BLOG: Is Atticus Finch a Racist?

KIT MILLER

“To Kill a Mockingbird” (TKM) was one of my favorite books from freshman year and continues to be a crowd favorite throughout the generations. The literary elements as well as the unique storyline with unforgettable characters makes it one of the classics. It doesn’t need an explanation… right?

Apparently, author Harper Lee didn’t think so. The story we know and love today was not the original version of TKM. TKM was originally supposed to be told through flashbacks from the perspective of our lovely spitfire, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch. However, Lee’s editor persuaded her to change the story to third person and have the events happen in present time. Lee never let go of her original manuscript though, and, 55 years later, published the book we now know as “Go Set a Watchman” (GSW) – the “sequel” to TKM.

Even if you haven’t read GSW yet, you have probably heard the controversy surrounding the book: Atticus Finch – our heroic, deep-south, white, male lawyer, who put his honor and safety on the line to defend a black male against a white female – is a bigot. As Scout puts it, her father is “a coward as well as a snob and a tyrant” (pg. 247). The Atticus portrayed in GSW is the exact opposite of everything we have been led to believe in TKM. The question everyone is now asking is: “is Atticus Finch a racist?”

Typically, when people approach the question of racism, they think in terms of “a=b=c, so therefore a=c.” I did not use this equation. Instead, I used ∑ n+1 ⁄ n. In simple terms, this means I used the sum of an infinite number of considerations to come to a conclusion, and that conclusion is no. I do not think Atticus Finch is a racist.

The term “racist” is a horrible, ugly, disgusting word and I hate using it. I hate it because it has lost its true meaning. “Racism” is defined in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” Using this definition, I do not consider Atticus a racist. Nowhere in TKM or GSW did Atticus ever hint at favoring one group of people based solely on their race.
“But wait!” I can hear the people crying. “Atticus is part of the KKK! He owns an anti-black pamphlet! He’s on the board of directors of the Citizens’ Council! Surely that means he’s a racist!”
No, it doesn’t.
Atticus isn’t a racist. He’s a segregationist at worst.

Atticus isn’t part of the KKK or the Citizens’ Council because he thinks white people are naturally superior to blacks. He’s a part of these organizations because of the circumstances of the history of black people in America.
Let’s think about this logically.
The first black slaves were brought to America in 1619. Before that, various tribes in Africa practiced slavery for centuries. Slavery in America wasn’t officially abolished until 1865. In America alone, that’s 246 years of suppression. In those years, only a microscopic portion of the black population was educated. They weren’t given the same opportunities to grow and prosper as a race. As Atticus puts it, “the Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people. They’ve made terrific progress in adapting themselves to white ways, but they’re still far from it” (pg. 246). This isn’t an attack on black people because they are black. This is Atticus saying because black people have been suppressed for so long and because the races have been separated for so long, trying to integrate all the races into the same society as quickly as possible would lead to problems.

The two terms do not mean the same thing. Does this article mean to atone Atticus of his viewpoints? No. But if you’re going to accuse someone of something, please, for the love of God, accuse them of the right thing.

 

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