I watched George Floyd die.
It was barely a surprise to be reminded of the existence of racism, I knew that, already. However, that it can be so brutal, so cruel and so clearly played out that someone could make a video, yet not be able to stop it – that was the horror of it.
It was like a page from The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas.
Only, this was real life where a real man lost his life.
Since then, it has been heartening to see thousands of protestors out on the streets. I promised myself I’d do what I do best – write about it, read about it, mostly read – as many stories as I could, acquaint myself with as many perspectives as I possibly could.
I began to think back to the books I’d read on racism. The first one to come to mind was obviously To Kill A Mockingbird. I’ve read it more than once, watched the film, quoted from it over and over again.
Yet when I thought about it, I couldn’t find George Floyd in it.
There’s Atticus and there’s Scout and Boo Radley but where was George Floyd? Oh, there was Tom Robinson, tucked away somewhere, but he was barely there. I wanted to hear his voice. What was he feeling? What was he thinking? What was his family going through? I found barely anything.
If an anti-racism book doesn’t get the oppressed to speak out, if it continues to speak for them, it’s barely serving its purpose. It can only be a start, a small start in the right direction, nothing more.Tweet
Believe me when I say that it has taken a lot of introspection and some amount of courage to say this about a favourite book of mine.
I understand those were different times…
… that Tom really didn’t have a voice back then. I understand that a white man’s support would have been a large step. I’m not trying to take away from its merits. Atticus was a good man, a brave man, a just man and a wonderful role model as a father.
However, to continue to hold the book in high esteem is questionable
Specially in this time and age, when there are stories, scores of them, written brilliantly by people from marginalised sections themselves. (The Hate You Give was one such. Have you read it? The film is out on one of the streaming channels. Do try to catch it.)
Books like To Kill A Mockingbird and even The Help (another huge favourite) promote the white man/woman as the saviour. They seem to be giving a voice to the black man but what we really are reading is a white man’s story. It’s time the focus moved from the privileged sections of society to the marginalised ones. Tom needs to take centre-stage and tell his own story. We need to read his story rather than Atticus’.
These lines from a piece I found online articulate my thoughts well:
To Kill a Mockingbird is a white story written by a white woman in which black people are depicted as ignorant, hopeless, and in need of white saviors.Read the full piece here.
Another one on The Help from this article here
The Help is not a story about the millions of hardworking and dignified black women who labored in white homes to support their families and communities. Rather, it is the coming-of-age story of a white protagonist, who uses myths about the lives of black women to make sense of her own.
I realise now, I need a better perspective. I also realised I didn’t have enough books on my shelves, even on my TBR list, where diverse people spoke out in their own voices. I set out to rectify that.
Here’s a fantastic list I referred to, for my TBR list. It has both fiction as well as non-fiction books on racism. You can pick out ones that appeal to you if you want to read more.
As readers, this is what we need to do – read, as many stories from as possibly diverse voices as we can. Read, not just stories of struggle and strife, but stories of happiness and love and friendship, because it is these stories that make people human, that help bridge the gap between the ‘us’ and the ‘them’.