Sunday, January 24, 2016

Donald Trump and the Evangelicals

In 1978 I entered an Evangelical seminary in the New England area. I chose to go there over other options because its New Testament department was reputed to be one of the best in the area, and in addition the school had a vibrant urban ministry program. Though I probably had heard the term “Evangelical” before, I had no real idea what it meant, nor did I care. However, upon entering the school, all my professors and most of my fellow students  used the term “Evangelical” as if was synonymous with “Christian.” I was mystified how I could have been a Christian for nearly 10 years at that point, and yet had no idea what an Evangelical was. So I asked.

Dr. David Scholer, now deceased, was a New Testament professor for whom I worked two of my three years at the seminary. One day I asked Dr. Scholer: “Can you tell me what an Evangelical is?” His reply was priceless: “An Evangelical is a person who another so-called Evangelical considers to be one.” In other words, Evangelicals are a theological club that is overwhelmingly white, middle class and located in suburban and rural areas. This explained why I as a person involved in urban youth work, as well as my African American classmates, didn’t qualify as Evangelicals.  We had not been inducted into the club until by inadvertently going to that seminary we became one.

Historically, Evangelicals trace their roots to the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of the 1920’s. Conservative theologian Carl F. Henry and evangelist Billy Graham, along with several others wanted to maintain the conservative theological orientation of the Fundamentalists, while being more engaged with current social and political issues like the Social Gospel folks. So they created a middle path, recruited other like-minded pastors, started some colleges and seminaries and Evangelicalism came into being. They founded a magazine Christianity Today, which came to be and still is the voice of Evangelicalism. However, over the decades from that year, with the likes of so-called Evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson began linking Evangelicalism with a conservative political agenda: pro-family, pro-life, pro-gun, pro-business, anti-government regulation.

While I was still at seminary I saw this ascendancy of conservative politics over theology when actor-turned-politician Ronald Reagan was elected easily over lifetime Bible-teaching Evangelical President Jimmy Carter,  largely with the support of the Evangelical vote. Fast forward to 2016 and now Donald Trump, thrice-married, wheeling-dealing, foul-mouthed real estate mogul who routinely berates his opponents and detractors, has been endorsed by Jerry Falwell, Jr., the president of Liberty University, and Robert Jeffress the pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas has said he would be “very comfortable with Trump in the White House.” All of a sudden Trump talks about “we Christians” and makes all the promises conservative Evangelicals want to hear. All these years later my professor’s definition of Evangelical applies here; Trump is an Evangelical because he got invited into the club.

I have long since shed any personal identification with Evangelicals. For a while I allied myself with so-called progressive Evangelicals like Ron Sider, Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis, all religious leaders I respect. I teach at a college whose president likes to link to Evangelicalism, though many if not most of the faculty do not identify as such.  I even hold to some “evangelical positions” such as a concern for the family and a commitment to  pro-life concerns. (However, I don’t feel outlawing abortion is the answer, but rather providing affordable safe alternatives. Also I am what Ron Sider calls “completely pro-life” linking my opposition to abortion to other life issues such as opposing capital punishment, refusing to participate in war, and gun violence prevention.) Long ago I found that Evangelical was not a club I want to be a part of.

To be fair, there are a number of Evangelical leaders, like Richard Land, president of Southern Baptist Seminary, who have warned against a Trump-Evangelical alliance as fundamentally adverse to their conservative Christian values. Yet even many of them have come out in support of Ted Cruz, who speaks the Evangelical language, but who is reportedly known around Washington and within Republican circles as egotistical and who is generally considered to be a distant and unlikeable person. The natural Republican candidates for Evangelicals would be people like Gov. Mike Huckabee or Dr. Ben Carson, but since they are not leading candidates, my guess is that Evangelicals would rather back a winner than be faithful to their creeds and values.

