Racism in To Kill a Mockingbird

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Racism in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is highlighted in the interactions between characters. Scout is the protagonist of the story. She lives in Maycomb, Alabama with her brother Jem and father Atticus. The novel focuses on the vices of whites and African-Americans. Stereotypes told by people of different races are the main cause of many misunderstandings in the community. This narration explains how injustices and prejudices along racial lines can hinder social harmony.

Racial prejudice refers to discrimination based upon one’s skin color. Tom Robinson’s trial is an example of this. Tom was convicted of being a black man, and his words were not as significant or as truthful as those of a white man. This form of racial prejudice is exposed by Atticus and his family in To Kill a Mockingbird.

The novel clearly portrays many white characters in a negative light. Aunt Alexandra and the Ewells are two examples of characters who openly express their superiority to black people. Bob Ewell reveals a form of racial prejudice against black people when he accuses Tom Robinson, his daughter Mayella, of rape. Bob Ewell also mocks Tom Robinson as a form of racial discrimination. He called Tom Robinson a “nigger”. It’s offensive to call black people “niggers”.

He also cursed black people as animals and considered Blacks to be trash. Aunt Alexandra also expressed her disgust at Maycomb’s treatment of black people in different ways. Aunt Alexandra won’t let Atticus and Calpurnia children visit Calpurnia because it would be inappropriate to allow white children to interact in this way with black residents. Aunt Alexandra believes that black and white people cannot be equal 13 feet and she attempts to enforce this view on the Finch families.

Another example is the fact that Blacks must sit in a different section of courtroom to avoid being surrounded by white people. Because white people think they are superior, Blacks must sit in a different section. Because of their skin color, Maycomb has Blacks in a lower class than other white men. Whites believe they are superior to Blacks. They believe that Blacks are too poor to be allowed in the same church with them. They start their own churches and worship together, even though they aren’t allowed to join a White church.

In the 1930s, discrimination based on race was common. People of color, especially blacks, were never accepted by white society in history. The majority of the white population ruled over the black minorities, with the latter mainly engaged in manual labor. Lee et. al. claim that discrimination against blacks was primarily felt by African-Americans, who were the largest ethnic group in white society (13).

To Kill a Mockingbird focuses on the practice in a small Maycomb town through characters who have different opinions. Scout’s family (including her father, Atticus and brother Jem) is shown as being neutral towards racism in a community divided along racial lines. Scout’s Cousin Francis, for instance, describes Atticus as a “nigger lover” and makes it sound awful. Scout says she doesn’t understand what it means, but she doesn’t like the way Francis used it.

Atticus clarifies that the term does not mean anything: “Nigger lover is just one among those terms that doesn’t mean anything-like ….snot-nosiest has slipped into use with some people like us, when they want to label someone using a common, ugly name” (Lee 112). This term was derogatory to people of color and was used to disparage Whites who supported them.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a 1930s-era novel. This period was marked by economic hardships and the Great Depression. Maycomb was home to people from the lower socioeconomic classes and of different ethnicities. Scout lived in a society that was selfish and fanatical, favoring only their own interests. Many atrocities were committed against African Americans because whites were the majority.

To Kill a Mockingbird and Antiblack Violence: Why White Readers Love  Atticus Finch - Beacon Broadside: A Project of Beacon Press

Atticus’s family didn’t consider a person’s skin color to be a socially divisive factor. Family members coexisted with people of other races and showed sympathy for the poor. Atticus offered his legal assistance in a case of alleged rape against Tom, a poor black man. This angers the Maycomb society. Chapter nine: Cecil, Scout’s classmate, declares that Atticus defends a “Negro.” “Do you defend niggers Atticus?” That evening, I asked him. “Of course, I do. Scout, don’t say nigger. That’s common” (Lee 79). Cecil and Scout fight over the assertion. Scout feels so embarrassed by such racist claims that she loses control and confronts Cecil. The incident has several connotations that are critical to the book.

The nineteenth-century saw the end of slavery. However, colored people were still considered equals to their white counterparts. Inequality in facilities available to different ethnicities was a consequence of segregation. Minority groups were considered inferior and their rights were thus violated. This is exactly what happened in Tom’s story. Tom was accused by his father and his daughter of rape and was eventually convicted. He was unfairly convicted simply because he is black.

Lee uses an anti-racial approach in the book to condemn injustices committed against minorities by a society that is too prejudiced. Irony can also be used to reinforce the theme and show the ignorance of some members of the community. Atticus has a partially blind left eye and requires glasses to see clearly. He is partially blind but has the most insight into equality in Maycomb. Scout, Jem and Dill, kids of all ages, are open-minded to all members of the community, regardless of race or lack of knowledge about various social virtues. The author states that people who don’t pay attention to racial differences can live harmoniously with everyone, regardless of their ethnicity.

People in Maycomb are so accustomed to racism that they avoid socializing with people of other races. Scout asks her father why he chose to represent Tom Robinson in court, as he is from the black community. Atticus said, “For many reasons… The main reason is that if I didn’t, I couldn’t hold my head in town. I couldn’t represent this country at the legislature. I couldn’t tell you or Jem not do something again…. Every lawyer gets one case in their lifetime that affects them personally. “This one’s mine, I suppose” (Lee 80). This incident shows how Atticus viewed racism. Atticus believed all people should be treated equally regardless of their race.

