A recent publication of TKMB
Most people know about lynching in Jim crow South and the high incarceration rate of African Americans. Many people have also read To Kill A Mockingbird and read through the excruciating case of racism and court bias it contains. While this information may seem mostly unrelated, To Kill A Mockingbird, early lynching to “protect” white women in Jim Crow South, and the fact that black people are currently more likely to be wrongly convicted of crimes all show how black men are criminalized in society.
Pamphlet from a showing of the Scottsboro Boys musical, based off of an famous case where black men were accused of raping white women.
Black men were already more likely to be lynched awaiting a trial or prison sentence. According to an article written at Richmond University, “A lynching was most likely to occur in cases where a black man had been convicted of raping a white woman” (“Lynching to protect white women”). White men used the excuse of wanting to preserve southern womanhood as well as Southern social hierarchy to paint all black men as criminals and rapists. While Southern white men didn't often care about women and their rights or claims of rape when they blamed white men, if a woman yelled rape pointing her finger at a black man, most white men flocked to her side, all of a sudden concerned about protecting women. This can be shown in To Kill A Mockingbird as prior to the case, the entire town complains about the Ewells and nobody cares at all about protecting or helping Mayella, even though she has a bad home life. Mayella doesn't represent the ideal southern woman, but as a poor white woman against a black man, she still wins over the jury even though Tom didn't rape her. Atticus sees right through Mayella and why people are flocking to her support in order to justify their racism. He says, “[I’m] in favor of southern womanhood as much as anybody, but not for preserving the polite fiction at the expense of human life” (Lee, 196). In many ways, Mayella embodies this “polite fiction” of southern womanhood. White women in the South were stereotyped as beautiful and dainty. Many weren’t, as the South was very poor and many women struggled living in poverty with little to no education like Mayella. Lots were forced to do jobs that weren’t housework due to the South’s struggling economy. Mayella also uses her femininity during the trial to make the observers feel emotion for her. While she quite obviously experiences abuse from her father, a white southern man, Tom didn’t rape her. Despite evidence showing that Tom did nothing wrong and that her father beats her, the jury decides to ignore the facts and convicts Tom, choosing in favor of the “polite fiction” of southern womanhood.
The Supreme Court building
In To Kill A Mockingbird, Tom is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit by a racist jury. During his monologue while defending Tom, Atticus says, “The state has not produced one iota of medical evidence that the crime Tom is charged with ever took place” (Lee, 271). The evidence of this case is very black and white, and many cases similar in history were more questionable, and in some, a crime was actually committed. However, there is no denying that many courts had prejudice and racism in their systems, and this racism in courts is not a thing of the past. Current court systems in America are also prejudiced against African-Americans. According to a study reported by the New York Times, “Black defendants account for 50% of those wrongfully convicted” (Choksi). This may sound good, as a sign that many more African-Americans are are being found innocent, but often black people have to spend up to three more years waiting in jail as their case is being reconsidered. Furthermore, exonerations have been increasing exponentially since 1990, and many more people than usual have been getting proved innocent.
A page in Harper Lee's book, To Kill A Mockingbird
In conclusion, To Kill A Mockingbird, lynching to “protect” white women in early Jim Crow South, and the fact that blacks are currently more likely to be wrongly convicted of crimes all show how black men are criminalized in society. The criminalization of black men in America and it’s origins in Jim Crow South still affect our society and court systems today.
Chokshi, Niraj. "Black People More Likely to Be Convicted of Murder, Study Shows." The New York Times. The New York Times, 3 Mar. 2017. Web. 23 Mar. 2017.
Lab, Digital Scholarship. "Lynching to Protect White Women." History Engine: Tools for Collaborative Education and Research | Episodes. Richmond University, 2015. Web. 23 Mar. 2017.
Lee, Harper. To Kill A Mockingbird. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1999. Print.