We the People, Our Literature
Those of us Americans who have read and taught To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee sense the deep irony in the calls to ban the book from schools. And never more was that irony accentuated than by the fact that the President of the United States encouraged us each this week and in the coming weeks to learn from it. I’ll just stop this blog post, then, with two quotations:
I’m not disputing this is great literature. But there is so much racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can’t get past that, and right now we are a nation divided as it is.
— Marie Rothstein-Williams, whose son is mixed race and who does not address the fact that one of the boys in the classroom in the novel calls his new teacher, Miss Caroline, a “sl*t.”
But laws alone won’t be enough. Hearts must change. It won’t change overnight. Social attitudes oftentimes take generations to change. But if our democracy is to work the way it should in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us need to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
For blacks and other minority groups, that means tying our own very real struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face. Not only the refugee or the immigrant or the rural poor or the transgender American, but also the middle-aged white guy who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic, and cultural, and technological change.
We have to pay attention and listen.
— Barack Hussein Obama, who is a mixed race man and is self identifying here in the context of literature on race and reading in America and whose quotation of Scout Finch’s father comes at the point in the book where the sources of her learning to read and write are revealed