Race and Literature: Why is it Always Liberal?
Jared Taylor, American Renaissance, January 30, 2012
I went through high school without reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I had always heard it was a great, anti-racist classic, so I recently picked it up.
It is a great novel. It convincingly brings to life the small-town South, childhood, and the complexity of human relations. Its characters and dialogue are charming, its plot is lively, and it brilliantly weaves together youthful innocence and serious adult themes.
To Kill a Mockingbird is also racial propaganda and this, of course, accounts for much of its success. More than 30 million copies are in print, and a 1999 poll in Library Journal voted it nothing less than the “Best Novel of the Century.” It is the most widely read non-textbook by Americans in grades 9 through 12. No other book has so successfully ridden the wave of contemporary racial orthodoxy, which Harper Lee captured with uncanny prescience in a manuscript she completed in the summer of 1959.
Readers will recall that the novel is set in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the depression, and is narrated by a white girl of about nine named Scout. There are a number of subplots, but the central event is the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell. Atticus Finch, who is Scout’s father and a lawyer, puts on a brilliant defense that makes it clear Mayella sought Tom’s attentions, which he prudently tried to avoid. Mayella was found black and blue after what took place, not because Tom had overpowered her but because her father caught her showing interest in a “nigger” and beat her bloody. Nevertheless, the all-white jury dares not tarnish the image of pristine, Southern white womanhood, and finds Tom guilty of rape.
This is a perfect book for white liberals, who love to read about the “racism” of other whites, and to preen themselves on their superiority to such low-class sentiments. To Kill a Mockingbird offers endless frissons of superiority, not only because the worst characters are white trash, to whom all readers can feel immensely superior, but because the story catches even respectable whites in racial hypocrisies and vanities. There is no greater darling to the reading public than a Southern author — and Harper Lee is authentically Southern — who unmasks the prejudices of fellow Southerners.
After the trial, the blacks of Maycomb grumble about the guilty verdict, and one respectable white lady, Mrs. Merriweather, gets tired of it:
I tell you there’s nothing more distracting than a sulky darky. Their mouths go down to here. Just ruins your day to have one of ‘em in the kitchen. You know what I said to my Sophy? I said “Sophy,” I said, “you simply are not being a Christian today. Jesus Christ never went around grumbling and complaining,” and you know, it did her good. . . . I tell you, Gertrude, you never ought to let an opportunity go by to witness for the Lord.
The leading ladies of Maycomb are trying to raise money to support the missionary work of a certain J. Grimes Everett, who ministers to the fictional but no doubt African Mrunas. In a passage Hillary Clinton, author of It Takes a Village, would love, nine-year-old Scout recounts what she learned about the Mrunas from listening to the grownups:
They had so little sense of family that the whole tribe was one big family. A child had as many fathers as there were men in the community, and as many mothers as there were women. J. Grimes Everett was dong his utmost to change this state of affairs, and desperately needed our prayers.
More about the Mrunas:
Mrs. Merriweather’s large brown eyes always filled with tears when she considered the oppressed. “Living in that jungle with nobody but J. Grimes Everett,” she said. “Not a white person’ll go near ‘em but that saintly J. Grimes Everett.”
Mrs. Merriweather weeps for the far off oppressed but will not put up with a “sulky darky.”
The school teacher Miss Gates is no different. She gives her class a rousing talk on the evils of Adolf Hitler and his treatment of the Jews. (This would have been a real achievement for a rural schoolteacher during the Depression. At that time, most Americans were more interested in how Hitler was putting Germany back to work than in what he thought about Jews, but Miss Lee was writing after the war, so could have her character give the Nazis a good thumping.) But like Mrs. Merriweather, Miss Gates saves her sympathy for the far away. Scout tells her father Atticus about what she overheard Miss Gates saying about blacks:
I heard her say it’s time somebody taught ‘em a lesson, they were gettin’ way above themselves, an’ the next thing they think they can do is marry us. How can you hate Hitler so bad an’ then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home —
The “respectable” people are thus almost worse than white lout Bob Ewell who beat up his own daughter, because “respectable” people should know better. Ewell is a snarling, ignorant cur who lives in a pigsty and ends up trying to kill Atticus Finch’s children because Finch made a fool of him on the witness stand. There could hardly be a more despicable character, and just to make sure we get the message, when he gives his full name in court, it is Robert E. Lee Ewell.
