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American Son – Racial Inequality in the eyes of the Law.

The Film “American Son”, tackles the major themes of racism, injustice and police brutality, by telling the story of an interracial couple, who find themselves stricken with worry, over the fact that their 18-year-old son is missing. The mother, named Ellis Connor, wakes up one night and realizes her son, Jamal never came home, which is unusual behavior for him. She attempts to contact him through his cell phone and he doesn’t answer. She decides to call the police and inevitably heads to the police station, and then calls the child’s father. 

            Once she arrives at the police station she is met with an officer who is blatantly rude, as well as dismissive of the problem.  Refuses to give her any information regarding the case and fails to even try to hide the prejudice’s he has in front of the worried mother. She is suspicious of the officer’s true intentions and assumes that the color of her skin is the underlying factor that is resulting in his obscene behavior. Something that black women in America know all too well.  I felt especially drawn to the story of the mother within this film. Portrayed by Kerry Washington, she played the role of a black mother, frustrated by the inability of the world to listen to her words and take them seriously. We still live in a world in which this scenario continues to get played out. Black people, not just women, within the criminal justice system, or when having ANY interaction with law enforcement find themselves, being demeaned and overlooked. Have their truths be turned away and unheard because of the systematic racism that still runs through the veins of this country. In a way, this story relates to Harper Lee’s to kill a Mockingbird. The parallel between the characters of Tom Robinson and Ms. Ellis Connor, is hard to miss. Major themes that have been displayed in both bodies of work include, the presence of inequality at the social and legal stage. No, these characters do not share the same story but their struggles are similar. Both having to fight to have their truths believed by the public. Both experiencing symptoms of the generational trauma against black American’s. Over 50 years apart. 

            Once the father arrives, the police officer mistakes him for the lead investigator because Jamal’s father is white. Before he realizes he begins to spill out information regarding the case that he purposely, refused to disclose to Jamal’s mother. This is where the film begins to highlight and contrast how the criminal justice system treats white people versus how they treat black people. It becomes clearly apparent that the two parents of Jamal have plenty of disagreements over how their son should be raised and how the world may view their bi-racial child.  Mr. Conner associates Jamal’s disappearance to the fact that he has begun to embrace his black roots. By hanging around other black kids, and wearing cornrows, Mr. Connor thinks that “Ghetto hair and hanging with black delinquents is a big risk.” But Mrs. Ellis Connor describes their son Jamal’s behavior as attempting to figure out who he is, and making sense of being surrounded constantly by white people. She describes an incident in which Jamal explains to her that he feels as if he is the “face of the race.”  The people around him look to him as the only black boy in the room. The poster child for all of their questions, and all of their glares. People who do not share the same lineage, traits or struggles. Something that I often times face, being a black woman at a PWI. Whenever the discussion is brought to race, I have to look around and see that everyone is already staring at me. For anyone, this can be especially hard. It makes you feel as if you are an outsider, it makes you feel like, the world looks at you as this object, and not a person with feelings. Jamal’s father however, does not understand this concept and decides that this is just some “Victimhood Psychobabble”, projected at him by his mother Mrs. Ellis Connor. He does not see his son as a black male, he does everything in his power to not see the color of his son’s skin. But he fails to realize, that not seeing Jamal’s color of skin, is to not see Jamal for who he is, a black male. 

            Unfortunately for Mr. and Mrs. Connor, their worst fears were realized when the true investigator of the case, comes and explains that Jamal was involved in a traffic stop gone wrong. He had been with two other black males, who both had warrants out for their arrest. When asked to get out of the car and wait in the rain, Jamal made one critical false move. His movement away from the car caused the officer to shoot Jamal in the head, instantly killing him.  This story is the ending that many black Americans will face and have faced in this country, and even the world. It is a story that truly depicts the actions of law enforcement, as well as the fears of the parents of those who have begun to be entangled within the criminal justice system. 

Mayella’s Reliance on her Identity in her Testimony in TKAM

During the trial scene in To Kill a Mockingbird, Mayella relies on her identity as a white woman to help her throughout her testimony and ultimately win over the jury. She is aware of her social status compared to Tom Robinson’s and is able to use this to her advantage. She also chooses to present herself as weak and fragile in an attempt to prove she is traumatized from the alleged rape.

