To Kill a Mockingbird: An Accidental Racist

"Accidental racist?" Yup. Like the song. We're talking about the"oh, I didn't even know I thought that way" type of accident, not the "I totally didn't know that was your last Reese's cup" type of accident.

American Literature20th-Century American Literature
All American Literature
AuthorLee - Harper Lee
FormNovel
LanguageEnglish Language
LiteratureAmerican Literature
ThemesFamily

Transcript

00:19

All right, maybe just the first two. Another torch-bearer leading the fight to

00:24

free ourselves from the bonds of bigotry was Harper Lee.

00:28

Her book To Kill a Mockingbird met the sensitive issue head on…

00:32

…and attempted to challenge reader’s notions of right and wrong.

00:36

Surely such a book could never be accused of racism itself… could it?

00:41

Although no one has accused Lee of being intentionally racist…

00:44

…some claim that a bit of racism… snuck in.

00:46

There are numerous passages throughout the book in which her characters insinuate that

00:51

black people need to be saved by white people…

00:54

…and not just by the ones wearing capes and spandex leggings.

00:58

Okay, so they’re not Lee’s words, they’re the words of her characters, but still…

01:03

…does that get her off the hook? Many of the black characters in Mockingbird

01:08

are… simple.

01:09

They think on a simple level, they express themselves simply…

01:12

…in other words, very rarely will you catch any of them discussing quantum field theory

01:17

or quoting Baudelaire. <<bow-duh-lair>> Yeah, Lee is trying to paint a realistic portrait…

01:27

…but aren’t her representations of blacks as complete simpletons… insulting?

01:31

On the other hand, they aren’t entirely one-dimensional.

01:35

Characters like Calpurnia are complex…

01:37

…even if she speaks simply, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface.

01:42

Maybe Lee is just working within the framework of her historical time…

01:46

…and it would be impossible to accurately depict true-to-life individuals without offending

01:50

someone. It’s clear that Lee was actively trying

01:55

to be anti-racist…

01:56

…but could she have tried harder…

01:58

…by condemning her racist characters more whole-heartedly?

02:01

In other words… could her arguably racist portrayal of blacks have been forgiven…

02:06

…if those characters in the book who were prejudiced against them…

02:10

…got more of a bad rap? What’s your call?

02:13

Is Lee suppressing some hidden racism?

02:16

Or is the very idea… laughable? Shmoop amongst yourselves.