All the black characters, on the other hand, are wise, respectful, and — above all — long suffering. With one unexplained exception, there is not a false note out of a single one of them. The unexplained exception is “Lula” who plays no other role in the story than to object when Atticus Finch’s black maid brings his children to the black church one Sunday. “You ain’t got no business bringin’ white chillun here,” she says. “They got their church, we got our’n.”
The white children are ashamed and want to go home, but a black man steps forward to reassure them. “Don’t pay no ‘ttention to Lula,” he says. “She’s a troublemaker from way back, got fancy ideas an’ haughty ways — we’re mighty glad to have you all.” The children stay and are warmly received. Aside from Lula, every black is forgiving and generous, and endures hardship with “Biblical patience.” Only the most swinish white could resist such noble people. To read To Kill a Mockingbird — and it has been translated into 40 languages — is to get a first-class lesson in liberal fantasy.
Many people reportedly claim they decided to become lawyers because of Atticus Finch’s courage in defending an innocent black man caught up in the viciousness of Deep South racism. No doubt many others have been inspired to other acts of racial liberalism.
To Kill a Mockingbird is thus a fine example of the political power of fiction, and virtually all the genuinely great fiction, drama, and movie-making that has a racial message is sharply leftist. Starting with Uncle Tom’s Cabin and continuing through Israel Zangwill’s The Melting Pot, right up to South Pacific and virtually every movie made today, the message is always one of the equivalence of races and the brotherhood of man. When race realists try to think of a major novel with a healthy racial message, they usually get no further than Thomas Dixon’s The Clansman — and that isn’t even a good novel. From Double Eagle to Red Flag, by General Pyotr Krassnoff and published in English in 1926, is a powerful, reactionary novel, but its message is not racial so much as anti-Bolshevik and anti-Semitic.
Why are there no great race-realist novels? Many fine novelists had sensible views of race. Jack London and Joseph Conrad clearly had no illusions about race. Anthony Trollope and Alexandre Dumas drop an occasional line that shows they shared the racial views of their time. In fact, university literature departments would run out of things to do if they stopped writing papers about “race, class, and gender” in books written before the current reign of terror. But no one has written a great novel that, even in passing, underlines the importance of white consciousness.
Partly, this is because racial thinking was transformed in the space of just a few decades, and Trollope and Dumas probably never sensed a threat to their way of life. Until the second half of the 20th century, non-whites were not a demographic threat and most whites never thought about them. Europeans traditionally felt much more strongly about nation than about race (see following article).
At the same time, fantasy and good feeling are always much more appealing than reality, and fiction is, after all, fantasy. It is easier and more uplifting to write happy-ending stories about the redemption of small-minded white people than it is to warn of the consequences of liberal sentimentalism.
Stories of magnanimity, of renunciation of privilege, of kindness to the weak are much more heart-warming than stories about defending what belongs to you. This is especially true when you are defending what is yours against people who are weaker than you. There was no heroism in putting down Denmark Vesey’s 1822 slave rebellion or in President Eisenhower’s expulsion of 1.3 million illegal-immigrant Mexicans in “Operation Wetback” in 1953 to ‘54. These actions were necessary, but hardly the stuff of inspiring novels.
Our hearts do stir at the story of the Spartans at Thermopylae, the Texans at the Alamo, and the British at Rorke’s Drift, but those were battles against overwhelming odds. That is not how the racial struggle is being fought.
If Mexicans or Muslims attempted an armed invasion, whites would fight. As it is, dispossession is gradual, and Mexicans and Muslims hope to enjoy all the benefits of armed invasion without paying the costs. The real enemies are not armies of non-whites but the traitors of our own race who welcome and encourage unarmed invasion.
There is material here for literature. It would be possible to write a novel about a prominent white Democratic politician, for example, who gradually wakes up to racial reality. This admittedly unlikely process would be full of dramatic possibilities, and once his eyes were open, how would a prominent ex-liberal resolve incompatible loyalties? How would he explain himself to colleagues and family? Would he dare shift his politics? A novel of this kind could put the protagonist in the familiar hero’s role of a single courageous man fighting power and corruption. The main antagonists could also be white, and therefore worthy and interesting opponents.
What other themes might a racial novel raise? Probably only a great novelist could think of the best and the most subtle, but an obvious approach is to start with multi-racial degeneracy. The white hero combats this degeneracy — both psychologically and physically — and leads his people into a more promising future.
