Sunday, July 19, 2015

Mary Badham ("Scout") Comments On The Atticus Controversy

The Atticus Finch We Always Knew - The New Yorker

In the Q. & A. that followed, moderator Mary Murphy, the director of the documentary “Harper Lee: From Mockingbird to Watchman,” asked Badham if she was surprised by the evolution of Atticus. She was not. In the Alabama she knew, it was not unheard of for a white man like him to righteously defend a black man like Tom Robinson against an unjustified charge of rape, and at the same time believe, as Atticus says in “Watchman,” that black people were “backward,” not “ready” to exercise their full civil rights. She heard all that and much more growing up in Birmingham. We all did.
Honestly, I've heard more about the Atticus controversy than actually heard from anyone directly who felt aggrieved by Atticus's revealed racism. But, it's no surprise that there would be hurt feelings when such a lionized character would be revealed to be so deeply flawed, nor even that the character, Atticus, would himself be revealed to be steeped in white supremacist ideology. [Related: "Scholars Have Been Pointing Out Atticus Finch's Racism For Years"]

The lesson is that privilege warps the privileged. Also, that privilege is nearly invisible to the privileged. To the extent anyone is upset about the character of Atticus in Go Set a Watchman, I suspect we'll find an unwillingness to acknowledge the pervasiveness, perhaps even the existence, of white privilege. Scout and Calpurnia are the heart of To Kill A Mockingbird, a fact somewhat obscured by the film, where the greatest burden comes across as being an honorable white man in the South, when the obvious facts are that it is harder to be nearly every other character than it is to be Atticus. Harder to be poor and black, harder to be poor and white, harder to be black and female, harder to be white and female.

This isn't to dismiss Atticus all together. Only to acknowledge the world he lives in. We live in.

For all the love shown Mockingbird, maybe it's finally time to read it closer.

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