Table of contents
- To Kill a Mockingbird
- Hidden Figures
- Today’s Children
Children’s perspectives are often looked over when it comes to injustice in the world. They are seen as naïve, silly, or that they simple just don’t understand. However, it is in the eyes of a child, unconditioned by society, that the greatest evidence of injustice lies. This is demonstrated thoroughly in the texts To Kill a Mockingbird and Hidden Figures. Both texts have perspectives of children, though they are opposite races. To Kill a Mockingbird is in the 1930s from the eyes of a 7-9 year old white girl, Scout. Hidden Figures has a perspective is the 1960s and has a perspective of young black boys. Both demonstrate the injustice that African Americans had to live with and how the children react to it. It is important to note that the children are unconditioned by society as it is by society that a majority learn their morals and values. Racism is not natural. It is taught.
To Kill a Mockingbird
To Kill a Mockingbird is wrought with examples of this. Scout is a young, white, privileged child who is witness to the injustice of American court. The trial was against a black man, and although all evidence pointed towards him being the innocent party, they convict him anyway. The children of the text are horrified, her older brother reduced to angry tears at the injustice. Part way through the trial though, Scout had to leave and sit outside. It was then she got the chance to talk to a white man, called Dolphus Raymond, who receives injustice for choosing to marry a black woman. Scout took the opportunity to ask him why he acts the way he does, as though he is perpetually drunk. Raymond explained that it was so that the white people felt as though they had a reason for why he had married the woman he did. Seeing that Scout was confused as to why he was telling her this said, “Because you are children and can understand it” (page 268, Lee, 1960). Children are the only ones to see something or hear them and take them at face value. As we grow older we feel the need to fit in and be included into society, herd mentality, and so will adopt how the people around us think and behave, often ostracizing those that don’t belong, in order to be included ourselves. “Things haven’t caught up with that one’s instincts yet,” referring to Dill, Scout’s friend, “Let him get a little older and he won’t get sick and cry. Maybe things’ll strike him as being – not quite right, say, but he won’t cry, not when he gets a few years on him.” (Page 269, Lee, 1960). Raymond shows that, yes, when we are older we may see things are not true, not right, or simply unlawful. But that doesn’t mean that we will stand up and say it. People are constantly in fear of being excluded, and so are less likely to stand up for something that those who they associate with.
Hidden Figures shows the injustice through children a lot more subtly. Hidden Figures is about three African American women working for NASA and how they deal with racism and injustice at work, whilst also juggling home life. In the text Dorothy Vaughan is seen to be walking with her sons to the library. Across the road, there is protest taking place by some African American men chanting “Segregation must go”. The boys are redirected and told by their mother “don’t pay attention to that, we’re not part of that trouble”. This is teaching them that defense against the majority is causing trouble, and to effectively keep quiet against any injustice that you may come across as to not cause any trouble. In the library, they are sitting on the floor, not causing any trouble, whilst Dorothy peacefully searches for a book. They get kicked out as though they are causing a riot, and are personally escorted out of the library. Katherine Goble’s daughters are shown briefly, but it can be seen that they do not understand society the way that Dorothy’s sons do. Katherine’s daughters believe that their mother can do anything, such as be an astronaut. It isn’t shown how they act outside in the community, but the air of innocence and naivety is evident in the discussion. They go to church, where the parish does go on about how the African American’s are being allowed to do more than previously allowed, such as school students sitting in at lunch counters, but at the age they are, you don’t understand the weight of such things. They’d clap, purely because those around them are clapping. Mary Jackson’s children were standing right in front of their parents when they were having a heated discussion about Mary becoming an engineer. They don’t fully understand the weight and complexity of situations. They see things at face value. As far as they know everyone is equal. The African American children of this text have it worse than any other child, because no one, not even their parents can explain why things are the way they are. White children are unable to be told why either, but they live on the side of luxury and privilege and so may not step out of line because of it.
Racism and injustice have wrought our society for centuries. Prejudice against the Jews, black versus white citizen and more presently the prejudice against women, particularly educated women, that the Taliban expresses. Although many people act as though it is now purely history, racism and injustice are still prominent in society today. In media today there still is a subtle preference for white actors. Yes, black actors are still utilized, but not to the degree that white actors are. In places such as Texas and Tennessee, there are still people bear the confederate flag and walk around with signs that say “Make Tennessee white again.” The texts show us glimpses into the past and allow us to see that extremes that people will go if allowed. Racism doesn’t even have to come from strangers. A personal friend of mine is of African American heritage and has recounted the kind of treatment she gets from friends and even family. “I’m the first black child on my mom’s whole side of the family. I had uncles disown me before I was even born… my own great grandmother called me the n word when I didn’t even know what the word was,” and “I braid my friends hair because she asks and my white friend says “yes bring out those black ancestors!”” Even subtle things, like the hair comment are hurtful. The texts are important to show us how severe it will get if we allow small acts of racism. People will feel more and more validated, and will continue to make comments that will only grow bigger and more hurtful as time progresses.
It is in the eyes of a child, unconditioned by society, that the greatest evidence of injustice lies. As demonstrated by the texts To kill a Mockingbird and Hidden Figures children identify injustice more readily than adolescents or adults. Adults are less likely to speak out in fear of being ostracized by peers. Children don’t have to worry about being ostracized as they see everything at face value and are more likely to speak out against problems. The texts are important in today’s society as they show the extent of human cruelty bleakly.
- Lee, H. (2018). To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
- Melfi, T. (2020). Hidden Figures [DVD]. Dobbins Air Reserve Base: William Morrow and Company.