A while back, I saw an interesting review of To Kill a Mockingbird on Goodreads. In its entirety, it read:
** spoiler alert ** A friend of mine once commented that To Kill a Mockingbird was the most racist book he’d ever read.
I agree with him. Now, I know this book is drawn from the author’s true experiences, but she choose to write a novel and thus I will judge it as a novel. With it’s irrevocable integration into the American (and Canadian) public school curricula, I think this novel has probably done more to perpetuate racial stereotypes than any other single force.
If I had to sum up To Kill a Mockingbird in one sentence, this would be it: the poor helpless black man is lost until a saintly white man comes to his side to crusade for his cause. Unfortunately, the damn darkie is so stupid that he goes and gets himself killed just when the white man figured he had another shot at clearing him. Oh well, the white man tried his best, and for a negro too! What a hero.
What the hell is that?
How ignorant can you be?! I mean, it’s no secret that I don’t really like the book, but COME ON! This is an important work of literature, you illiterate cretin! I loved this line in particular:
I think this novel has probably done more to perpetuate racial stereotypes than any other single force.
Really? Can you really say that with a straight face, and believe it? I was so peeved at this person’s clear ignorance that I commented on his review, quoted that line, and said “You must not get out much.”
That was two years ago.
I went back to this review today (I had forgotten all about it until I logged back into my Goodreads account today), and I saw that there were a number of other comments. They were all addressed to the reviewer and were similar in content to mine:
“You completely missed the point of the novel.”
“…and YOU have the nerve to call the book racist?”
And so on.
There was one comment, however, that made me think. The commenter said basically that the reviewer had his own opinion and we should stop berating him. Even if we thought he missed the point of the book, isn’t he entitled to his own opinion?
“Of course he’s entitled to his own opinion,” I thought to myself, but aren’t these opinions, these scathing and baseless accusations, the essence of why books are continually challenged and banned in America today? In admitting that this person deserves to be heard, and that his opinion deserves to be considered, am I not just giving him clearance to continue forcing schools to take books like this out of students’ hands? If I simply ignored him, didn’t fight back, wouldn’t I be advocating the censorship that might ultimately be a result of his opinion? Could it be that his opinion, as uninformed and idiotic as I believed it was, would be dangerous to the survival of this important work of American literature?
The conclusion I came to was ‘no.’ I’m not advocating censorship, and To Kill a Mockingbird will always be important in American schools (even if it is still banned and challenged in a number of schools today). But I did realize that my comment, and 90% of the comments left on his review, did nothing to help the situation. We were all simply berating this person with insults, demeaning his intelligence, and while he didn’t really offer much in the way of an argument, we weren’t really giving any support to our own arguments either. There was no discussion. It was nothing more than a shouting match. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the reviewer turned out to be a troll, just baiting people with an inflammatory opinion about a popular novel in order to sit back and watch the fireworks.
Regardless, this whole review gave me pause and made me realize that, when it comes to challenging and banning books, often I’m no better than the challenger. I’m just as opinionated, just as stubborn. I believe I’m right, and in certain extreme cases, I’m barely willing to dignify most book challengers with a serious argument. They’re stupid and ignorant; I’m right. Can’t they see that?
But I’ve realized that the people who challenge books legitimately CAN’T see that. They can’t understand my perspective because one or both of us is unwilling to have an actual discussion. Neither party wants to lend any legitimacy to the other’s opinion. I’ve noticed something similar recently in the case of a couple of politicians – Michele Bachmann in particular.
Most of my friends (like me) are liberal…at least more liberal than Michele Bachmann. Seeing some of the Facebook posts, Tweets, and news stories about Bachmann generally elicit similar responses to the TKAM review. Instead of shouting insults out into cyberspace (generally to people who already agree with us in the first place), maybe we should work on seeking out the people who hold those controversial opinions, learn about them, and try to have a real discussion with them. Many of our opponents may not oblige, but at the very least we can stop shouting pointlessly into space…and stop feeding the trolls.
Just a thought I had today.