Thursday, July 30, 2015

Go Set A Watchman and Racist Loved Ones

So, SPOILERS - okay?  Spoilers.  Stop now if that is an issue.

Go Set A Watchman arrived in the mail so I figured I had to read it even though I had already heard enough to make me dread the dismantling of the sacred American father figure.

Dismantled he was. 

I had read some accounts that took issue with the writing of this work of Harper Lee, but I did not find the book to be poorly written until the end when Scout so disappointed me.  Until then, I was very engaged.  I think it was a writing issue at the end as well as a hurt feelings one, since it got rather didactic, but my issue was definitely also one of hurt feelings at that point. I knew Atticus was going to disappoint before I read it but I didn't know that Scout would too.

Scout disappointed me not because she kept loving and admiring and kept in relation to her father.  I could understand that in a way that I am going to discuss.  She disappointed me because she decided his viewpoint was as valuable as hers - a necessary foil to make change happen sustainably or some fool notion of that sort.

There was just no excuse for that.

For the rest - well. 

Let me say this:  if you are a white person living in the American South (and I would guess probably in America anywhere, but definitely down here), you are going to have some racist relatives if you have relatives. I was just a child when I wrote my first tortured poem about loving my racist relatives.  Because I do.  I love them all.  Also, I love a lot of other people who are totally racist.  

God help me, I even admire many of them greatly.   Not for their racism, for goodness sake.  (I am no Scout.)  But people, all people, are complicated.

Parents love their children even when their children are murderers.  Children love their abusers when their abusers are parents.  People love the friends of their youth even when they develop hateful philosophies.  Every one of us has things about us that are utterly unworthy of love and respect, and bigotry has got to be at the top of the list of despicable things that one finds in the complexity of human souls... but it is there.  And, usually, so are lots of good things.  People are complex.

Do I expect people of color who have been systematically oppressed by racism to appreciate the complexity and extraneous good points that are found in the hearts of their racist oppressors?  Of course not.  Some great leaders have, but that is a hell of a lot to ask.  It is not the burden of the oppressed to have to love their oppressors on top of everything else.  It is my responsibility, though. I am not directly victimized by the racism of other white people but I am called upon to remain in relation to those who perpetrate it and to show that there are other ways.  I am called upon to be there, loving the people around me even when they are hateful, and to show them that I will not be complicit in their behavior - even I who love them - I will not be part of it.  I am part of their life, but not their hate.  I hope that is how people can learn - from those who love them best.

It is an uncomfortable thing to talk about, but I think it is important to talk about it, as long as we don't turn into Scout and start seeing the racism around us as part of some greater plan.

1 comment:

Andrea said...

Hmmm....I had not paid attention to the Watchman hype, but this puts me in no mood to read it (it took me nearly 40 years to get around to reading Mockingbird, so I wasn't in any hurry). I prefer keeping Atticus Finch a hero in my mind.

You make all kinds of good points here. I tend to dissociate from people who are hateful. I guess my heart isn't that big. You always have an admirable way of seeing the world.