A. The Secret Life of Bees demonstrates the irrationality of racism by not only portraying black and white characters with dignity and humanity but by also demonstrating how Lily struggles with and ultimately overcomes her own racism. Kidd moves beyond stereotypes to portray whites and blacks with the multifaceted personalities that we find in real life. Lily is not a racist in the same way that the group of men that harass Rosaleen are racist, but she does evidence some prejudice and stereotypes at the start of the novel. She assumes that all African Americans are like Rosaleen, an neducated laborer-turned-housekeeper.
Lily imagines that all African Americans are likewise coarse and uneducated. But when Lily encounters unique, educated, thoughtful August Boatwright, she must change her assumptions and combat her prejudice. At first, Lily feels shocked that a black person could be as smart, sensitive, and creative as August. Recognizing and combating her shock allows Lily to realize the truth about the arbitrariness and irrationality of racism. Like Lily, June must also learn to overcome racial stereotypes. As individuals, humans can display a complex rray of personality traits and characteristics, regardless of skin color or ethnicity.
Later, when she begins to develop romantic feelings for Zach, Lily encounters her own subtle prejudice. Zach is a charming, handsome, African American young man. As a child in Sylvan, Lily learned racism from other children at school. She was taught that black boys could not possibly be handsome, because the features of their faces were so different from those of white boys. When she realizes that this is not the case with Zach, she feels self-righteous, as if she has discovered something that the gnorant kids at her old school had missed.
But she also realizes that her thought processes had been irrational and racist. As if to combat these tendencies, Lily naively ignores the social problems that her love for Zach might cause, even as Zach realizes that they probably can never be together in the racist South of that time. For different reasons, both Lily and Zach understand that racism, while irrational, has actual harmful effects. Nevertheless, both will work together to combat the irrationality of racism through feelings and deeds.