Learn a les­son from un­mask­ing of At­ti­cus Finch

CityPress - - Voices - Gugulethu Mhlungu voices@ city­press. co. za Fol­low me on Twit­ter @GugsM

The re­lease of Harper Lee’s first book in 50 years was first met with joy and then some dis­tress as the char­ac­ter held up as the good guy, At­ti­cus Finch, is re­vealed to be a racist through-and-through.

Out of bore­dom, I read To Kill a Mock­ing­bird at the age of seven and then again and again ev­ery one or two years un­til I stud­ied it as a set­work as a young adult. At no point in my read­ings in the past 20 years has Finch ever seemed like a good guy. To Kill a Mock­ing­bird is clearly an in­dict­ment of white supremacy.

As au­thor Cather­ine Ni­chols notes on Jezebel.com: “It’s about white peo­ple within white cul­ture mak­ing Tom Robin­son’s life and death about them­selves.”

Finch’s racism, re­vealed once again in plain sight in Go Set a Watch­man, is not a sur­prise. He is a het­ero­sex­ual white man dur­ing one of the most bru­tal times in re­cent history: the Jim Crow era. Crow was built in his im­age and for his ben­e­fit. By virtue of his place in the or­der, Finch is com­plicit in the bru­tal white su­prem­a­cist sys­tem of the time, and this is even be­fore Lee’s rev­e­la­tion that Finch is a bona fide racist.

That Finch was ever cast as good speaks to the des­per­a­tion of lib­eral or mod­er­ate white­ness to claim good­ness when re­ally it’s only bet­ter than the vi­cious ma­jor­ity. It was pre­cisely be­cause he didn’t do any­thing that even vaguely rep­re­sented di­vest­ment from white priv­i­lege that made me dis­like him even more.

Au­thor of The Out­liers, Mal­colm Glad­well, pointed out in the New Yorker: “[Finch’s] de­fence of Tom Robin­son is based on seg­re­ga­tion­ist prin­ci­ples — he works for ‘ac­com­mo­da­tion, not re­form’.”

A sim­i­lar char­ac­ter ex­ists here in South Africa where white­ness (and white peo­ple) that didn’t work in the SA Po­lice Force, SA De­fence Force, the Spe­cial Branch or any arm of the apartheid ma­chin­ery would like to be­lieve and con­vince us/them­selves they are good or, at the very least, not as bad as the rest.

And yet, like it or not, it is sim­ply im­pos­si­ble to en­joy the priv­i­leges of an op­pres­sive sys­tem and be truly good.

The idea that we live in times char­ac­terised by in­equal­ity and op­pres­sion, ben­e­fit from this and are good is the myth that has kept vi­o­lent sta­tus quos in place.

I was de­lighted at Finch’s un­mask­ing. Those trau­ma­tised by the rev­e­la­tion that their hero is the en­emy must be hon­est about how Finch be­ing the bad guy also im­pli­cates them.

Ni­chols says: “The new book gives the im­pres­sion Lee knew what much of her au­di­ence didn’t: that her char­ac­ter’s prin­ci­ples didn’t con­sti­tute jus­tice.”

Like it or not, it is sim­ply im­pos­si­ble to en­joy the priv­i­leges of an op­pres­sive sys­tem and be truly good

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