The color-line problem, unlike Atticus’s case, leads to discrimination against a particular ethnicity. So, the oppression of the most vulnerable community is applied and they are denied opportunities, amenities and justice. The authors make the observation that “people of non-white skin color were subject to Whites’ oppression due to being uncivilized by Whites and considered inferior by Whites because of their skin color difference” (Rezazade, et al. 48). Black people were always considered inferior and uncivilized, along with savages or criminals. This depiction shows how different societies have stereotypes about their counterparts, as in To Kill a Mockingbird. Racism, as such, is a topic that coincides with the novel’s main theme.

The novel suggests that Maycomb can be seen as a microcosm for modern society’s racist practices. As the modern world changes, the author’s multicultural approach and selection of character traits seems to have stood the test of time. Despite the many global efforts to promote equity, stereotyping and racism still exist in certain areas and among some people in the community. Lee may have used Maycomb town as an example of anti-racism, but it is equally possible to argue that the book encourages white supremacy, which could lead to prejudice.

Atticus and his family are heroes because they saved Tom from being accused of rape. They had been threatened by the mad Maycomb society. Scouts have a unique response to angered people. This situation demonstrates the racism of those of that era. Macaluso states that Atticus, a white male, is the hero while Tom, an African American male, is the helpless, crippled victims (280).

Further plot development is centered around Atticus’s family heroes, which could be criticised as the author’s bias towards reducing racial diversity. The critical perspective may not be valid as To Kill a Mockingbird communicates Maycomb’s intended message to the population. This is easily accessible for most modern neighborhoods.

Scout, Jem and Dill seem to be fascinated by Boo. He is a shy character who lives in the home of Mr. Radley. Strange stories about Boo drive the three children to his yard to get a glimpse of him. Radley mistakenly sees Jem’s shadow and shoots at him. Maycomb suspect Radley of having shot an African-American. They then assume that Radley shot at a Negro wearing a collard patch.

Racists accuse “blacks” in the town of any crime and consider them inferior. There have been many instances in modern society where minorities were wrongly killed or hurt because of their ethnicity. Recent protests were organized under the banner “Black Lives Matter” in response to cases where African-American youths were slain, particularly by officers without any real reason.

Studies have shown that people of certain races are more likely than whites to be treated differently in similar situations. “Whites perceive themselves as more advanced and humane than the “others” with darker skin (whether African or native) they have dominated,” (Salter, et al. 153). Claudia Gomez was a young Mexican woman who was with other migrants when an officer shot her. These prejudicial events were similar to those seen in Maycomb, orchestrated by some residents.

Every time a questionable incident or crime occurred, people blamed blacks. However, there was no evidence, no report or inquiry against them. Whenever anyone was subject to violence, they directly blamed the blacks and did not go back to the actual events.

The majority of people quickly ruled out any connection to blacks. They think that whatever bad happens is their fault, and they also believe blacks are dangerous and criminals (Faizah 2016,). People who are racist or accept racism would not be able to have a relationship with suspect black people or work for them. Tom’s situation was that no one offered Tom’s wife a job.


To Kill a Mockingbird lesson plans: 9 powerful ideas to teach | Quizlet

Because of their different skin colors, African Americans have faced discrimination and racial inequalities throughout history. Because they were considered undesirable and uncivilized, they were often segregated and verbally and physically abused. Racial segregation was viewed as a veil that covered the humanity of African Americans. It also disallowed their good nature from be realized by white people. This is why they were charged with any illegal or criminal incidents that occurred in the white environment without investigating their innocence.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, the impact of bias and discrimination can have a significant effect on black lives. Lee tries to eradicate segregation, racism, prejudice, and injustice. It is almost obvious. The moral message of the novel is to send a message to the rest of the world about how they can live in peace, cooperation, kindness, respect. Lee encourages children, who may not be aware of prejudices, to ask direct questions. Adults who are already accustomed to seeing racial discrimination as a given must rethink their responses to children.

How far have things come since To Kill A Mockingbird. 60 years on, we still witness discrimination, racial profiling and lack of opportunities for American citizens based on their skin color. The mass imprisonment of young black men has been a result of judicial and police actions that unfairly target blacks. Institutional racism persists.

Racialization and categorization are social constructs that cannot be used to oppress certain groups. Professionally and personally, each one of us must decide what actions we will take to eliminate disparities in healthcare and institutional racism. This will require grace, humility, as well as a growing sense responsibility.


  • Lee H. To Kill a Mockingbird. HarperCollins Publishers. New York, NY. NY2006
  • Sarat, Austin and Umphrey, Martha. ‘Temporal Horizons.’ In Reimagining To Kill A Mockingbird. Family, Community, and the possibility of equal Justice under Law (United States of America, University of Massachusetts Press 2013, pp. 20-1.
  • Faizah S. (2016) Racial prejudice and lee’s to killing a mockingbird. Skripsi: Fakultas Ilmu Budaya.

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