Last night I received an email from Goodreads announcing their Goodreads Choice Awards 2015. To my surprise Go Set a Watchman won the top fiction award with 31,093 votes. Second place was given to Jojo Moyes's After You, which received 19,838 votes. Part of me is wondering exactly how many people that voted for GSAW actually read the book. And part of me is wondering if I've overreacted to the blatant racism that's experienced throughout the book.
I decided to read some reviews of the book and see if someone else could provide me with a different perspective. While several people had similar opinions as me: the racism was uncomfortable and didn't do anything to benefit these beloved characters. (Even after Atticus defends a black man accused for raping a white woman in To Kill a Mockingbird, I'm supposed to believe he turned into this horrible, KKK attending, man. Like all his morals and empathy towards other races just went right out the window. It feels like things are going backwards.)
I kept on reading until I found a lengthy post from a woman defending every problematic theme within the book. Then I stumbled across her defending Atticus's sudden turn to racism. She said there are varying degrees of racism, and on a scale from "makes a racist joke at a party" to "full on KKK cross burner", Atticus falls on the lighter side of racism.
But are there actually varying degrees of racism? Or once you start making one racist remark should you be labeled that forever?
I'm not going to pretend that I have the answer, but I believe this can be the start of a very interesting conversation.
I personally feel that some people's racism runs deep in their blood and it's something that might be very difficult to overcome. Especially if that racism has been passed down from generation to generation like a family tradition of bigots. But are these people hopeless to change? No! Despite some people wanting to give passes to old people, saying they're from another generation, I can't believe that you hit an age and are suddenly unable to adapt or change with the world. Plus I'm pretty sure hate will kill you faster, so learning to be more tolerant might add some years to your life.
As for the opposite end, when people occasionally stereotype a person or make a cruel joke, these people need to ask themselves why they're doing it in the first place. Is it just slang that you've picked up over the years? Or do you actually feel that minorities are less than you? Once you start thinking before you speak, you might realize there are better ways to describe a person that doesn't specifically target their race.
Either way, there is no excuse for racism. So please stop trying to defend Atticus's words. Like in life, we need to acknowledge when something or someone is being racist, because only then can we review how things need to change in order for us to progress as a society.