Monday, August 17, 2015

Let's all be like Scout!

My grandchild gifted me with a copy of Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, intuiting that I would want to read it. She was right. I devoured the book, and the two of us will have so much to talk about when we meet next week. (Yes, she has her own copy and will be ready to discuss the book, even if she's not finished.)

Harper Lee was herself young and working in New York, and being exposed to a bigger view of the world when she wrote this book about a young lady returning home and discovering that what she thought of her father and of her uncle, what she had internalized all her life about how people behaved with other people, what people thought of each other, all those old ideas came crushing down.

Her beloved father, (yes, the one portrayed in To Kill a Mockingbird, the lawyer who defended the black man accused of raping a young white female) the man she admired and held on a pedestal, her brilliant and kind, and benevolent father was just an ordinary Southerner who had participated in secret societies' thoughts and actions to keep the races separate and to maintain the old status quo.

How could that be, a now grown Scout asks. Most of the book is a quest to reconcile this tension,to find the key to understanding, to stand tall and deliberate at the crossroads of adulthood and ask the hard questions, prepared to lose her family, to leave her hometown and never return to a place of bigotry and tensions.

I want to ask my grandchild if she knew about this history of  race relations in America; if she had any idea of how whole towns, or states fought to suppress a whole race of people? How this tension is still with us in so many ways? How a certain group still feels superior and entitled to its privileged positions?

I'm an immigrant, and though I've lived in the West and in the South for decades, my understanding of American history is limited. A book like this sheds light on a long history of wounds and resentment; opens up conversations that are hard to have; sets the stage for parents and grandparents to search the thoughts and underlining biases their children have and begin to elaborate, to search, to confront, just like Scout did.

The conversation will not be easy between my grandchild and me. We'll discover biases we all hold, known and unknown; we'll defend our point of view with personal anecdotes. The book will help us bridge our divide a bit; the book will show us that talking and clearing the air is what we do when we disagree; that we can still love those who hold thoughts we abhor; that people are complex; that our personal history shapes us; that our circumstances may have shaped us to this moment. But, we, at any moment, knowing more history and getting more ideas, we can begin to clear wounds, declare our intentions to align our intention toward the truth that is superior and more  just.

Yes, a great conversation starter. Thank you, Harper Lee for this gift!