As a follower of Jesus I find this Trump-Evangelical romance to be deeply disturbing. As I seek to understand the life of Jesus and follow his teachings, I practice a faith that is centered on justice for the poor, a call to repentance for the rich and powerful, and the building of a beloved community across lines of race, class, gender, sexual orientation and national identities. Furthermore, I don’t see hope as ultimately promised to any political party or candidate, but rather in the Spirit of God working through people of faith to seek after what Jesus called the Reign of God. I participate in the electoral process and work to influence policy-makers, but do so out of a deep commitment to values and principles of Jesus. By contrast the Trump-Evangelical alliance has faint echoes of Adolph Hitler’s co-optation of the German Lutheran Church in the 1930’s. One can only hope that enough Evangelical leaders will wake up to the reality an alliance with Donald Trump or Ted Cruz is an alliance that calls them to forsake the basic values they espouse, and that such an alliance hurts not only their cause, but the country as a whole.

Information about the Evangelical-Trump Relationship can be found at this link

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Reflection for Would-be White Allies on the King Holiday

This Martin Luther King Jr Day remembrance, at the urging of anti-racist activist  Ewuare Osayande I have re-read portions of Dr. King’s 1967 book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community. Written two years after Selma and the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, King bemoans how little has changed since the law was passed because its provisions have not been implemented and its restrictions on discrimination have not been enforced. King also notes that many of the white allies who marched with him in Selma have retreated to their lives, treating that historic event as an experience rather than an historical watershed and a turning point in history. Overtly racist whites have struck back, segregationists have been elected to office, and violence against people of color continues. The words of 49 years ago sound hauntingly contemporary.

For King in 1967, as it is for many people of color in 2016, true equality remains a distant illusion. In the first chapter of Where Do We Go From Here, King writes:

Why is equality do assiduously avoided? Why does white America delude itself, and how does it rationalize the evil it retains?

The majority of white Americans consider themselves committed to justice for the Negro. They believe American society is essentially hospitable to fair play and to steady growth toward a middle class utopia embodying racial harmony. But unfortunately this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity. Overwhelmingly America is still struggling with irresolution and contradictions. It has been sincere and even ardent in welcoming change. But too quickly apathy and disinterest rise to the surface when the next logical steps are to be taken.  (p. 567)*

I wrote my book White Allies in the Struggle for Racial Justice to provide role models for white folks
who say they are serious about seeking racial justice. The book provides stories of 18 white folks through U.S. history who lived their lives with racial justice as a central focus. What became so clear as I researched and wrote the book is that for white folks working for racial justice means moving out of our comfort zones and living against the grain of white culture. Noel Ignatiev calls such action being a “race traitor” and Tim Wise calls it “racial treason.” Whites may be uncomfortable with phrases like “Black Lives Matter” wanting to respond “Wait, don’t all lives matter.” However, when whites make such statements they ignore the fact that in terms of employment poverty, education, health care, criminal justice and so many other aspects of our society black lives matter far less than that of whites. The promises and accomplishments of the Civil Rights movement that had not been fulfilled in 1967, remain largely unrealized in 2016. Whites must affirm the slogan not because it suggests white lives don’t matter, but that in U.S. society today black lives are literally and figuratively left to die on streets all over the country.

King writes: “Like life, racial understanding is not something we find but something we must create.” (p. 572). On this MLK Day, whites must realize that if we desire a world where all lives actuall do matter, we will have to let go of our comfortable distance, perhaps face the anger and frustration of our colleagues of color, and commit ourselves to the long haul of racial justice. 

When I talk about our call to work for racial justice, some white folks say: “I don’t want to do or say the wrong thing. How do I avoid a mis-step?” I respond by saying: "Get over it. Accept that you will mess up.” Working for racial justice is a messy, complicated, emotional, confusing process, but if you are in that process, mistakes can be overcome and forgiven. However, if we never step out of our comfort zone, we will make the greatest mistake of all: passively affirming the status quo.

