I recently came across this amazing article from the beautiful mind over at Brain Pickings about Mark Twain. It chronicles his views of slavery as a young, impressionable child and how just a few words from his soft-spoken mother changed his mind forever towards those around him.
In the Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 1, he writes,
“In my schoolboy days I had no aversion to slavery. I was not aware that there was anything wrong about it. No one arraigned it in my hearing; the local papers said nothing against it; the local pulpit taught us that God approved it, that it was a holy thing, and that the doubter need only look in the Bible if he wished to settle his mind–and then the texts were read aloud to us to make the matter sure; if the slaves themselves had an aversion to slavery they were wise and said nothing.”
Twain would have gone on accepting slavery without a thought had his mother not one day shown sincere empathy towards a young slave boy, Sandy, making Twain suddenly recognize that Sandy was a young boy like himself, a human with joys and sorrows and the innate impulse to sing.
All it takes is one voice to tear down the ideology of an entire culture.
Nowadays I hear often that you should keep your views to yourself–vote in their favor come election time, yes–but otherwise do not cause trouble by bringing up politics in presence of others. I shudder to think what our society would be like if people throughout time conformed to this rule. And I shudder to imagine a future unchanged from the present because those with opinions are too afraid to offend.
Racism still exists. Sexism still exists. As does homophobia, educational inequality, and religious (and nonreligious) persecution. And not just in pockets here and there, but on a national and global scale.
Like young Mark Twain, it is easy to be oblivious to the faults of the culture around you. After all, it is all you know, all you have ever known. But we can all purposefully become more conscious of the issues embedded in the daily life surrounding us. And then, we must act.
Whether with bells and whistles down a city sidewalk or a soft voice over a dinner table, we must parade by marching out our alternate opinions and revealing the human face behind our society’s prejudices. Twain’s mother was a soft-spoken woman, but in that moment with her son, she defied everything that her society triumphed as truth, inspiring him to realize that he could form his own judgments concerning the worth of others.
Without speaking out or taking action we perpetuate the biases around us. Find a way to make your own parade.