Tag Archives: racism

So – Are You Gonna?

With all the things going on in the world – in fact, make that the solar system – these days, perhaps it’s a little stupid to focus on one book release from one author. Is it really so important that Harper Lee has published her second novel? Is it really?

Image: en.wikipedia.org

Image: en.wikipedia.org

Well. I guess it is.

In conversation with a loved one the other day, it emerged that they were counting down the seconds until Watchman was released so they could read it. I was asked whether I was buying a copy and I surprised myself a bit by saying ‘you know, I don’t think I’ll bother.’

I don’t think I’ll bother? Only the biggest bookish event of the year, and I’m not bothered?

After I got over my shock (it’s strange when something that comes out of your own mouth causes you to be surprised!) I thought about it again. What could possibly be behind this? Firstly, of course, there’s the controversy over whether the book has been published with its author’s full and informed consent. For what it’s worth, I believe it has, and it irks me a little that people assume a woman of Harper Lee’s advanced age would automatically be considered ‘non compos mentis’; I’m sure she’s perfectly aware, and we have no right to speculate otherwise. Undeniably, though, it does throw a pall over proceedings. It’s distasteful, in many ways.

But the main problem is, of course – *spoiler alert, in case you’ve been living under a rock* – the novel’s portrayal of Atticus Finch.

Atticus has long been a hero of mine. Maybe it’s down to Gregory Peck’s masterful portrayal of the character in the movie adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s ‘first’ novel (even though, as we now know, Watchman predates it), and maybe it’s simply down to the power of Lee’s writing. Whatever the reason, Atticus is a calm, reasoned, wise, sympathetic, unsentimental and stoic character who does his best to raise his children the best way he can, working hard to provide for them and to give them as good a life as possible in the absence of their mother. He is principled, fair-minded and utterly devoted to the law – perhaps not always the law of the land, but the natural law of the human heart, wherein all people are created equal. He’s not warm, or over-emotional, or even demonstrative, but despite this his children know they are cherished and loved. The people he meets are aware of the quality of Atticus’ character without him having to do much more than simply be himself.

Perhaps, as some people have lately commented, this makes him a ‘plaster saint’; a character who is idealised, but hollow inside. I’ve never thought so until now. Atticus has always seemed to me to be a rounded and well-realised character, but perhaps I’m guilty of over-idealising him. It’s hard not to.

So, like many people, I took it hard when I learned that Lee’s depiction of her iconic character in Watchman differed so much from his portrayal in Mockingbird. How can twenty years have turned Atticus into a segregationist? A member of the Ku Klux Klan? Is this realistic?

Perhaps it is. Perhaps twenty years of hard living in the southern states of the US at the height of the racial tensions which predated the Civil Rights movement would wear a person down and change their opinions. Perhaps Atticus has suffered something personal and private which has affected the way he thinks. Perhaps he has grown tired of fighting, and has simply given up.

Even if the depiction of Atticus is entirely in keeping with a logical character progression, and it fits seamlessly with his appearance in Mockingbird, adding layers of complexity to an already complex character, I still don’t think I’ll read Watchman. Not yet, at least. It’s not even about losing the ‘sheen’ from an idealised character – not totally, at least. It’s also about how sad it is to think that a person of Atticus’ integrity could be worn down so, turned into such a stub of himself, changed so fundamentally, by a toxic social system. Not only do I feel a little lost that a character I love and admire so much can have such a turnaround, I hate the reminder of the world which may have enabled it. There are enough of those already.

In case you missed it, this was a week in which a bright, intelligent and articulate young Black woman could make a comment about cultural appropriation and be silenced for it from all corners by voices not from her own community – and referred to in disgustingly sexual terms by a man who should, frankly, be ashamed of his terminology – and, in light of this, I don’t think I can take Atticus’ demotion to ‘just another racist’. No matter what week Watchman was published, though, chances are high that something dreadful would have been in the news, somewhere, about humanity’s idiotic need to segregate itself into colour-coded camps, flinging missiles over the barricades. It is what it is, and we are – sadly – what we are. Atticus was a clear path through a tangled forest, a way forward, an example – at least, until this week. Without him, I mourn.

