What are some examples of racism in To Kill a Mockingbird?

There are many examples of racism in To Kill a Mockingbird, including the racial slurs used by Cecil Jacobs and Mrs. Dubose, the town's negative reaction to Atticus defending a Black man, the Old Sarum bunch showing up at the jail with the intent of lynching Tom, Jem’s conversation with Scout about mixed children, and most importantly, the jury’s decision to convict Tom for a crime they know he didn’t commit.

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Racism completely permeates the town of Maycomb, infecting every aspect of people's lives. Consider the story Miss Stephanie tells of Boo Radley getting arrested:

The sheriff hadn't the heart to put him in jail alongside Negroes, so Boo was locked in the courthouse basement

The sheriff's racism runs so deep...

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Racism completely permeates the town of Maycomb, infecting every aspect of people's lives. Consider the story Miss Stephanie tells of Boo Radley getting arrested:

The sheriff hadn't the heart to put him in jail alongside Negroes, so Boo was locked in the courthouse basement

The sheriff's racism runs so deep that he thinks it is better to lock Boo alone in a basement than in a cell with Black people. This is supposed to be a comic anecdote, but like most in the book, it has a serious intent, in this case illustrating the depth of the town's racism.

The Missionary Society, populated with white Maycomb ladies, is a thoroughly racist group. They help Black people in Africa because they look down on them as pitiable inferiors, and most of the women show a racist attitude toward local Black people. For example, Mrs. Farrow says:

We can educate 'em till we're blue in the face, we can try till we drop to make Christians out of 'em, but there's no lady safe in her bed these nights

And while not saying Atticus's name, Mrs. Merriweather criticizes him for having made the local Black community more "uppity" through his robust defense of Tom Robinson.

Further, as Jem and Scout see firsthand when Calpurnia takes them to her First Purchase Church for Sunday services, complete racial segregation is the norm in Maycomb's houses of worship. The congregation at First Purchase is entirely Black. Scout also gets a glimpse at the economic and educational oppression racism has wrought. The pastor has a hard time raising $10 (about $100 in today's money) to help out Tom Robinson's family, despite the community's sympathy for him. Further, Scout learns that many of the worshippers are illiterate, which is one reason the church doesn't have hymnals. Racism leads directly to Black poverty, which makes it possible for women like Mrs. Merriweather to exploit their Black domestic workers.

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In chapter 9, Lee reveals the predominant prejudice throughout the town by illustrating Cecil Jacobs's comments about Atticus. Cecil announces on the playground that "Scout Finch’s daddy defended niggers" (Lee, 77).

In chapter 11, Jem and Scout walk past Mrs. Dubose's home when she begins to make derogatory, racist comments about Atticus. Mrs. Dubose reveals her racist personality by telling Jem,

Your father’s no better than the niggers and trash he works for! (Lee, 105).

In chapter 15, the Old Sarum bunch arrives at the Maycomb jailhouse the night before the trial and attempts to lynch Tom Robinson. Their actions reveal their racist ideology. Fortunately, Atticus prevents the mob from lynching Tom Robinson.

In chapter 16, Jem and the children are sitting outside of the courthouse discussing the backgrounds of various citizens when Jem mentions that Dolphus Raymond has mixed children. Jem goes on to comment that mixed children are "real sad." He tells Scout:

They don’t belong anywhere. 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 (Lee, 163).

Following Tom's unfortunate death, Scout reiterates the town's racist reaction by saying,

To Maycomb, Tom’s death was typical. Typical of a nigger to cut and run. Typical of a nigger’s mentality to have no plan, no thought for the future, just run blind first chance he saw. Funny thing, Atticus Finch might’ve got him off scot free, but wait—? Hell no. You know how they are. Easy come, easy go. Just shows you, that Robinson boy was legally married, they say he kept himself clean, went to church and all that, but when it comes down to the line the veneer’s mighty thin. Nigger always comes out in ‘em (Lee, 244).

In chapter 26, Scout recognizes her teacher's hypocrisy when she mentions that people in America do not believe in persecuting anybody. However, Scout recalls overhearing Miss Gates make a racist comment while leaving the courthouse. Scout tells Jem:

I heard her [Miss Gates] 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 (Lee, 251).

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Here are several examples of racism from To Kill a Mockingbird:

Bob Ewell. Bob refers to Tom Robinson as "that black nigger yonder" on the witness stand, and calls Atticus a "nigger-lovin' bastard" after spitting in his face.

Mayella Ewell. When Mayella requests Tom's help to "bust up this chiffarobe," she calls out: "I said come here, nigger." According to Tom, Mayella told him:

"... she never kissed a grown man before an' she might as well kiss a nigger." (Chapter 19)

Nathan Radley. According to Miss Stephanie, Nathan claims to have scared the intruder on his property "pale."

"Says if anybody sees a white nigger around, that's the one." (Chapter 6)

Horace Gilmer. The prosecutor in the Tom Robinson trial repeatedly addresses Tom as "boy."

Lula. Showing that Negroes can be racists, too, Lula tries to prevent Cal from "bringin' white chillun to nigger church."

Cousin Francis. Scout's cousin calls both Atticus and Scout a "nigger-lover."

Mrs. Merriweather. "The most devout lady in Maycomb," Mrs. Grace Merriweather refers to her maid, Sophy, and Tom Robinson as a "darky."

Scout. Scout uses the "N" word herself until Atticus directs her to stop saying it because it is "common." Scout brandishes the word more out of childish immaturity than racism, however.

The Jury. Tom is found guilty because of the jury's preordained belief to never accept the word of a black man over the word of a white man.

The Courtroom. Only white people can sit in the main section of the courtroom; blacks must sit in the balcony.

The Idler's Club. Its members prevent the black spectators from entering the courtroom until all of the white people are inside and seated.

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Racism is a major theme in To Kill a Mockingbird. There are numerous examples throughout the book. The very fact that Tom Robinson is on trial for a crime in which there is no hard evidence that it even happened is a powerful example of the racism in this story. Below are several specific examples of racism in this novel.

In chapter 11, Mrs. Dubose calls Atticus a n*****-lover for defending Tom Robinson. She tells Jem and Scout "Your father is no better than the trash he works for." This is an example of the racist abuse that the Finch family experiences for their association with African Americans.

In chapter 12, Calpurnia takes the Finch children to her church. On this outing, Scout learns that most of the African Americans there are illiterate. The few that can read were taught in informal settings. This realization that African Americans did not have the same access to education as white people is a wake-up call to Scout. It highlights the systemic racial inequities that exist in the community.

We see another dark side of racism chapter 15. Here, a lynch mob arrives outside the county jail with the intention of murdering Tom Robinson. Extra-judicial killings like the one this mob intends to commit were a common occurrence in the South throughout this time period. Lynchings represent how many racist whites felt that African Americans were not entitled to the protections of the judicial system.

While testifying in court in chapter 19, Tom Robinson mentions that he felt sorry for Mayella Ewell. This is an outrage for the Ewells and for many of the white people in attendance. The very idea that a black person could feel sorry for them is against the very racial hierarchy that exists in places like Maycomb.

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