This is roughly the pattern of William Pierce’s novels or Harold Covington’s Northwest Quartet. Mister by Alex Kurtagić and White Apocalypse by Kyle Bristow also deliver a racial message as fiction. The trouble with these books is that, whatever their novelistic merits — and some are well crafted — they are political tracts that take the form of fiction. Only people who are racially aware will read these books, whereas we need novels that are so good everyone will want to read them. The racial message would be subtle and therefore more effective. Although I have not read it, others tell me that Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities achieves something of this effect.
Our real need is for great novelists who have a racial consciousness and a racial message, not racial activists who write novels. Unfortunately, it is harder to write a great racial novel than a great anti-racist novel. Reconciliation and forgiveness, harmony and togetherness — these are the obvious resolutions to dramatic tension. Anti-racist novels can have happy endings, even though they are nothing more than poisonous fairy tales. The happy ending for a racial novel is more like tragedy: the recognition that some interests cannot be reconciled, that some forms of togetherness are fatal. People do not read novels because they want lessons in reality; they read them to escape reality.
Until the great talent arises that can solve these problems, the best antidote to To Kill a Mocking Bird may be great literature from the recent past. Read Anthony Trollope, George Elliot, Wilkie Collins, Joseph Conrad, Alexandre Dumas, Leo Tolstoy, or even Sinclair Lewis, Edith Wharton, or Theodore Dreiser, and try to imagine their characters “celebrating diversity.” These authors had a genius for capturing the human condition — as does Harper Lee — and the human condition is often mediocre. But they wrote of societies that had cultural and racial coherence, in which even the most insignificant character is part of a common heritage and destiny. That common destiny is impossible in a multi-racial society.
One of the most charming tales in the English language is Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery, published in 1908. It is still a great favorite, and not just among young girls. Montgomery brought to life an idyllic yet entirely believable world, set in her native Prince Edward Island. It is a coherent, healthy world, inhabited only by white people. Read Anne of Green Gables and try to imagine it with a population of blacks, Mexicans, and Muslims. It is impossible for a racially conscious white to read Anne without mourning the loss of her world, and her story must exert a primal, racial tug of nostalgia on even hardened multiculturalists.
But to return to Harper Lee, she turned out to be a one-trick pony. To Kill a Mockingbird was her first book, and she never published another. Of course, if your first book wins a Pulitzer Prize and goes on to be voted the best novel of the century, one trick may be enough.
Miss Lee has reaped honor after honor over her long life. In 2007, George W. Bush awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor the government can give a civilian. Just the year before, Miss Lee received an honorary doctorate from Notre Dame. All the students got copies of To Kill a Mockingbird, which they waved in admiration as they gave her a standing ovation. We can be sure that if her book had a healthy racial message — or no racial message at all — her life would have been very different.
She unquestionably wrote a great novel but, alas, one for the other side.
Narrow Loyalties: Nation vs. Race
In 1912, Robert Scott reached the South Pole, but met terrible weather on the trip back. Eventually he realized that he and his men were going to die. He wrote a number of farewell letters that were found on his body by another team of explorers eight months later.
Face to face with death, Scott was vividly conscious of representing a group larger than himself, but it was his nation — really, his ethnic group — not his race. As he wrote to J. M. Barrie, his good friend and the author of Peter Pan, “We are pegging out in a very comfortless spot. . . . We are showing that Englishmen can still die with a bold spirit, fighting it out to the end.”
To his friend, Edgar Speyer, one of the organizers of the trip to the pole, he wrote this:
I fear we must go and that it leaves the Expedition in a bad muddle. But we have been to the Pole and we shall die like gentlemen. I regret only for the women we leave behind.
. . . If this diary is found it will show how we stuck by dying companions and fought the thing out well to the end. I think this will show that the Spirit of pluck and power to endure has not passed out of our race. . . .
By “race,” Scott meant the English “race.”
He also wrote to Vice-Admiral Sir Francis Charles Bridgeman: “[W]e are setting a good example to our countrymen, if not by getting into a tight place, by facing it like men when we were there.”
Scott was determined to die like an Englishman and a gentleman, not like a white man. He saw himself as a representative of a people, however, and it is easy to imagine him expressing a broader loyalty. If any of today’s Brits were facing death in the Antarctic, would they think of themselves as Englishmen, or believe it their duty to be a model of “the Spirit of pluck and power to endure”? Would a mixed band of British Pakis and West Indians have anything like the same sense of duty?
