To Kill A Mockingbird was my lifeline. It changed my life when I read it. Itcompletely changed the way I thought about my community. It changed my life every time I re-read it.
The reason I remember exactly how old I was when I got that book, and exactly when I got that book, is becausethe act of my mother giving me that book was the only honest conversation I ever had about racism. It was theonly
time I was ever allowed to acknowledge that the things I saw happening
around me every day were wrong, that they were horrible, that there was
something deeply troubling about the community I lived in. Because you
did not talk about it. You did not talk about it. You did not talk
But there was this book, this book, and in 1989, it was talking about racism whennothing else in my life was. And yes, in 1989, that was so, so important. It’s still that important.
is a flawed book, and it is directed very clearly at white people. It
has outdated ideas about race and deeply problematic images of black
people. It has troubling tropes. Itis a problem that it’s considered to bethe
ultimate statement on racism, and there’s no denying that TKAM’s huge
popularity is primarily due to it coming from a white mouthpiece and
being directed primarily at a white community of readers. And I realize
that this post is proving one of the strongest points you can make
about the general public opinion of TKAM: that white people read it and
then glorify it becausethey think it is the only book about racism they will ever need to read.
possible that if any other book about racism had been handed to me at
that age, that book would have been the one that changed my life. But
becauseTo Kill a Mockingbird was and is the accepted manifesto
on white people and racism, it was the one that wound up in my Easter
basket. It was the one that was deemed an acceptable introduction for
me as a young white girl–notRoll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, for
example. Was it the right choice? No. The right choice would have been
to have systematic representation of black literature in my schools and
out of them, across the board. The right choice would have beenTo Kill A Mockingbirdand any number of other wonderful books about racism.
Those things deserved to be talked about when we celebrate TKAM’s 50th anniversary. And when we don’t.