When Mayella is asked to tell the jury about what happened during the evening of the incident, she initially sits silent. It is obvious that she knew she would be required to give her testimony, so she had plenty of time to mentally prepare for this moment. She silences herself and cries with the intentions of playing the victim.

If Tom Robinson was truly guilty, Mayella would have displayed confidence in her responses during her testimony. Instead, she presented tears, distress, and hesitance in her responses. When Atticus asks Mayella if she had asked for Tom’s assistance before, she first denies it, saying, “I did not, I certainly did not” (209) but when asked again she says, “I mighta” (209). Mayella’s inconsistent answers gives the jury little reason to believe her, but they ultimately take her side because she is a white woman.

In her last statement, she says that Tom Robinson “took advantage of me an’ if you fine fancy gentlemen don’t wanta do nothin’ about it then you’re all yellow stinkin’ cowards, stinkin’ cowards, the lot of you” (214). She relies on her identity to save her from having to speak anymore.

Mayella plays a major role in Maycomb’s preservation of social order. Although it is clear to me that she could have presented a much stronger testimony to ensure that Tom would be found guilty, the system worked in her favor regardless. It is the social inequality and racial prejudice of Maycomb that allowed Tom Robinson to be falsely convicted of rape.

Go Set a Watchman: a different side of the same coin

I recently finished this reread of To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman for the first time. After reading both texts consecutively, I understand the comments about the latter novel being something of a departure from the original story. However, I thought that the two fit together naturally, and paired wonderfully as complements. In fact, I loved Go Set a Watchman even more than I do To Kill a Mockingbird, and reading it made me appreciate Harper Lee’s skills as an author more than I did before. 

WARNING: spoilers below for Go Set a Watchman!

Perhaps because I can personally relate to Scout’s plight in Go Set a Watchman, or perhaps simply because I knew to expect it, I was not at all surprised by the opinions that Atticus expresses in this second novel. I do not think that they change the significance of his character’s actions in To Kill a Mockingbird. Certainly, Atticus is taken off of a pedestal for the reader–just like he is for Scout–but I do not think that Lee contradicts herself at all. Instead of playing around again in Maycomb, she enters the real world, along with Scout, and the reader. The first novel had terrible things occur–but seen from Scout’s eyes, everything ended up with a rosy veneer. In this novel, Scout instead faces the true difficulties and ugly realities of a society so plagued by its nasty history.

Calpurnia might have loved Scout and Jem, and I believe she did, but there were lots of issues to address with those relationships once an adult narrator was available. The scene in her bedroom was heartbreaking for Scout, but it was critical for Lee to include. With Atticus, I see it the same; it isn’t easy to read, but he cannot be perfect. His devotion to the law led him to defend Tom Robinson and crusade for the cause of equal treatment. But still, his devotion to the law led him to stand against potential violators, even those protesting for equal rights and better treatment. 

To be honest, Atticus, despite becoming much more complicated and harder to like, remains my favorite character. I still want to believe that he believes in equality under the law–my interpretation of his remarks, which could be wrong, were that he is angry and even scared concerning the “lawlessness” of the Civil Rights Movement happening at the time, and the pressure on the South to change its ways immediately. I would argue that Atticus would not despise a world where blacks and whites live in true equality; simply that he would want such a world to come about naturally, slowly, and with regards to the laws and traditions of the South. Obviously, this is an empty and gross placation; if anyone had waited for that to happen, we would probably still be living like they do in the novels right here in South Carolina (not that we either have reached our peak of racial equality, we definitely have not). So I am fully on Scout’s side when she argues with him and calls out his beliefs, but I can see that for a man of his age in his time, this is nearly the best that Lee can do in giving the readers an accurate, “unproblematic” lead male adult character. He doesn’t hate black people, but he doesn’t want them to be judges. Of course. Atticus is brought down to Earth, for his daughter and the reader; now I can recognize him as human, someone I’ve seen before, and so can Scout.

