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Conscious Judgments

Prejudice is everywhere. It's on the streets and in the buildings of cities. It floats among large groups of people, and it drifts between close friends. Prejudice, defined as the unreasonable, unfavorable judgment of someone without valid reason, is prevalent everywhere in society. People may not consciously know it, but the morals built inside of them based on how they are raised will affect them in a minimal way. However, being consciously prejudiced against a certain person due to something as shallow as appearance cannot fall within the scope of “valid reasoning” for being biased against them. And this “prejudice” is exactly what the writer Harper Lee observed in her everyday life. In her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, there are many examples of such prejudice, including those pertaining to sexism and classism. The most notable references to unjust prejudice are those of racism, and Harper Lee questions her society's prejudicial racism through her writing.

Harper Lee portrays parts of the lives of blacks and shows that they're not really what other people prejudge them to be. Blacks, in a Maycomb-type society, are considered much lower in social rank than whites. They supposedly do different things, think differently, act differently, and are not very similar to whites. Harper Lee portrays their actual lives, showing the white society's thoughts otherwise. In one particular case, Lee mentions the religion of the people of Maycomb and how they go about being religious. One day, Calpurnia, the black woman who raised Scout and Jem, brought the two children to a church specifically for blacks. An unpleasant black lady there, Lula, was displeased with the white children being in the church with blacks. She complained that the whites had their own church to go to, so Jem and Scout shouldn't be at the black's church. Calpurnia merely replied, “It's the same god, ain't it” (119)? Calpurnia's point is that although blacks and whites are separated by location of church, their religions and beliefs are not separate. This also ties into how the two groups of people sing their hymns. White people are literate; they read from a hymn book. Black people are, for the most part, illiterate; Zeebo reads lines from the hymn book and the blacks follow suit by singing the words with the melody (121). The church locations separate them, but their hearts pray to the same god. Both groups have different procedures, but are both able to sing the words of the hymn books. The reader cannot distinguish what is so different about how the two groups of people think. Another example of lifestyle is also associated with Calpurnia. She is a good example of a black living in a close-to-normal life with relatively fair treatment in the Finch house. Although most black nurses are only in a household when there is a need for them, and although Calpurnia was needed in the Finch house as a “nurse,” Atticus considers her a part of the family and respects her views of bringing up children. He considers her equal and of importance, as implied in his statement, “Anything fit to say at the table's fit to say in front of Calpurnia. She knows what she means to this family” (157). Likewise, Scout and Jem both adore Calpurnia (137). Cal acts almost as a mother to them. Despite Calpurnia's race, she is not “trash” or only a servant, as prejudiced whites would likely make her out to be. In Harper Lee's eyes, Calpurnia is but a regular person with a different skin color living with her “family.” Blacks are really not so different from whites in terms of lifestyle—if only society's way of thinking would allow equality to occur.

The second way Harper Lee seems to question the acts of the whites (due to society rules) is through Tom Robinson's trial. Atticus defends Tom Robinson in court because he thinks of Tom as an equal and wants to try to stand up for what's right even if he knows that Tom is going to be convicted. If one were prejudiced against a black man, one likely would not stand up for the man. However, Atticus takes up the position and presents a well-thought defense case against the prosecution, and he makes it obvious that Tom Robinson is innocent. The entire courtroom knows what the real situation was, after it's all explained. Still, the final verdict is that Tom Robinson is guilty (211). Why? Because society's rules “state” that whites have priority over blacks, so the jury votes in favor of the white man, not the black, even if the entire jury is aware that their verdict is wrong. After the trial, Jem cries, “It ain't right, Atticus” (212), and he asks, “How could they do it, how could they” (213)? He knows for a fact that the jury was unfair, and he is very upset over it, although there is nothing much he can do about it. His voice is Harper Lee's voice speaking out to the reader about how unjust society can be racially and the type of power that its rules can have over people.

Last but not least, Dolphus Raymond is a man married to a black woman and is the father of several interracial children. In fact, he is disliked by many people in Maycomb just because he doesn't mind blacks. He seems to walk around town drunk, and he mingles with people of different skin colors. Jem refers to Mr. Raymond's mulatto children as “sad” because “colored folks won't have ‘em because they're half white; white folks won't have ‘em ‘cause they're colored, so they're just in-betweens, don't belong anywhere” (161). He also adds that among the whites, “once you have a drop of Negro blood, that makes you all black” (162). The children can't help being half black and half white. It isn't their fault that they are treated differently because of how they look or how they are brought up. It isn't fair for them to be treated like blacks, even if they're only half-black. Later, Scout and Dill run into Dolphus Raymond, and Mr. Raymond reveals that his “drunkenness” is completely fake; it is merely a tool to give the whites an actual reason to dislike him. Raymond doesn't want to give up his ways of life for what society thinks. He mentions the “hell white people give colored folks, without even stopping to think that they're people, too” (201), and those are points that Harper Lee seems to want to emphasize. He isn't willing to fight against society as a single man, so he merely gives the whites a reason—his “drunkenness”—for why he mixes his relationships with blacks. He doesn't care what the others think about him hanging out with blacks because he thinks of them as equals.

In conclusion, Harper Lee's portrayal of the racism in To Kill a Mockingbird makes the reader think deeply about what the differences really are between blacks and whites. Is the only difference in their lifestyles? Or did the difference in lifestyle come from unfair treatment by the whites toward the blacks due to contrasting skin colors? And all of this for the sake of separating people by skin colors? Ultimately, racial prejudice is simply not worth the trouble that everyone goes through for the “society rules” and the suffering that many have to endure. It is not right to think that one group of people is better than another just by considering appearances. Nowadays, Americans generally are not nearly as prejudiced, although in every person, at least a speck of bias still stands. But what people need to remember is that, regardless of appearance, everyone on earth is human. Everyone is human, everyone is the same, everyone is equal.