Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Put Away Your Violin, White People

8 Reasons Why White People Need To 
Stop Blubbering About Go Set A Watchman

1) Technically, this is not revisionist, because Harper Lee wrote it before she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. This means that the Atticus Finch you know and love is the actual revisionist version. And it's a good, good book. I love it. But it doesn't tell the story Lee initially intended to tell, or show the characters in the same light as she initially intended.

2) Even if it were revisionist, it's a work of fiction and Atticus is a fictional character. They're make-believe. Make-believe people can fly, or breathe under water, or do anything that writers decide they can do. That's how fiction works. When a fictional character does not live up to what we expect, it's not the same as being betrayed by a real-life best friend. Because he's not real, and he doesn't live, at all. Close the book and see.

3) Not only is Atticus Finch a fictional character, but Gregory Peck was an actor. For a lot of people, the real love affair with Atticus has more to do with Peck's portrayal of him, than with anything Harper Lee wrote about him. Myself, when I read To Kill a Mockingbird, my hero is Scout. I love Scout. I like Atticus but, in the book, it's all about Scout. When I watch the movie, however, it's all about Gregory Peck. Yeah, you read that correctly. It's all about Peck and how he creates Atticus on screen. Another cool thing about fiction, and one which extends to film? You can read Go Set A Watchman, and have all kinds of feelings about that Atticus, and you can still love Gregory Peck's Atticus. Also? you can still love Gregory Peck. I know my appreciation of him isn't about to wane.

4) No one HAS to read this book. There's no dishonor in loving To Kill a Mockingbird and feeling that that is all you ever need to read by Harper Lee. You will live to tell about it. No one is forcing you to read this "new" book. If you read it, you have only yourself to blame.

5) It's probably high time we let go of the idea that white men are the heroes of every story. Why is the hero of a story about a black man in the south who is tried for a crime he didn't commit and then lynched for it a white guy, anyhow? It seems to me that this type of myth was borne of the fact that everyone wants to look back at their family tree and find they got here by way of Atticus Finch, and not Simon Legree. Well, let me tell you: if America had been populated by as many Atticus Finches as modern-day Americans would have us believe, there never would have been slavery in this country, and there would be no racism, today. Nope. There were a lot more Simon Legrees out there, and some of them are your ancestors. Own that shit. I'm talking to you, Ben Affleck.

6) For too long, white Americans have partaken in passive do-goodery. Guess what? Reading this novel, talking about how much you love it, and naming your kid after its fictional hero does NOT make you a good person. It doesn't mean you don't enjoy white privilege. It doesn't mean anything, except that you like this book.

7) Racism is not an easy topic, and the literature it results in shouldn't be easy, either. Even some abolitionists were racists. Does that sound illogical?  One of the most vocal and active abolitionists, a man who made his home a stop on The Underground Railroad, hosted John Brown, and lost everything due to his insistence on admitting a black child to his school was a racist, who thought people of African decent were inferior. Read up on it.

8) Black men and women, boys and girls, face danger every single day in America. They die in police custody and at the hands of police officers in alarming numbers.  About three times as many black children in America live in poverty as their white counterparts. And you're crying because your favorite fictional character isn't Mister Wonderful. Cry me a fucking river.

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