Racism in “Long Night’s Journey Into Day”

Throughout the graphic historical documentary “Long Night’s Journey Into Day,” there are many unimaginable moments where audiences find themselves feeling helpless. One scene in the beginning of the documentary where this is particularly prevalent is when the murder of Amy Biehl, a foreigner to South Africa, was being discussed. While she was innocently murdered, some of the South Africans felt as though white people were finally witnessing a fraction of what was happening to South Africans in their own country. One woman in particular said, “To be honest, I didn’t care much, because she’s a white lady. She’s white, she’s white. How many blacks have been died?” (0:05:53-0:05:59). This line portrays that with all of the racism, death, and hardships that some of the Africans have been through and dealt with, why should they care if one white woman died? This woman is stating that white people did not care when a plethora of Africans were murdered. However, when one white woman dies, there should be outrage. This is an example of racism, nationalism, and an extreme double standard. This woman is illuminating that in the eyes of the white community, white lives are shown to be more valuable than those of black lives, that because Amy Biehl was visiting from the Unites States, her death was of more importance than those that were native to South Africa, and that white and black people are not held to the same standards. When watching the documentary, the pain in the woman’s eyes was obvious and heartbreaking and the way she spoke showed that her patience had completely run out. Why should a white person be able to turn their backs on the deaths of many Africans; however, when one white person dies the black community is expected to mourn her death?

Eichmann, a Tragic Hero?

Within Eichmann in Jerusalem, written by Hannah Arendt, we learn about the historic trial of war criminal, Adolf Eichmann. This novel is especially important because of the author’s depiction and narrative of Eichmann throughout his criminal trial. Within the epilogue in this prose we get to see very different illustrations of what kind of man Adolf was. Although one of a major organizers of the Holocaust, Eichmann is “terribly and terrifyingly normal” (276). Arendt continues through the entire book that although this man has made terrible decisions, she believes that he is not necessarily guilty of all of the crimes he is being charged with.

As a man whose job was to follow orders, Eichmann did that well. Although many of those orders was to contribute to the eradication of an entire race, Eichmann claims he is not AntiSemitic. Not racist or discriminatory, Eichmann was just a man doing his job. This understanding explains why the trials of this man could be covered in a novel over 290 pages long.

Although Arendt didn’t fully believe this man was the villain, she knew that “it would have been very comforting indeed to believe that Eichmann was a monster” (276). It seemed as if her heart wanted to believe this man and his story but her conscious stopped her. This can be seen in her final pages of the epilogue as she creates a fictional court ruling of why this man deserves to die. Although never directly stating Eichmann as guilty of helping the genocide, she talks about why this man is still guilty of supporting and standing by a cause that commenced the massacre of millions of Jewish people.

This depiction of Adolf is uncommon as almost everyone in the world can agree the architects of the Holocaust are some of the biggest monsters in the world. Personally, I don’t think the author put enough guilt on this man but I can see her point of discussion when she doesn’t think he is as bad as people see him as. this book and debate will flourish on through generations and hopefully even begin to spark new conversations in the future.

Partus Sequitur Ventrem

In both Philip’s and Harris’ works, there is a question, spoken or non, about the association of blackness to property.

For Harris, she noted that slavery was a system that thrived from the division of color, facilitating the idea that ownership was a birthright of skin tone. On page 278, Harris says, “…the institution of slavery, lying at the very core of economic relations, was bound up with the idea of property.” There were many continuing underlying issues perpetuating the idea of whiteness as property, but the most notable was the monetary gain white slave owners were earning from their black slaves.

Philips examined every line of text from the Zong legal case and offered her own expert insight on the determination of the case. As she tore into insurance and property law, she highlighted several key points, one of which was the reasoning behind throwing the African slaves overboard. The insurance company would have to pay the Captain and the family buying the slaves money for “loss of property and income.” In the original case document, the slaves were referred to as “cargo.” Slaves were considered property.

I find it interesting that in both readings we hear cases for blackness as property, and in each case, the law stands on the side of white, property-owning citizens. Even though the law does not strictly mention skin color, it mentions property, and slaves had their statuses legally demoted to “domestic animal” and were branded as animals (Duke Law). This was because whites had adopted the Roman law of partus sequitur ventrem. It handled the legal status of animals in Rome, but the law had been twisted to fit the needs of slave owners by becoming “a legal doctrine concerning the slave or free status of children born in the English royal colonies” (Wikipedia, Duke Law). Both authors make strong legal arguments that blackness was a determinant of property, and I believe they are correct in their stances of black skin color sealing slaves’ fates as property.

Duke Law:

I realize Wikipedia isn’t a good source, but Duke Law stated the same idea. Wikipedia just said it better.