that we tried that once, with results disastrous enough that a later amendment was needed to undo it. It's important for us to remember how central a tenet the right to own slaves was to the founders of this country, whose omniscience and even clairvoyance is an article of faith for too many Americans. They didn't know everything. They were not perfect. They were people, as we are people. They were part of history, as we are part of it. We deserve the chance to see how they learned, and how one generation completes the learning of another. Because we ourselves are still learning how to be America,

May we never stop learning. I happen to think the reading of the Constitution before every session of Congress -- both houses next time, please -- is a good idea. It's a magnificent document. But read the whole thing, warts and all. Don't try to pretty it up.
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Crafton
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