[References to Where Do We Go From Here are from A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. Edited by James M.Washington]

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Tamir Rice and Institutional Racism

Yesterday, it was reported that the grand jury examining the shooting of 12 year old Tamir Rice chose not to indict the officer who shot the boy. There is a clear pattern: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Brandon Tate-Brown, Sandra Bland and many more. Unarmed African Americans killed by police officers whose killers are not indicted. What is wrong with this picture?

I teach a course on Race and Ethnic Relations and the definition we use for institutional racism is as follows: A system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity. I stress with my students that the way to identify institutional racism is not in the intent of the actors involved but rather in the outcomes or results of their actions. Do they indicate a pattern of outcomes that reveal racism or discrimination against a particular group of people? Had the victims been white would the system be so quick to exonerate the police officers involved from their murderous actions?

I was asked recently if I thought that overall life for people of color had improved since the Civil Rights era. My answer was simply “look at the evidence.” We are as segregated a society as we were in the 1960’s. Schools that have a majority of students of color are across the board under-resourced and low performing. Jails are disproportionately populated by people of color. As Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow and Bryan Stevenson in Just Mercy  have clearly shown people of color are given harsher sentences for the same crimes committed by whites. Look at what has happened to the law enforcement officers who killed Tamir Rice and the others. Look at how Muslims are being blamed for the actions of a few when white males have committed most of the large active shooter incidents like Newtown and Charleston. Is it safer and healthier to be a person of color in 2015 than 1965? The evidence suggests otherwise.

When a system routinely allows police officers to killed unarmed civilians, the problem is not just a “few bad cops.” Over the years I have known several police officers, and by and large they have entered their profession because they want to give back to their communities. They generally have been highly ethical and dedicated individuals. A system that turns such people into killers is not just about the people in the system, but the system itself. I can only hope that there are critically thinking people within law enforcement and the criminal justice system who are saying “What is wrong with this picture?” If not, there are lots of us not part of that system who are saying: the system must change.

Yesterday, members of REALJustice, a local Philadelphia affiliate of the Black Lives Matter movement held a demonstration at Broad and Erie Streets to call attention to the Tamir Rice decision. At least one person was arrested. Neither the arrest nor the demonstration was reported by the major news outlets. However this movement is the Civil Rights Movement re-emerged. This movement of mostly young people, like its forbear the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) of the 1960’s is calling our attention to the ongoing institutional racism in our midst, and I for one support, applaud and join them in their efforts. This movement will not be stopped until real justice and real change is brought about. Institutional racism may be the norm, but it can no longer be unchallenged or allowed to continue to kill innocent people.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas Greeting - A Year of Transitions

Christmas 2015

Dear Friends,

This past year has been a year of transition for the Boyd clan. Perhaps the most significant transition occurred in July when Cynthia retired after 21 years at Family and Community Service of Delaware County where she had been a social worker serving people with AIDS. Over her time there she witnessed a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS go from being a certain death sentence in the early 1990’s to a chronic condition that people could survive with proper medication and personal care. Since July she has been able to go to the gym regularly, reconnect with friends and enjoy hobbies like knitting and sewing she had set aside for a time.

Drick also has been going through a significant transition as Eastern University where he has worked for the last 18 years. Eastern went through a significant downsizing and reorganization. While he maintained his role as a professor and chair of the Urban Studies department, the increased demands created by the loss of staff has been very stressful. However, on a positive note, he saw the publication of his book White Allies in the Struggle for Racial Justice (Orbis, 2015). The book, which chronicles the lives of 17 Whites who worked for racial justice through U.S. history, has been positively received and opened up some new opportunities.

