What is an example of racism for the book The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd ?

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Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many examples of racism, which is a prominent theme of the book, racism and how it is overcome. Let's go over just a few examples in the first chapter.

As the first chapter ends, Lily and Rosaleen have gone to town, so Rosaleen can register to vote.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 has just been passed, and we can see evidence of racism in the fact that Rosaleen only now is going to be able to vote. Southern states prior to the signing of the act did everything possible to prevent African-Americans from voting. 

Lily is limping, as a consequence of her father's having punished her by making her kneel on uncooked grits, and so Rosaleen and Lily go into Lily's church, which is a whites only church.  Lily says,

She was not supposed to be inside here. Every time a rumor got going about a group of Negroes coming to worship with us on Sunday morning, the deacons stood locked-arms across the church steps to turn them away (30).

The minister is clearly appalled at Rosaleen's presence in the church, and when she asks for a fan, he will not let her have one.  The church scene shows us clearly the evidence of racism in their town.

Finally, Lily and Rosaleen encounter a group of white men outside of the gas station in town. One of them calls Rosaleen by a racial epithet and asks her where she is going. She informs the men that she is going to register to vote, and they mock her for this. Finally, Rosaleen can stand it no more, and she pours her snuff jug over the men's feet. They move to physically attack her, and the police are called. It is Rosaleen and Lily who are hauled off to jail, although it is clear that Lily will be released, while Rosaleen will not. 

I am not sure there is a chapter in this novel that does not have at least one example of racism, either white racism, black racism, or both.  This book is an excellent portrayal of the rampant racism of that time and place. 

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The Secret Life of Bees

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