So, I will wait for a while to read Watchman, if indeed I ever do. I hope that when I do get around to it, things aren’t as bad as I’m imagining. If you’re reading the book, or if you’ve read it, maybe you’ll leave some (spoiler-free!) thoughts below?

In Extremis, De Profundis

I wanted to blog yesterday, but to be honest I spent the day feeling scraped out, hollow, raw. There was nothing in me worth sharing. Anything I might have written which didn’t express this reality would have been a lie, and it would have been a waste of the time of anyone who took the time to read it.

So I didn’t write anything. But today the hollowness has been replaced by a deep, gnawing anger. And that I can write about.

I am Caucasian. European. Irish all the way down. I don’t have any other ethnicities in my genetic makeup. This means I am freckly, pale, prone to sunburn, likely to be Vitamin D deficient, prone to depression and alcoholism, and a whole host of other drawbacks that come with being ‘pure-bred’. I can’t help this; I didn’t choose to be born to my parents, in my country, at the time I came into being.

Just like everyone else in history.

I have no right to claim any sort of kinship with any of the men and women who died on Wednesday in Charleston, South Carolina. I have no intention of doing so. Their struggle, and the struggle of Black people in America on a daily basis, is not mine. But I am still a human being, and just because I have no part to play in their efforts doesn’t mean I am not allowed to feel compassion for those efforts, and to feel devastated and sick at what happened in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. And I do feel devastated and sick. I also feel hopeless. I feel afraid, though I know my fear must be of a different calibre to that felt by people of colour who face discrimination every day. My fear is more for the future of the human species as a whole, not for my personal survival. I’m aware there are people for whom fear about their personal survival is a daily challenge, and I wish so much that this wasn’t true.

That this atrocity happened in the same week as the tragic accident in Berkeley, California, which claimed the lives of six Irish students, is overwhelming. Such loss, and such destruction, and such sorrow, and it’s hard to see a way through.

Sometimes I wish there was a way to not feel things. Just sometimes, you know? A switch you could flick or a button you could push to cut yourself off for a while, like Data’s emotion chip in ‘Star Trek’. But if we could do that, would we have the courage to turn it back on again, and let the tide of emotion flood through us once more? Or would we take refuge in the coldness of disconnected self-interest, caring about nothing but what impacts us directly?

Well. I’m glad, in many ways, that I’ll never have the answer to that question, and I’m scared to think of all the people who seem to have that chip enabled all the time, the ‘I’m all right, Jack’ types who refuse to see or experience the interconnectedness of all humanity, and who have no compassion for anyone who isn’t exactly like them.

Why aren’t there easy answers to the questions of how we are supposed to interact with one another? Why do our basest instincts always come to the fore? Why do we allow greed and small-mindedness and bigotry to win out over simple, generous compassion? Why do we always live down to our lowest expectations of ourselves? Will we ever change – can we?

Jon Stewart says it better than I can. He says it better than most people can, I guess.

Wednesday Write-in #82

This week’s words were:

signal  ::  resolution  ::  aggressive  ::  gunpowder  ::  fashion

Read on for what I made out of ’em…

Image: mattcornock.com

Image: mattcornock.com

Eyes Only

Autopsy commences 07:05:22 a.m., November 8th 2067. Subject: Prisoner #874431

Inscription found on sole of foot, left: ‘my name is sarah pinford and i had no choice i had to be part of the new gunpowder plot and if i had to i would do it again’

Inscription found on sole of foot, right: ‘i had made the resolution to do whatever i could before i was 15 y.o.’

Inscription found on inner arm, left: ‘this govt and its aggressive stance toward anyone not ‘Pure’ is the reason why we are doing this they have to be told that a human being is a human being and their laws cant crush humanity no matter what they think’

Inscription found on inner arm, right, partially obscured: ‘the signal was done by someone on the inside i wont say who but it was an act of heroism for which they shall always be remembered and when we heard it we knew it was time’

[NOTE: investigate these claims with immediate effect]

Inscription found across lower abdomen: ‘they can not tell us who to be any more they will not tell us we are Less than them we are not we are not we are not and i am not sorry’

Findings:

The subject (female, non-Pure, c. 25 years of age) is in an emaciated condition, significant tooth damage (probable cause gnawing, see below); evidence of parturition [NOTE: check for offspring/mate and apprehend]; organs Pure-equivalent in relation to size, weight, function [NOTE: recheck this data]; skin abraded with some skill. Subject managed to fashion a crude blade from the handle of a plastic spoon, used this to mark herself with her propaganda, which was exposed post-execution.