Hannah and Bill have grown into their life as homeowners in Lansdale, PA having made several improvements to their house. Hannah continues to work as a special education teacher, while Bill continues in the film industry. His biggest project was working on the movie “Creed” starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, which was filmed entirely in the Philadelphia area.
Esther and her partner Tom relocated this summer from Washington, D.C to Chicago where Esther now works for Interfaith Youth Core, and organizations that works for cooperation among people of different faith traditions. Esther loves her job developing curriculum to be used in college classrooms. Esther and Tom also added Beau, a Great Dane puppy to their household. Still looking for permanent work Tom has kept busy as an Uber driver.

After over a year working with children in the woods with Trackers, Phoebe now works as a barrista in Portland, OR. We had the opportunity to visit Phoebe in her new hometown this summer, also spending time at a family reunion in Bend, OR with Deb, Perrin and their horses, as well as a week on the Oregon Coast with Wint and family.  Oregon is a beautiful part of the world, and we can see why Phoebe loves it, though we wish she was not all the way across the country.

While there is much in our world that is frightening and frustrating, we are thankful that our family is doing well amidst all these transitions, and wish you all a Merry Christmas and Blessed 2016!


Drick and Cynthia (& Sadie)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

After San Bernadino, Take a Look in the Mirror

What do the following incidents have in common?

Dec 14, 2012 – Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, CT, lone shooter, 20 year white male kills 26 people (20 children & six adults) with a gun purchased legally by the shooter’s mother

June 17, 2015 – Emmanuel AME Church, Charleston, SC, lone shooter, 21 year old white male kills 9 people (6 men, three women) with a legally purchased gun

October 2, 2015 – Umpqua Community College, Roseburg, OR, lone shooter, 26 year old white male kills 10 people and injured 7 more with a legally purchased gun

November 27, 2015 – Planned Parenthood Clinic, Denver, CO, lone shooter, white male, 59 year old white male, kills 3 people, injures 11 others with a legally purchased gun

December 2, 2015 – Inland Regional Center, San Bernadino, CA, two shooters, husband, age 28 and wife, age 27 of Pakistani descent, killed 14 people and wounded 17 with legally purchased guns

All of these tragic incidents involved 1 or 2 individuals, all but one under the age of 30, shooting into a crowd of innocent people with a legally purchased gun. Yet only one is called an “act of terror.” The other four are referred to “active shooter incidents.” 

In 2013 the FBI published a study of “active shooter incidents” between 2000-2013. During that time there 160 incidents involving “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area” where 3 or more people were killed. In those 160 "active shooter incidents" 486 people were killed and 557 people were wounded. The number of these incidents have accelerated since this study, and all of them had characteristics just like ones listed above.

Over the past several days I have been trying to wrap my head around the insanity not only of these mass shootings, but the way we talk about them. All of them are tragically sad. All of them involve innocent people dying needlessly violent deaths. Two things stand out to me.

First of all, by calling San Bernadino and not the other shootings an “act of terror” we encourage demagogues like Donald Trump to get air time saying travel restrictions on Muslims coming into the country. Statistically we would do better to detain white males already citizens of this country under 30 if we want to save lives.

Second, President Obama in his speech last Sunday night is right when he says we need to make it difficult for people to legally purchase assault style rifles. It only makes sense. All the people injured or killed would be alive were it not for legally purchased guns.  Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz called Pres. Obama’s statement “political” but a day after the San Bernadino shooting Cruz held a rally at an Iowa gun range saying we stop ‘bad guys” by using our own guns; so who is using the shooting for political gain? At least President Obama was proposing action by Congress to restrict access to the kind of guns used in these mass shootings.Ted Cruz seems to be proposing a mass shootout.

Then of course, we have Jerry Fallwell, Jr, president of Liberty University, a conservative Christian school, propose to his students they start bringing guns to school [Note to self: Steer clear of the unlikely event of being invited to speak or visit large university in Lynchburg, VA]. We have Wayne La Pierre, executive vice president of the NRA who proposed following the Sandy Hook killings that armed police be present in every school and teachers be trained to use guns. We have many states like Florida and Texas that pass laws allowing individuals to “conceal and carry” their guns in public places. Yes that makes sense, let’s just make it easier than it already is to bring guns into public places with lots of innocent people to shoot at.

