To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird Race Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (chapter.paragraph)
"Scout," said Atticus, "nigger-lover is just one of those terms that don't mean anything—like snot-nose. It's hard to explain—ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody's favoring Negroes over and above themselves. It's slipped into usage with some people like ourselves, when they want a common, ugly term to label somebody."
"You aren't really a nigger-lover, then, are you?"
"I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody... I'm hard put, sometimes—baby, it's never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn't hurt you." (11.107-109)
In giving Scout a lesson in How Racism Works 101, Atticus also does the same for the audience. On the syllabus in this conversation: the power of language, not only as a way to shame those who don't toe the racist line, but also to set the terms of the debate. Racists use "nigger-lover" to suggest that a person is trying to give African-Americans special rights, but Atticus points out that all he's arguing for is equality, loving everybody the same. The end of the quote is basically a grown-up version of "I'm rubber and you're glue," suggesting that schoolyard taunt actually has some merit—some insults do tell you more about the person hurling them than about their target.
Lula stopped, but she said, "You ain't got no business bringin' white chillun here—they got their church, we got our'n. It is our church, ain't it, Miss Cal?"
… When I looked down the pathway again, Lula was gone. In her place was a solid mass of colored people.
One of them stepped from the crowd. It was Zeebo, the garbage collector. "Mister Jem," he said, "we're mighty glad to have you all here. Don't pay no 'tention to Lula, she's contentious because Reverend Sykes threatened to church her. She's a troublemaker from way back, got fancy ideas an' haughty ways—we're mighty glad to have you all." (12.48-52)
This is the first time Scout and Jem experience racism first-hand. They feel like they're the objects of someone else's racism, which sure put them in a unique position.
"It's right hard to say," she said. "Suppose you and Scout talked colored-folks' talk at home it'd be out of place, wouldn't it? Now what if I talked white-folks' talk at church, and with my neighbors? They'd think I was puttin' on airs to beat Moses."
"But Cal, you know better," I said.
"It's not necessary to tell all you know. It's not ladylike—in the second place, folks don't like to have somebody around knowin' more than they do. It aggravates 'em. You're not gonna change any of them by talkin' right, they've got to want to learn themselves, and when they don't want to learn there's nothing you can do but keep your mouth shut or talk their language." (12.138-144)
Cal doesn't get the privilege of being the same person no matter where she is, because she has to live a double life to fit in. Sometimes, conformity to what everyone else is doing makes more sense. Calpurnia and Atticus offer different models to Jem and Scout of how to deal with a world that can't deal with who people really are. (Extra credit: Check out W.E.B. DuBois's "Of Our Spiritual Strivings" in the "Best of the Web" section for a famous discussion of doubleness and African-American identity.)