I’m feeling a bit like Jean Louise Finch these days, as the news comes out about my beloved university.
In Harper Lee’s less acclaimed novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” Lee portrays a deeper, darker depiction of the realities of systemic racism and its place within American history. Readers have been critical of this book, which was published amidst controversy in 2015. Many critics suggest Lee is guilty of infidelity and inconsistency to the characters developed in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” While I sympathize with their opinion, I want to suggest that perhaps in being less devoted to the trajectory of her characters themselves, Lee has been made capable of fidelity and consistency to a portrayal of the character of a particular history, namely the history of racism within the context of the American south.
In this narrative, Lee boldly proclaims that terms like “racist,” and “bigot” are not the names given to the behavior of individual persons acting of their own free-will and accord. Rather these are terms that would more appropriately describe a system, which insists upon the preservation of injustice, and whose very structure necessitates the formation of “racists” and “bigots” to populate and promote its ends. To say the same thing more simply: the system embodies racism, and produces racists to populate and perpetuate racism’s desires.
*Spoiler Alert* In “Go Set a Watchman,” Jean Louise (Scout) is startled when she unexpectedly comes face to face with this reality. Jean Louise catches wind from her aunt, Alexandra, that her father, Atticus, serves on the board of directors of the Maycomb County Citizens Council, and her boyfriend, Henry, is one of the group’s staunchest members. For good reason, Jean Louise didn’t believe her aunt. The man that raised her was no racist. There is no way, he would have been a part of such a group, much less one of its leaders.
Jean Louise has to scout it out for herself. On a Sunday afternoon, she snuck into the courthouse and slipped into her old place on the corner of the front row in the Colored Balcony. Lee describes the scene that is on display before her, “Below her, on rough benches, sat not only most of the trash in Maycomb County, but the county’s most respectable men. She looked toward the far end of the room, and behind the railing that separated court from spectators, at a long table sat her father, Henry Clinton, and several other men she knew.”
Jean Louise watched the proceedings for some time, and then Lee gives the reader a window into Jean Louise’s mind, “She felt sick. Her stomach shut, she began to tremble. Every nerve in her body shrieked, then died, she was numb.” This is what it feels like, apparently, when the people who have molded and shaped the world that you have come to live in and live according to, are seen as they truly are. Atticus may have been a good, fair man, but Atticus was a white man in Alabama in the first half of the 20th century, that social reality necessitated a certain amount of Atticus’ acquiescence, if not allegiance.
Jean Louise could not see this reality as a child running through the streets in her overalls. But twenty years later, when she returns home from New York City, she encounters the full picture of the structure of the social history of which she is a part.
I have felt a bit like Jean Louise Finch, lately, as the truth comes out about my beloved university and the violence towards women that has been permissible on our campus.
I felt like I was sitting in the Colored Balcony overlooking the Citizens Council meeting when I read an article on espn.com a couple of weeks ago entitled, “Who are Baylor’s Regents?” The intent of the article was to provide a portrait of the individuals who received the Pepper-Hamilton report, and have been making decisions for the university in response to that report. The article provided a one-paragraph bio on all thirty-four members of the board.
Like Jean Louise looking down from the balcony, I shouldn’t have been shocked to see the bios that I saw in the article. I grew up at Baylor, I understand the Baylor culture, but it wasn’t what I expected.
As I read through the list, here is what I saw:
Thirteen of the 34 voting regents hold at least a bachelor’s degree in business administration. This is a conservative estimate based on the article, at least thirteen hold that degree though probably others do as well.
Eight of the 34 voting regents currently hold the title of Chief Executive Officer of a major corporation, two of which earn more than $20 million per year. These eight do not include others who hold the title, “President,” “Chief Financial Officer,” “Owner,” or “Former CEO,” but not CEO.
Eight of the 34 voting regents hold a law degree or practice as an attorney.
Three of the 34 voting regents serve as pastors. All of these pastors serve in a “mega-church” setting.
Six of the 34 voting regents are female. Six. Yes, only six.
If Jean Louise was sick when she looked down from the balcony and saw the Citizens Council meeting, I would say I was flat out disgusted as I read through these bios and saw the people seated at the decision making table of my university. I shouldn’t have been shocked. Of course these are the people making decisions, but I was.
This is the university where I learned to think with an open mind about matters of justice and equality. It’s where I learned to be a champion for peace; income equality; racial justice; and equal rights, roles and responsibilities for women, but the whole time these were the people making the decisions that guided my education? The whole time, women only had control of 17% of the vote within the decision making body of the university?
No wonder violence towards women is covered up on our campus. It’s a part of the structure itself, and it’s not going to be unveiled unless the structure begins to change.
The structure will certainly not change unless the people making decisions about the shape of the structure changes. The Citizens Council cannot choose to reform itself. It does not know how.
The voice of power is well represented by this board. The voice of dollars provided through the oil and gas industry and the technology sector have plenty of seats at this table. Where is the female voice? Where is the black voice? Where is the Latina voice? Where is the middle class voice? Where is the poor voice? Where is the moral voice? Where is the artist’s voice? Where is the philosopher’s voice? Where is the voice of justice? Where is the voice of diversity? Where is the voice of equality?
If anything is going to change at Baylor, the voices making the decisions have got to change. A voting board of regents that is only 17% female does not know how to promote justice towards women. Its time to name the system for what it is, a system that promotes and perpetuates male privilege. It’s time to tip the scales. It’s time to give up those male dominated seats of power.