Because so many of these mass shootings have occurred in educational settings, I have been forced to think about how I would handle a shooting incident in my school or classroom. My first thought would be to get people to safety as quickly as possible, and then the second thing would be to get the gun out of the hands of the shooter. So I find myself wondering, why do we make it so easy for the gun to get into the hand of the shooter in the first place?

Are we so blind as a nation that we cannot see that WE are our greatest security threat, not ISIS. Recently the New York Times published a report, detailing how all of the shooters in these mass shootings secured their guns through legal means.  Interestingly in the FBI study mentioned above the fact that guns were obtained legally is not even mentioned, it is assumed. 

If we are so concerned about terrorism, first of all let’s not use a euphemism like “active shooter incident” when white people commit the crime but terror when it happens to be someone who practices the Islamic faith. A few weeks I visited the memorial to the Oklahoma City Bombings in 1995. At that time our "sworn enemy" was Libya, so it was assumed the bombing was done by a Libyan "terrorist." Turned out it was Timothy McVeigh and a bunch of other white guys who pulled it off. Islam isn't our enemy, self-styled killers are, regardless of ideology, religion or ethnicity.

Secondly, then let’s make it more difficult for people to legally obtain weapons. If you want to stop a killing and you know a clear consistent fact, it only makes sense to work to prevent the easy access to guns. This just  makes sense - why is that so hard to grasp?

Third, let us take a look at ourselves and the cowboy, shoot-em-up culture we have created that is so out of step with the rest of the civilized world. There are more killings in any metropolitan area in the U.S. than occur in  any other country in the world. The Second Amendment may give people a right to bear arms, but it is not a right without restrictions. Moreover, our movies, our gaming industry, our militarism, our way of viewing what strength and machismo look like all support this violent culture of ours. We have reaped the seeds of our own inner turmoil and external violence. The madness starts at home. It starts by looking in the mirror.

I haven’t got a lot of answers to my questions, but these things seem clear.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Advent Meditation: Choosing the Darkness

“Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again”
 (‘Sounds of Silence,’ Simon and Garfunkel)

Advent began this past Sunday, November 29. Traditionally Advent is a time of waiting and longing for the coming of Christ both in his birth, and in the promise restoration at the end of history.  Simultaneously Advent is a time of contemplating the suffering and what Paulo Freire called our human “unfinishedness” and our hope for wholeness.

The prophet Isaiah expressed this idea of waiting in the midst of struggle in words that our central to the Advent theme:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9.2; Matthew 4.16):

The focus of Advent is usually on the light, with darkness as the backdrop, but this Advent I have chosen to focus on the darkness.

Deadly violence in Paris, Lebanon, Mali, Denver and San Bernadino have reminded of us of the deranged hatred that is racking our globe. Police brutality against young people of color: Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and countless others - have given rise to a movement calling for justice in our criminal justice system. The violence of young people against each other, the shootings in Emanuel AME church in Charleston seem senseless. Republican candidates fight over who can degrade undocumented immigrants more viciously. The governor and legislature of Pennsylvania wrangle for six months over a state budget while low income school districts and non-profits serving our most vulnerable citizens go unfunded. Everywhere we look there is unspeakable callousness, deep suffering and uncontrollable grief.

Beyond these widespread and well-known incidents, there are the personal struggles. Two weeks ago 45 people at Eastern University where I teach were given termination notices because of financial shortfalls, and treated in ways that seemed callous and cold. I feel overcome with a mixture of sadness, confusion, and loss.  

