Studying Lula in To Kill a MockingbirdJul 15, 2022
I know people really love this book and they struggle to let it go. One of the biggest hesitations expressed is that it's a great fodder for conversations about race(ism). However, my response to that is: it's written by a White woman and it is therefore limited in its scope. There will be mistakes because this is written from a White gaze.
Recently, I shared on Instagram how there's more to focus on beyond Tom, Atticus as a White savior, or Calpurnia's role in the story. When teachers look at this book through an antiracist lens, they typically start and end there. We often read & teach that book and skip right over Lula.
In this quick Instagram reel, I talk about the paragraph where we meet her and how Harper Lee's bias shows up. In one paragraph...
In the book, Calpurnia is presented as a silent hero, an example of Atticu's open mindedness, the acceptance Harper Lee has for Black people, and the existence of antiracism. That's a lot for one person to carry, right? That's the first problem. But when we meet another Black woman in the story, she's presented as the opposite of Calpurnia and is surely the antagonist of the scene. Additionally, up to this point, the n-word is a bad word and unacceptable. But here, Cal uses it, proving to the reader that 1. the word can be used and 2. certain Black behaviors can be categorized as the n-word. Check out the video and see what happens. Click here.
This is very problematic, especially in a classroom full of White students with a White teacher who might also miss this moment or who may not know exactly how to engage in this conversation. And what about in a classroom where there's only one Black person and it's a student? If possible, if you have autonomy, reconsider using To Kill a Mockingbird. Immediately you'll ask, "Well, what do I teach instead?" I got you.
1. The Hate U Give- similar idea of race and the criminal (in)justice system, but explored through a Black lens.
2. Just Mercy (Adapted for Young Adults)- it even mentions To Kill a Mockingbird. It is a non fiction text and goes deep into the criminal (in)justice system.
There's also All American Boys and the book Monster. Both are mentioned on this list.
For more, consider exploring the #DisruptTexts website. Stay tuned for more of these short videos breaking some of these literary analysis points down!
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