Wren’s Beau Geste, written in 1924 and based on his experiences in the French Foreign Legion, is steeped in the same sense of national loyalty. There is a scene in the early pages that defines the Englishman as the true standard of virtue. After several years of separation, George Lawrence of the Nigerian Civil Service happens upon an old French friend, Major Henri de Beaujolais.
For de Beaujolais, Lawrence had a great respect and liking as a French soldier of the finest type, keen as mustard, hard as nails, a thorough sportsman, and a gentleman according to the exacting English standard. Frequently he paid him the remarkable English compliment, “One would hardly take you for a Frenchman, Jolly, you might almost be English,” a bouquet which de Beaujolais received with less concern by reason of the fact that his mother had been a Devonshire Cary.
Why, of course de Beaujolais has fine qualities; his mother was English!
Beau Geste is a manly adventure of heroism and high demeanor, about three English brothers who unfailingly do their duty and defend their honor. Most of the action takes place in North Africa, where the brothers have been sent by the Legion. They meet all manner of Europeans, but the Germans are louts, the Italians and Portuguese are thieving cutthroats, the Americans are stout but simple, and though the French produce an occasional man of parts, they never get it quite right.
There are many Arabs in the story, but Wren takes no more individual notice of them than he does of horses or camels. In other words, he takes race for granted; for Wren, only white men matter, and Europeans measure themselves only against each other.
Americans have long had a less national and more broadly racial sense of identity. This is because European quarrels were far away, and Americans married across national lines and lost their European identities. But most important, they lived with blacks and American Indians. Unlike Europeans who rarely saw a non-white, Americans knew that they might be of British or German or Dutch stock, but what united them was that they were white.
Just one year after Scott died in the Antarctic, Jack London wrote The Mutiny of the Elsinore. He wrote of a pan-European racial consciousness that might at first have seemed strange to Scott or Wren, but it was one they would surely have understood.
The Elsinore, one of the last commercial sailing ships, is on a passage around Cape Horn when its crew of mongrels and off-whites mutinies. The narrator, who has come on board as a passenger, joins the officers in holding off the mutiny, and falls in love with the captain’s daughter.
Near the end of the book, he is barricaded on the poop deck with his sweetheart and the remaining men. The mutineers offer not to hurt them if they surrender, but threaten the worst if they hold out:
[A]cross my brain flashed a vision of all I had ever read and heard of the siege of the Legations at Peking, and of the plans of the white men for their womenkind in the event of the yellow hordes breaking through the last lines of defense. . . .
And I knew anger. Not ordinary anger, but cold anger. And I caught a vision of the high place in which we had sat and ruled down the ages in all lands, on all seas. I saw my kind, our women with us, in forlorn hopes and lost endeavours, pent in hill fortresses, rotted in jungle fastnesses, cut down to the last one on the decks of rocking ships. And always, our women with us, had we ruled the beasts. We might die, our women with us; but, living, we had ruled. It was a royal vision I glimpsed. . . . It was the sacred trust of the seed, the bequest of duty handed down from all ancestors.
And I flamed more coldly. It was not red-brute anger. It was intellectual. It was based on concept and history; it was the philosophy of action of the strong and the pride of the strong in their own strength. Now at last I knew Nietzsche. I knew the rightness of the books, the relation of high thinking to high conduct . . . on the poop of a coal-carrier in the year nineteen-thirteen, my woman beside me, my ancestors behind me, my slant-eyed servitors under me, the beasts beneath me and beneath the heel of me. God! I felt kingly. I knew at last the meaning of kingship.
Despite the bravado of this passage, London was aware of the precariousness of the white man’s position. Just a few pages earlier, he writes:
Yes, I am a perishing blond, and a man, and I sit in the high place and bend the stupid ones to my will; and I am a lover, loving a royal woman of my own perishing breed, and together we occupy, and shall occupy, the high place of government and command until our kind perish from the earth.
London had a racial consciousness, but he did not write books in order to spread it. Most of The Mutiny of the Elsinore is good, seafaring yarn, and the racial message is so small a part of the story that probably no one noticed when the 1937 movie version left it out. What is more, To Kill a Mocking Bird is a much better novel than Mutiny. London is more convincing when he puts thoughts into the minds of dogs than when he puts words in the mouths of people.
The great racialist novel is yet to be written.