[by Macon D.; full text published at Stuff White People Do]
I refuse to go along with this week’s warm, feel-good celebrations of Harper Lee’s novel (published fifty years ago today), To Kill a Mockingbird. Simply put, I think that novel is racist, and so is its undying popularity. It’s also racist in a particularly insidious way, because the story and its characters instead seem to so many white people like the very model of good, heartwarming, white anti-racism.
A few days ago, NPR (National Propaganda Public Radio) aired a typically laudatory piece on the novel, voiced by reporter Lynn Neary. As usual on the soothing, soporific NPR, this piece was filtered through, and aimed toward, a well-educated white perspective. These implied people are all too happy to be reminded that racism is a thing of the past, and that things are oh so much better now. The writers of this NPR segment were careful enough to interview some black teachers and students about Lee’s book, but if any offered significant criticism, their perspectives were left out.
The segment begins,
Harper Lee had the kind of success most writers only dream about. Shortly after her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, came out in the summer of 1960, it hit the bestseller lists, then it won a Pulitzer Prize, and then was made into an Oscar-winning movie. Her novel has never gone out of print.
But, in a move that’s unheard of in this age of celebrity writers, Lee stepped out of the limelight and stopped doing interviews years ago — she never wrote another book. Still, her influence has endured, as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of its publication.
NPR’s print version (entitled “50 Years On, ‘Mockingbird’ Still Sings America’s Song”) goes on to say,
For the high-schoolers reading To Kill a Mockingbird today, America is a very different place than it was when Lee wrote her novel 50 years ago. Lee’s story of Scout Finch and her father, Atticus — a small-town Southern lawyer who defends a black man unjustly accused of rape — came out just as the nation was fighting over school desegregation.
That’s right, dear, lily-white NPR fans. Things were sooooo different back then, weren’t they? Thank God racism is dead!
Actually, that right there is the first reason I think this novel is, in effect, racist — it allows, indeed encourages, today’s well-meaning white people to think that “America is a very different place” than it was when Lee wrote her novel, and thus to think that widespread and deeply entrenched racism died a long time ago.