“It’s a Sin to Kill a Mockingbird”

Preface: I know this won’t be a funny post, and for that I’m truly sorry.  Sometimes there’s just not enough humour in my life, and I have to delve into the serious.  These are, after all, the Archives of Our Lives, and I do try to archive all issues important to me—not only the funny ones.  Blame my older sister for nagging me.

Image from here.

I am exactly halfway through To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  It is my first time reading the book.  How, you ask, did I complete my education from the United States public school system without ever reading the book?  It was never assigned.  My sister has been nagging almost incessantly for the past four years to remedy the oversight in my tutelage, but there was always something—the title, perhaps, which made no sense to me—that pushed me away from reading it.  I’ve tried to start it once or twice, got a page into it, and quit.

Image from here.

This time, however, I determined that I couldn’t give up until at least the second chapter, and surprise! I’ve quite enjoyed it.  Last night when I couldn’t sleep, I figured it was because I’d stopped reading right as Scout was waiting for her brother Jem to fetch his pants from the neighbor’s fence, where they’d gotten entangled during some late-night cavorting; I had to know what happened.  So I got up, left Poor Kyle all alone in bed, and read for another three hours on the red flowered living room sofa.  I’m still not finished, but I’ve enjoyed it thus far.

This is not a book review, however.  I want to talk about racism.  Or, more specifically, “The ‘N’ Word,” in reference to black people.  To Kill a Mockingbird is set during the Great Depression, when segregation was full-fledged and the “N” word was a commonly-used household term.  I’m not at all offended that Harper Lee used the word so frequently [because to avoid it would make the novel completely void of historical accuracy], but I can’t help the fact that I cringe every time I come across it.

It is my least favourite word in the English language. I absolutely, one hundred percent, do not tolerate that word; I lose a little bit of respect for people in this era who do.

Atticus Finch didn’t.  I haven’t quite reached this part of the story yet, but I’m anxious to finish this post so I can get back to it.  Image from here.

On occasion, Poor Kyle dares to play the devil’s advocate and point out that many black people refer to themselves using the word.  So it is true, and I’ve never asked why this is, but I’m quite sure it means something different to them than it does to me.  For example, when somebody in my general acquaintance says it, it’s with all the derogatory passion he can muster.  However, when a black person refers to himself as a N*, I am quite sure he doesn’t actually long to become enslaved again, or to be thought of as the lowest caste of the country.  That doesn’t mean I think it’s okay to say: I cannot stop people from using the word, whether in reference to themselves or another human being…

…but I can still hate the word [and in this instance, I literally mean “hate”].

My parents taught me this way.  At family gatherings, if jokes were told and the N word was mentioned, my mom instructed us not to laugh—it’s not funny to use that word, she’d tell us.  My father, too, taught by example; I have never, in my life, heard him use that word, or any other mean-spirited name.  I’ve never even heard him cuss. I can’t even imagine him doing so.  My dad is a good, good man.  I was raised by stalwart parents.

I was one of very few caucasian kids at my predominantly Mexican-immigrant populated elementary school, but it never—ever—occurred to me that I should only play with the white kids, because we were better than the kids with dark hair.  In my mind, that would have been like saying, “Well, today there’s a breeze, so I’d better not floss my teeth.”  Utter nonsense.

Side note: Rosa Parks died in 2005, at which time I was at ASU writing a term paper on Brown vs. Board of education and the Civil Rights Movement.  We spent all day in my English 102 class discussing her life.  I’ll never forget it.  Image from here.

I cannot fathom how this country went so long embracing segregation—the thought that somebody would, by law, be forced to give up her seat in a public place for me, because of my skin colour…it is unthinkable.  Quite the same sort of unthinkable as Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, or any genocide throughout history.

Racism: whether literally killing a person [i.e. Hitler], or taking away a person’s human freedoms [i.e. slavery and segregation], or simply degrading a person’s pride with a simple word [i.e. “N.”], because of colour (skin colour, hair colour, eye colour), is—to me—the very essence of ignorance.