In all of this I find myself in what St. John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul.” Thomas Moore describes the dark night as “a period of sadness, trial, loss, frustration or failure that is so disturbing and long lasting” it that  can “[make] you question the very meaning of life.” According to Moore, we don’t choose our dark night, they are a gift and “[our] job is to get close to it and sift it for its gold.”( Dark Nights of the Soul, p. xiii)

The dark night is a time of introspection, of lament and ultimately of inner transformation. We let go of our need to control, to have the answers and the belief we will come out on top. Instead we take note of our emotions, we pay attention to our dreams, and we listen for voice of Someone  or Something beneath and beyond the darkness that speaks into our lives. The darkness is a sort of liminal space, a cocoon, a time of waiting, watching, and wondering if any sense of direction or answers will come. There is no promise that there will be answer; there may be only deeper questions.

Erin Thomas, a former student of mine and a blogger, notes this about the first Christmas: “[P]eople were longing without certain hope of any Christmas at all. There was no knowledge of a Saviour, no expectation that a pregnant virgin was going to give birth to a world-changer, and certainly no thought that God was going to intervene out of Palestine.” They were in that liminal space, the place of unknowing, the place of darkness.” Erin goes on: “Will we enter into this darkened season with such humility? Do we dare? Dare.We must."

So I dare this Advent to focus on and live into the darkness. I choose to listen, to struggle, to sit without expectation or foreknowledge. To simply be in that place called the dark night of the soul.

The poet Ranier Marie Rilke put it this way:

“Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength
(“Sonnets to Orpheus II”, 29)

Advent offer us both light and darkness. I choose to focus on the darkness.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Not Quite Harper Lee

Go Set a Watchman is Harper Lee’s recently released hidden and forgotten novel. While it is the sequel to her 1960 Pulitzer Prize winning To Kill a Mockingbird, it was actually written before Mockingbird, but was not accepted for publication. Instead Lee was urged to write her more famous and previously only novel. Watchman takes place in the mid 1950’s, 20 years after Mockingbird, as the now-26 year old Jean Louise (“Scout”) Finch returns to her hometown of Maycomb, AL for a visit.

Jean Louise has graduated from college, moved to New York City, and comes home to find a very different town than she remembers as a child growing up. Her older brother, Jim, has died from a congenital heart problem that also took his mother, and her good friend and would be-lover Hank has returned from fighting in World War II and is now practicing law with Jean Louise’s father, Atticus Finch. Atticus has aged into his 70’s, somewhat slowed by arthritis, but still a well-respected lawyer, and former Alabama state legislator. Calpurnia, the black woman who raised Jean Louise and served in her father’s house, has left because of her own arthritis and now lives with her family on the other side (read “black”) of Maycomb. In her place is Jean Louise’s aristocratic Aunt Alexandra, who takes care of Atticus and continually reminds Jean Louise to stick with her kind, meaning not just staying away from “Negroes” but also “poor white trash” like Hank. Jean Louise finds herself taken back at the racist, classist nature of her family and town, but her greatest shock does not occur until she sneaks into a meeting of the Maycomb [White] Citizen’s Council.

While a racist fear-mongering guest speaker spews bigoted hatred to a group of the town’s leading male citizens, sits Atticus and Hank at the leadership table implicitly affirming his racist views by their presence. Jean Louise is devastated to the point of vomiting she realizes her father’s involvement in the group and the views it holds. She is so traumatized she can’t speak of her it for days. When she finally shares her feelings, it is to her Uncle Jack, her father’s brother. Uncle Jack acknowledges Atticus’ involvement in the group and counsels Jean Louise to she see her father and beloved Hank are not and never were the idealistic icons of virtue she remembers as a child. He points out that while Atticus sits on the council, he does not share all their views, and is committed as a lawyer ultimately to upholding the law, whether it affects black or white. He points out that Atticus defended Boo Radley all those years ago in Mockingbird not because he believed Negroes and whites were equal or even should live together, but because he believed that everyone deserved fairness in a court of law whether they were black or white, rich or poor. However we learn that Atticus’s so called respect for the law is tainted by his resentment for the Federal Government’s orders to desegregate, and his objection to the NAACP who he sees as “outside agitators” who stir up trouble that “didn’t exist before” between blacks and whites in Maycomb.

