Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Confederate Memorial Day and Promposals - The Reasons We Still Read TKMB

To Kill a Mockingbird or NOT To Kill a Mockingbird? That is the question for lots of English teachers across the country, South or North. There are always some parents who want to ban the novel, yet each year I taught the thing, I always had plenty of current examples to go along with the story that took place in the 1930s for Pete's Sake!


My students liked to pretend it was just a Southern thing, and I allowed for that a bit. We learned about Jim Crow and segregated proms. But I also used census stats to show how Milwaukee was more segregated than any other city, especially in the South. I used my own photos from high school that showed a segregated homecoming (Whites were soccer and Blacks were football) from the 1990s. I tried to show them that they needed to clear that plank from their own eyes before they could clear that Southern speck. And it's sometimes like that with Europeans or Asians I've met, criticizing America in general without having another race (significant in numbers) to deal with in their own societies.

Anyhow, it's easy to see the speck now that I live in the South. Whether it's KKK pamphlets on doorsteps, Confederate statues, or people just saying words out loud, it's different here. Two incidents in the same week that caught my eye were the Confederate Memorial Day thing and the promposal that referenced picking cotton. Totally different episodes, but maybe related.

We don't officially have a state-recognized Confederate Memorial Day in Florida. Not like Alabama. Apparently, it's an unofficial holiday, like Sweetest Day or St. Nick's in the North. You can read all about the defense of the holiday in Alabama if you want. I don't really want to. If it's all about history, then we need to have a Spanish Memorial Day here, too. And the nation should have a British Memorial Day. I don't think there's an American Indian Memorial Day, either.

And then a day after Confederate Memorial Day 2018, a kid posts a promposal saying that if he was Black he'd be picking cotton, but since he's not, he's picking some lucky girl. Happy Memorial Day, folks! The thing is that it's such a throwback stereotype, too, so it seems like it's a reference to entrenched racism rather than current employment demographics. I suppose that's the argument against Confederate Memorial Day, right?

When I was discussing To Kill a Mockingbird with my wife, I told her that it always felt so silly teaching it because it's just too obvious. The Ewells are just too bad, and Tom Robinson is just too good. And so is Atticus. I said the only way to read it is to look for the nuances, like how Scout and Jem still see others as lower than themselves. How they (and their class) are protected and revered by the community until their father tries to affect change. And, really, how the hope at the end of the story that change is on its way is just a hope that still has to be realized, mainly because we are all flawed human beings.