Elizabeth Cook-Lynn: Looking at racism through some new eyes

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn. Photo: Arizona State University Department of Archives and Special Collections

Racism through the eyes of Harper Lee
By Elizabeth Cook-Lynn
Native Sun News Today Columnist

So, we are concerned about racism in Rapid City? What have you read lately to add to the discussion we are having? Go Set a Watchman should be on everyone’s list.

It seems the history we share is not a final reckoning nor does it always provide the answers we seek. Looking at this new fiction by Harper Lee, I’ve concluded that we have allowed ourselves to accept the fantasy story of her previous book, To Kill a Mockingbird, about racism in the south as a helpful guide. It was a feel-good story of a courageous lawyer and an exemplary father, Atticus Finch, who successfully defended a black man in the south accused of rape in the face of mobs in the street and pervasive injustice. We loved it! It became a high school classic in literature classes.

Harper Lee’s new book, which I have just finished, says “wait a minute... Atticus Finch is not what he had seemed to be."

The new book tells us that such lawyers and fathers as the fictional Finch of Mockingbird fame have failed the people of the idealistic next generation like his daughter, Scout, and the rest of us, too. This new tale suggests that Racism in the south (and probably in any part of the country, even in the lily-white towns of South Dakota and Iowa where Indians have been historically moved out of the way of white progress) is not a new thing. Racism is not a new presence. It has been with us from the beginning of this country. And it is still with us.

When events happen that shake us up, (as the protests of the early summer here in our town reveal), we are given to defensive anxiety, and we start calling community meetings. There have been a number of “diversity” and “cultural tolerance” meetings recently. We are calmed for the moment, now that the “Indian Lives Matter” signs are gone and people are no longer in the streets, and a young Lakota student has been appointed by the Chief of Police to talk to all of us about cultural diversity.

We can go back to our lives as passive participants in endemic injustices after what promised for the moment to be a dangerous distraction. We get together and talk and eat at events sponsored by groups with institutional “funding”. We are relieved that “protesters” have been quieted, and more meetings will be scheduled.

Read the rest of the story on the Native Sun News Today website: Racism through the eyes of Harper Lee

(Contact Elizabeth Lynn-Cook at ecooklynn@gmail.com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News