Last summer I re-read it. And a few weeks after I finished it, my whole family watched the classic movie.
As the credits rolled I was stunned and heartsick. I saw an entirely different theme in the story than I had so many years before. The primary message I heard from To Kill a Mockingbird is poor white people are racist and cause great harm to upstanding blacks. Educated, wealthy, white people are doing their very best to protect black people from the abuse of white trash, but they just can’t.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, the judge, the police officer, and the lawyer are heroes, working for justice. In reality, those are the categories of people who systematically created financial, educational, legal, and social barriers to disenfranchise black people. Poor, uneducated, white people didn’t create the systems of injustice that we’ve all inherited. That was done by the most privileged people in society so they could keep power and create wealth for themselves.
I don’t doubt that Harper Lee set out to write a story to show the injustice of racism, just as I did when I wrote Yellow Crocus. Like her, I wrote it from my own context and time. Like her, my perspective was imperfect. But then again, whose isn’t? If we wait for perfect, we’d never do anything.