Go Set a Watchman only tells this story from the perspective the whites in Maycomb, except for one brief visit Jean Louise makes to her black former maid, Calpurnia. Jean Louise remembers her as a surrogate mother who loved and cared for her. However, when she visits Calpurnia, she finds a woman filled with quiet resentment and distrust of Maycomb’s white folks. Jean Louise realizes that there was another side to Calpurnia’s life in Maycomb she never recognized and never could fully understand, that being a black person in Alabama in the 1950’s was to be a despised and degraded “other” who had to put on a nice face just to survive.

Jean Louise eventually confronts her father in deep anger, and decides to leave Maycomb, never to return. However, before she can catch the next train out of town, her Uncle confronts her and urges her to calm down. At his urging she returns and reconciles with her father, and that is where the story ends. The reader is left wondering what will happen with Jean Louise. Will she stay in Maycomb or go? Will she adjust to her father’s way of seeing the South, or will she stay and work actively to challenge the South’s racist ways? Her “problem” according to her uncle, and presumably to Lee, is that she has grown up and now sees her father as the fallible human being he is. The issue of racism, seemingly so prominent through much of the story, fades into the background by the end of the book. Instead of being a commentary on the racism of the South in the 1950’s, Go Set a Watchman becomes a coming of age novel, and racism merely a vehicle of Jean Louise new awareness of her world.

I found this ending both disturbing and unrealistic. Lee is/was a gifted author who has a way of bringing people to life in her dialogue, and she was writing at a time when the South was caught up in the throes of a growing Civil Rights Movement. In its time Watchman was a courageous book, and it is little wonder that Harper Collins was afraid to publish it, not wanting to alienate their Southern white constituency. While not mentioned, the time frame of the story means that the Montgomery Bus Boycott very well could have happened. The conflicts in Birmingham and Selma where yet to occur. 

While White Citizen Councils of this time did consist mainly of upper class whites who looked down on the Klan as “white trash,” both groups were complicit in the ongoing injustice of Jim Crow, and the violence inflicted on the South’s black citizenry. Atticus Finch in his sophisticated racism is one of the “white moderates” Dr. King criticizes in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Despite their adherence to the law and decency, white moderates like Atticus Finch did little to stop the Klan’s violent activities. Moreover Uncle Jack’s assurance that there were many whites in Maycomb and Alabama who shared Jean Louise’s active abhorrence of racism, those whites who did act against the racism of the South like Virginia and Clifford Durr, Anne and Carl Braden, Myles Horton, Clarence Jordan and Robert Graetz were beaten, jailed, vilified as “Communists” and generally cut off from the wider white community (I tell the stories of these folks in my book, White Allies in the Struggle for Racial Justice). Harper Lee may have thought the South was changing gradually on its own, but the recent controversy over the Confederate flag, the shootings in the Charleston Emmanuel AME church, the numerous black church burnings that followed, and efforts by Alabama legislature to impede Blacks from being able to register to vote, reveal that without the Civil Rights Movement, the NAACP, Federal government intervention and much more, nothing would have changed. I fear that in the hands of white readers na├»ve to the real history of the South during this period, Go Set a Watchman will reinforce the ignorance and prejudices against seeing the struggles for black people in the America for what they really were and still are. 

Harper Lee died a few years ago and so is not here to explain or defend what she wrote. In essence she needed to write a sequel to Watchman so that we could learn how it turned out for Jean Louise. Her Uncle Jack was right in saying she was not alone in her strong anti-racist views; there were white Southerners who fought to bring racial justice and equity alongside of their black counterparts, but there numbers were relatively few and their experiences difficult. Did Jean Louise join their ranks or did she quietly cop to the pressure to racist status quo of her era? We will never know. Instead we are left with what for me is an unsatisfactory, troubling and misleading conclusion.