As further evidence that the United States is descending into an authoritarian state, a school district in Mississippi has removed Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird from a junior high school reading list.
Biloxi, Miss., administrators pulled the novel from the eighth-grade curriculum this week after getting complaints from parents. The decision made was an administrative one, and not something on which the school board voted, according to the Sun Herald.
The Herald reports that school board Vice President Kenny Holloway says the district received complaints that some of the book’s language “makes people uncomfortable.”
However, one reader of the Herald called the decision “censorship,” saying: “I think it is one of the most disturbing examples of censorship I have ever heard, in that the themes in the story humanize all people regardless of their social status, education level, intellect, and of course, race. It would be difficult to find a time when it was more relevant than in days like these.”
The novel was to help teens understand empathy, part of their curriculum for the year.
Told through the eyes of a precocious little girl, To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The literary classic was Lee’s only published book during her lifetime, though a second book, Go Set a Watchman, a continuation of sorts of Mockingbird, was released after her death.
Loosely autobiographical, the plot of Mockingbird deals with an innocent black man accused of rape in a small Alabama town. Lee said that she loosely based the book on an event that happened near her hometown of Monroeville, Ala., in the 1930s, when she was a child.
The book remains in Biloxi school libraries.
Full disclosure: I was once one of those bitching parents. I actually complained when The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain was taught in my daughter’s ninth-grade class and the teacher allowed students to read it verbatim—that is, to use the word “nigger” in a class where she was the only black student. I complained both to the principal and to the teacher.
I thought this particular English teacher’s decision was the height of insensitivity, even bordering on violence. Of course, some smart-ass chose to use the word in class. Ha. Teachers who taught the book in other sections chose to either use “the n-word” or not to read the word aloud at all, but the fact that this teacher explicitly stated that students could use the word was, in my mind, an act of aggression toward my child.
Of course, the teacher said that the book was “part of history” and an “American classic.” I guess he deemed himself a purist. But I deemed him a racist and thoughtless.
And no, reading about the history of the South’s documented history of racial violence through its farce of a judicial system is not equivalent to repeatedly hearing the word “nigger” in class. (The character Huck Finn uses the word 219 times. In To Kill a Mockingbird, the word is used maybe two or three times.)
I didn’t want the book not to be used, or to be banned, but I wanted educators to consider its effect on black students, especially “the only ones.”
But I guess white parents are always right in Mississippi. I was just a black woman in New York City.
Read more at the Sun Herald.