There aren’t many words I haven’t said in my life.  I enjoy a good curse along with the best of sailors {although I’m trying to quit for Poor Kyle, who wishes he’d married more of a lady}.  But I have never said, nor will I ever say, the “N” word.  I’d rather drop an effer ten times a day for the rest of my life than say the “N” word.

“Don’t say n*, Scout.  That’s common.”  Image from here.

It got me thinking last night, as I cringed at each sight of the word, of how many ignorant people might still be using it today, many perhaps in reference to President Elect Obama.  Disagree with the man’s politics, dislike his style of parenting, argue his motives for governing the country, but please…don’t use that word.  “It’s common,” as Atticus Finch taught his daughter [which struck me as such a profoundly simple way to guide a child toward goodness].

If we must judge, let us at least judge based on something that matters, like a person’s moral character or political crusades; not ethnic background or colours.

About Camille

I'm Camille. I have a butt-chin. I live in Canada. I was born in Arizona. I like Diet Dr. Pepper. Hello. You can find me on Twitter @archiveslives, Facebook at facebook.com/archivesofourlives, instagram at ArchivesLives, and elsewhere.
This entry was posted in Book Reports, do what I say, in all seriousness, theories, what I'm about. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to “It’s a Sin to Kill a Mockingbird”

  1. carrie says:

    totally agree with th N part but I like Obama.

  2. Camille says:

    Carrie– Thanks for the support! I don’t have anything against Obama, myself. Just an example, as I imagine lots of people out there do have issues with the man.

  3. kayleen says:

    one of my very favorite books. atticus finch is kind of my hero.

    words are never just words. they carry with them an immense amount of weight and significance. funny how a lot of people don’t really understand that.

  4. lindsay says:

    i am MORE than up for going on a Europe trip with you and Gus…nothing would be more fun! (but heads up, they dont have DDP so we couldnt create the shelf of awesomeness again.)

    but what i orginally was going to comment was this –
    that i am amazed and saddened at how ignorant people are to this day. I mean, think of it…it’s 2008. almost 09, and sometimes, i think we as a whole society, havent come all that far. We havent figured out that there really are words and things that you should not say, that cause more damage than throwing a punch ever could. Its something of a trend now to be completely insensitive about these issues – i’m glad you wrote about this topic camille. it will be interesting to see what other people have to say about this.

  5. HeatherPride says:

    Oh, I love that book. It’s not only about racism but also about growing up and recognizing injustice – going from being a sheltered child to having knowledge of the world. Maybe I’ll dig up my old copy and read it with you.

  6. anon10 says:

    You can’t just say a word like it’s nothing. Words are a big deal and like how kayleen said they carry a heavy weight. I totally agree with you. Using the N word or any other deragotory words is disrespectul and shouldn’t be tolerated.

  7. Camille says:

    kayleen– Well put. Words are never just words. Atticus Finch is amazing.

    lindsay– We’d just have to drink some German brew (non-alcoholic, of course) instead! I say we go for it. I’m interested to see people’s responses to this post, too. Hopefully it’s a good turn-out in comments.

    HeatherPride– True, what you say about going from sheltered to having knowledge of the world. In that sense, I feel very connected to Scout, because I was raised that way. It’s not like Atticus hides anything from her…she just doesn’t see the bad in the world at first. DO, read it with me! I’m just done with reading the trial—you can catch up and we can have a book club!

    anon10— Amen.

