Monday, September 7, 2015

Harper Lee, #BlackLivesMatter and #MarriageEquality

(This might be the first time I've ever used hashtags in a blog title.)

I began my review for Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee nearly a month ago, but it's been a difficult one to process and put onto the page. I believe an entire semester could easily be spent on this book alone, examining what Lee is saying about racism, about Supreme Court rulings, about women, about parenting, about culture. This book could fit into a literature class as easily as it could be read in a sociology class.

This book is one of self-examination. While reading Watchman you should be doing some hefty thinking. It's not a book to pass the time and escape the world. It's a book you use to examine the world and think critically of it. And, perhaps more importantly, to think critically of yourself. Because of this I'm hesitant to put my own thoughts on this book into the world. I want others to read it with a clean slate, examining it from their own perspective. Both for the conversations this could ignite, and for the growth in each individual person and in society.

For me this book got me thinking heavily about the implications of 1964's Brown v. The Board of Education, and what it means for us today. It meant thinking about the legalities behind things like bakeries who turn away gay couples, and what that means in relation to diners who want (and wanted) to turn away people of color.

And then Kim Davis hit the news cycle, inflaming the world with conversations about where religious rights trump legal requirements in the workplace, and how that is different for someone working as a civil servant versus another job.

What has struck me as rather shocking... (is that the word? Surprising? Intriguing?) What has repeatedly gotten my mental wheels returning to Go Set A Watchman during this Kim Davis media hype is the number of gay supporters and allies I know who have said things like, "Well, it's your wedding day. Why would you WANT her to be the one who gives you your marriage license? Go somewhere else for a more positive experience." (Apparently it's still okay to make homosexuals sit at a different counter.) (See, now, I swore I wouldn't do that...)

Atticus is wondering if forcing integration in our schools is going to simply make things worse in the future because we're giving the government too much power.

Scout believes that people will only treat others as equals if they are forced to do so.

Scout and Atticus are asking each other, at what point do we determine whether or not the government can mandate our morals?

I'm asking (and answering for myself) at what point do we say, "It's your right to be prejudice," and where do we say, "Go to jail, go directly to jail," instead?

Many of the reviewers of Go Set a Watchman have been frustrated. They have cited this book as confusing and not concise in its opinions and viewpoints. They want Lee to take a real stand, and tell us what she wants us to take from this book.

We all know Lee isn't going to do that.

Lee is not telling us what to think. She is showing us how. She is showing us two different analytical approaches to the same situation. Scout and Atticus are coming at race relations from different angles, as we all are.

This book is confusing people because so often we are told what to think, and this one is instead showing us how to think.

So my review is this: Read this book. Read it a few times. Read it with a journal nearby. Let your mind wander while you read it. Pay attention to the ways it connects with today's media. And then, when you're done...

Read it one more time.

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