“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.
The most virtuous of Flannery O’Connor’s characters aren’t always evil. With the exceptions of The Misfit, Many Pointer, and the like, few are outright villainous. Often they are merely misdirected in their pursuit of righteousness. Similar to the Pharisees, they seek morality and the destruction of wrongdoing, but are driven by pride, which leads them to malice. This is especially true of the stories that deal with racism. Julian, in Everything that Rises Must Converge, is just as racist as Old Dudley in The Geranium, or Mr. Head in The Artificial Nigger, but genuinely believes that he isn’t. However, his racism is different than that of his mother.
When his mother says, “I’ve always had a great respect for my colored friends… I’d do anything in the world for them” and turns “unnaturally red” when her son sits next to a black person on the bus, she exhibits a common, easily recognizable type of racism. That part reminded me of people who say, “Well, I’ve managed to befriend one black person, so I’ve earned the right to make questionable comments about their race” (Okay, that’s not a direct quote, but you get it). It is obvious in her comment, even before reading the bus scene, that she does not see equality between her race and theirs. By pointing out that she respects them, she is suggesting in order for the two races to be equal the lower must be elevated to be even with the higher.
Unfortunately, the opposite of this view is not true equality, but merely another form of racism, as seen in Julian. Immediately following the mother’s comment, Julian says that “when he got on a bus by himself, he made it a point to sit down beside a Negro, in reparation as it were for his mother’s sins.” Never mind the faulty motives behind his so-called act of kindness, by pointedly sitting next to a person of different color, he is suggesting that he is lowering himself to the state of his seatmate in order to be equal to him. He does, however, see the ridiculousness of his actions when his mother tries to give a little boy a nickel and later says, "Your graciousness is not worth a damn."
What’s most disturbing about this to me is that these subtle hints at racism that still happen today, even outside of the South. We may not sit on opposite sides of the bus anymore, but we aren’t as far removed from it as we think we are. I think that even in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, Flannery O’Connor saw that racism will not be entirely removed until we stop talking about not being racist. It’s kind of like humility. Truly humble people don’t say that they’re humble or care if others think that they are.