Recommendations:

No more plastic cutlery to be supplied to non-Pure detainees. Backlog in eliminations to be worked through – no non-Pure detainee to be permitted more than two days in cells. Root and branch examination of the Parliament, all leaks to be plugged. Purges to be stepped up. Prisoner #874431 to be cremated. This report eyes-only.

Dissent to be quelled at all costs.

Ends

Wednesday Write-In #34

This week’s prompts were as follows:

Sinister :: minty-fresh :: Seoul :: Add to Cart :: Gold

And here’s what I made of them.

Power Play

‘Good morning!’ Kyung-Soon said as she strode past his cubicle, already halfway out of her coat. ‘My goodness, you’re in early today. You must be vying for my job, Gary!’ As always, as soon as she was finished speaking she let out a loud giggle. He never knew, exactly, what she was so amused by. This morning, her laughter was like water bubbling over out of a saucepan on a too-hot stove – uncontrollable, slightly frightening, and noisy. He quickly minimised his internet browser, switching instead to his Amazon homepage. Last search: ‘Gold: The Best of Spandau Ballet’. For something to do, he clicked ‘Add to Cart’. He tried to look busy.

‘Yeah!’ he chuckled back. ‘Just – you know. A good start is half the battle, and all that.’ She muttered something inaudible, but which sounded friendly, over her shoulder as she thumped her way across the thick carpet which led to her office. For such a small woman, she sure made a lot of noise. When she wanted to.

He licked his top lip, and found it tasted like salt. Was he sweating? Could she tell? I don’t even have a Kleenex in my drawer to wipe my stupid face with, he thought. He hopped up from his chair, intending to go to the toilet and see what colour his face had turned, and if there was anything visible in his eyes. As soon as he got to his feet, though, there she was, striding out of her office again, all raw silk blouse and pencil skirt, minty-fresh breath and stiletto heel. A daughter of Seoul, golden-skinned, hair so dark it sucked at your eyes. He felt his throat close over as he watched her approach.

‘Gary, would you mind running these documents down to the filing room, please? I know it’s not your job, strictly, and I am sorry, but…’

‘Sure, Kyung-Soon,’ he said, cutting her off. She blinked, drawing her head back like he’d spat in her face. After a second, she grinned, but only a little. ‘Sure, it’s no problem to do that for you. I’d be happy to,’ he continued, trying to speak slowly and softly. Remembering to smile.

‘Thanks, Gary,’ she replied, carefully, handing him a bundle of paperwork. ‘That’d be wonderful.’ She nodded, frowning slightly, and started to turn back to her office. He watched her go, and his decision was made in a split second. Run for it now, do the stupid job she wants, hurry back to the desk, she’ll never know. If he hesitated at his computer now, she’d twig something was up, and the next thing he knew he’d have IT Services on his back. He clutched the stack of papers like a policeman’s baton, and made a sprint for the elevator doors.

As the gentle ping sounded to tell him the doors were about to open, something caught his eye; instinctively, he turned, looking back at his cubicle. Even though on some level he knew the game was up, he almost vomited when he saw her, perched in front of his computer screen, sitting side-saddle on his swivel chair. Her long legs curved out in front of his desk drawers. Even from twenty feet away, he heard the sharp intake of her breath.

She’d found the site. He couldn’t read it from here, but he knew, from memory, what she’d be looking at right now. The homepage, with its rolling banner headline, and the eyecatching images – once seen, never forgotten. The Sinister Scourge of Immigration! Foreigners Out! And there was worse, too. All she had to do was click through a few pages to find out what they wanted to do with foreign women. Asian women, like her.

She turned to face him, already half on her feet. Behind him, the doors popped open, sliding apart with a silky hiss. Her mouth was open, and the scream starting, as she rounded his desk, bumping her hip against it as she went. She almost turned her heel, but she kept going.

Gary threw the papers into the elevator and was already running as Kyung-Soon started to sprint for her office, where her desk was, with her direct-dial telephone to the security booth. The thick carpet snagged at her spindly heels, almost like millions of tiny pale hands trying their hardest to drag her down. She didn’t stop.