Tuesday, February 23, 2016

To Kill A Mockingbird and our never ending battle with racism

As probably every teenager on the face of the planet, I was forced to read books for English class that I didn't enjoy. However, when I read To Kill a Mockingbird, it immediately became my favorite book and remains in that top spot to this day.

I think perhaps it was the first time I really thought about social injustice. I know racism and all kinds of bigotry were present, but I mean, I was still a kid. I didn't notice things like that really. It would be nice to stay blissfully ignorant, but the fact is, we can't. As far as we've come since Harper Lee wrote about good and evil, injustice and social profiling before it had a label, we still have a long way to go.

The unfairness that befell people like Tom Robinson, though maybe not as overtly (or maybe so, depending on who you ask), still exists today. People are judged by the color of their skin, the god they choose to worship, who they choose to love. While all those may not be mockingbirds, complete innocents, they are still enduring great injustice through intolerance and prejudice.

Let's talk about black history month for example. Many people ask, why do we need it? And, why is there no white history month.I will quote my own self from my Facebook profile to explain the whys.

Today Black History Month begins. I know some people question its importance, including some African Americans. I may not be able to express why with the right words, but I'm going to try to explain its importance and significance.

For centuries schools have taught history. However, many of the achievements and contributions made by African Americans have been omitted, so really, our history lessons were whitewashed (also the reason, no, we don't need a White History Month). Just like whites, African Americans have contributed greatly to art, science, politics and sports, among numerous other components of American culture. We should know about these contributions. We should learn about them. We should care about them.

Blacks have, and continue to, endure hardships we can't even fathom. They have overcome many obstacles and injustices and have triumphed. There are works of art, events, inventions, and progress that would never have been possible if it wasn't for the contributions of African Americans.

I think it's our responsibility as Americans to learn more about our prolific history, not the whitewashed one we were taught in school, but the one in which a diverse people made and continue to make notable and innovative achievements and contributions, allowing us to become the strongest nation in the world.

So, that's why.

Photo by Gage Skidmore 
And let's talk about the 2016 Oscars. It's really not just about black, but about diversity. Every actor and actress nominee is pretty much the whitest people you could choose. I'm not saying they don't deserve their nods. To be honest, I've not seen many movies this year (okay, I've seen one and it wasn't Oscar worthy) but many of them have actors of color that have been overlooked when others related to the movie have received nominations. Such as:

Creed: Sylvester Stallone is nominated for Best Supporting Actor, but no Best Actor nom for the talented Michael B. Jordan?

Straight Outta Compton:  White people nominated for writing, but no nod to actor Jason Mitchell, whose performance was critically acclaimed.

The Hateful Eight: Jennifer Jason Leigh is nominated for Best Supporting Actress. No nomination for Samuel Jackson.

A couple others passed over...Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation and Will Smith for Concussion. And that's just the actors. Director of Creed, Ryan Coogler and director of Straight Outta Compton,  F. Gary Gray were also overlooked for Oscar nominations.

It's really a sad statement that 56 years after To Kill a Mockingbird, racial inequality and discrimination still exists. It's too bad, that just as Scout and Jem had to witness  the injustices in a dominantly white society, we still have to endure the ugly face of prejudice. And that this mindset, though it may be diluted from generation to generation, is still passed on. Racism is not innate, it's learned behavior. What I wouldn't give to live in a world that sees each other through the eyes of children. They don't notice color, at least not when they're very young. They see beyond the color of skin into the heart of a person.

And as I said, it's not just about color. It's about religion, sex, sexual orientation, social class...we should view each other as Mockingbirds, worthy of respect and admiration. We should embrace our differences, not judge them. Instead of knocking each other down, we should be lifting each other up.

I know society has come a long way since the era to TKAM, but it's still not good enough. We need more Finches in the world. Those who lend a voice to those who can't speak for themselves. Those who understand that people shouldn't be judged because they are different in some ways. Inside we are all flesh, blood, muscle...the things that make us all human. The things about us that are the same. 

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