Is To Kill A Mockingbird Racist? – Review of a talk by Tanya Landman, author of Buffalo Soldier

By Kira Taylor @kirataylor15

Last night I attended a superb talk by Tanya Landman, as part of exetreme imagination. She was a brilliant, captivating speaker with a strong message about racism.

In writing her award-winning novel, Buffalo Soldier, she had to do a great deal of research into black America. Like most of us in the lecture theatre, Tanya Landman admitted she loved To Kill A Mockingbird, but once she had researched into black history, her view of the book changed.

For all of us, To Kill A Mockingbird is a comfortable book that reminds us of human goodness and looking out for others, even if they are different, but Tanya questioned quite how much the characters walk in someone else’s shoes.

Why does the novel swerve around the injustice of an innocent black man shot seventeen times in the back and the family he never returned home to? Tanya pointed to the lack of reaction from the Finches. Not even Scout wonders how Tom Robinsons’ family must be feeling. The end of the novel is safe, under the guard of the loving father figure. Tanya turned out attention to the Robinson family – how were they feeling that night?

She brought up the point that To Kill A Mockingbird could simply be a comfort blanket for white liberal America. Some of the black community thinks it’s racist. In the 1930s, when Lee set the novel, slavery was very modern history. It was in living memory for the elderly. The book was published in the 1960s and Tanya highlighted the context around that time.

Only 5 years before Emmett Till was brutally murdered for wolf-whistling at a white woman in the Deep South. Rosa Parks had sat down on the bus, but the “I have a dream” speech was yet to come. The Black Civil Rights movement was still young. Harper Lee would have known this when she ended with the paternal love and happy ending.

Tanya pointed out how excluded some of the black characters are. Although Calpurnia is a prominent figure in the novel, she rarely voices her opinion. Tanya suggested that Atticus is portrayed as a white saviour, but still very much a saviour of inferior, 2D black characters. She pointed out how this has continued, with the film Lincoln (2012) focussed on the white Lincoln and brushed over the black advisors, who were so crucial. The Help (2011) she says is the same.

She turned our attention to Go Set A Watchman – a book I have avoided because I think it will ruin To Kill A Mockingbird for me. She admitted that it has brutal passages and paints Atticus with white supremacist attitudes, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t read it. We should carry on reading To Kill A Mockingbird, but with the understand that it is almost the children’s version of Go Set A Watchman. Black Lives Matter is still a campaign that needs to be fought for. She told us two black men are shot per week in America.

Tanya reasoned that America may not have been ready for the adult’s version.

I’m nervous about reading Go Set A Watchman. I don’t want my idea of safety to go, but we’ll never know the truth, unless we turn the cover.

By Rosie Tanner:

I never expected the talk to have as big an effect on me as it did. Ever since the racist undercurrents of To Kill A Mockingbird were highlighted, I’ve been unable to think of the book without feeling a slight twinge of guilt. The racism within the book should have been obvious. Instead, I read through it without even blinking, all whilst praising the book for its amazing, ground-breaking ideals and morals.

Although my view has been slightly altered by the talk, however, I still firmly believe in the importance of this book, and the vitality of its being read by GCSE and A Level students. Despite its faults and flaws, To Kill a Mockingbird was a very important piece of literature; it just needs to be made clear to those studying the novel, or even reading this book for their own enjoyment: this book is not at all perfect. Like every book in existence, it has its problems.

However, this book can be used to showcase these problems, as well as being used as a famous piece of literature. To Kill a Mockingbird did change peoples’ minds about racism in the Deep South, but it wasn’t entirely innocent itself. It is revolutionary. But it’s not perfect.

Similar events:

Tanya Landman is running a creative writing workshop Thursday 27th October

 

 

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