  8. Holly Decker says:

    well i am so glad to know that you are taking the time to read it… and in my opinion its better to read as an adult… just because it makes more sense, i think. i read it in elementary and never understood why it was called anything about mocking birds…. why not just call it Boo Radley? but just this year my husband bought it, put it in the bathroom and i picked it up- READ IT IN ONE DAY (ha- take THAT twilight!) and loved it. i found it really meaningful and enjoyable. a MUST read. :)
    so glad you are internalizing it… and i hope you enjoy the rest of it!
    ps. dont be afraid of serious posts… i like your writing just the same :)

  9. anonymous says:

    i agree with you 100 percent. i really liked this post. the book is wonderful it’s really touching

  10. Cristin says:

    I always thought that everyone felt the same way you (and I) do about the N word. I also grew up cringing everytime I heard it. Then I went to college and my (all white) roommates would call each other the N word to be funny. They thought something was wrong with me because I was so offended by it. I still don’t get how they could say it so casually.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Millie,

    Thanks. It’s about dang time you read this book. I’m glad you’re reading it as an adult; I agree with Holly that it makes more sense as an adult. Rather, my perspective has matured. At any rate, I agree with you wholeheartedly on this topic. I can’t wait to have a good discussion with you about it when you get down here.

  12. Granmama says:

    I right near cried when I read this post. I can tell that you remember all those direct and indirect messages we tried to teach you. Thank you for listening. I quite like the adult you are becoming. I am looking forward to my personalized Christmas gift. We are counting the hours until you get here SAFELY! Dad was successful in getting Tues and Wed off so we need to make the most of it. I send my love and support for the funeral and the SUn program.
    Preston’s Granmamamamaamammamam

  13. raygon says:

    How did I ever get out of high school without reading that book? I know it was required, but I never read it.
    I have since read it and loved it. But I agree, I am not fond of the language in it.
    Nevertheless, it is a stellar book.
    And please dont delete your blogger thing. I am too lazy to switch over, plus I like the familiarity of the old blogger layout. It keeps me connected to the past. Change is hard for me you know.

  14. WhoNose? says:

    Camille for President 2012

  15. niki says:

    i ordered this book about 6 months ago because i remembered how much i loved reading it in school. i never actually finished it this go around but i did just watch the movie LAST WEEK! how ironic. it’s such a great story. and i will have to back you up on this one!

  16. Mikelle says:

    I agree with you on the offensiveness of the “N” word. And I just read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time last year.At that time, I felt like I was the only one in the world who had never read it, but I guess there are more of us out there?

  17. niki says:

    oh, i’ve been meaning to tell you…

    that birthday dessert was awaiting me in my hotel room last year when we stayed at The Royal Palms. the dessert was exquisite as well as the hotel. that’s where pres. bush would stay when he would come to town you know. i highly recommend it.

    as for Ruth’s Chris, there is one in Scottsdale and one in Phoenix. Best steak I’ve ever had! truly. they bring it out on a hot sizzling plate with spattering butter. they ask you to hold your napkin up so it doesn’t burn ya. i highly recommend that as well. it’s pretty hoighty toighty, just to warn you.

  18. Allison says:

    Great post! I agree 100 percent. I would never think of using the N word either. I find it interesting because I have seen a number of people my grandparents age that use the word and some that are even worse. I’m so happy the majority of us have come to our senses. It is embarrassing to think of how people have treated each other in the past.

  19. Heber says:

    I didn’t take english my junior in high school, so maybe that is why I’ve never read the book. That was the year all my peers were assigned to read 1984 as well. I read that book and found it to be excellent. It seems this book will be just as good if I take a dive. Thank you for your post.

  20. sarah says:

    Hey, thanks for the support in the poorness of my life! We’ve been poor all along, but we’re just REALLY poor now. Oh well! We will survive. I’m sad that you don’t like Christmas… I love it! I hope you enjoy your visit back home though!!!!

  21. commonground says:

    I too do not recall my Father ever saying the word you have discussed.
    He could cuss a bit, perhaps not with the best of sailors, maybe just the bit more polite.

    I myself, in the Canada, have always felt deeply for the underdog, here, in our case, most often the Native Canadians. They have been some of my few dearest friends. Lately, they seem to be often moving to Toronto.

    I’ld love to hear of you reading Shakespeare, these themes of human foible fascinate me. Macbeth is my favourite.

    I have competent hopes for the next US President…, for this to happen, i think means, (to rip off Alduous Huxley), a brave new world is at hand.

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