A Mississippi school district’s decision to ban the classic because it causes discomfort shows they don’t understand the purpose of teaching literature
NOTE: THE VIEWS AND OPINIONS EXPRESSED HERE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND SHOULD NOT BE ASSUMED TO REFLECT THE VIEWS OF DEEP SOUTH VOICE OR ITS AFFILIATES.
In a spectacularly boneheaded move, the Biloxi School Board pulled American classic To Kill a Mockingbird from its 8th grade curriculum because, according to School Board Vice President Kenny Holloway, “There were complaints about it” and “There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable.” Well, thank you, Mississippi education system, for noticing that issues relating to racial inequality can be ‘uncomfortable.’
Perhaps, had author Harper Lee known that a story about a black man being murdered after being falsely accused of raping a white woman would cause discomfort, she would’ve ditched the effort altogether. Alas, it took 57 years and the wisdom of the Biloxi School Board for this injustice to be resolved.
In making the announcement, Holloway said of Mockingbird’s lessons on racism, “We can teach the same lesson with other books.”
Sure, there are other books that can teach the same lessons – but such books would cause equal or worse discomfort than Mockingbird. Presumably, none of those books would make the cut, either.
The Biloxi School Board seems to think that a more “sanitized” approach to racism would be better suited towards helping kids understand it. But to sanitize racism is to insult and belittle those who suffered and those who still suffer from it. Worse, it inflicts further injury by blinding us to the harsh realities of systemic racism and allowing us to believe that we are not complicit. Racism is something only bad people do, right?
The suggestion that the racial lessons taught in To Kill a Mockingbird can somehow be replicated in a way that doesn’t cause discomfort is not dissimilar from the suggestion that football players with a passion for social justice could make just a strong of a statement if they chose to kneel some time other than during the national anthem – as if kneeling during the halftime performance would even garner our notice. We take note of those protests precisely because they make us uncomfortable.
If we want the next generation to take note of the lessons of racism, we have to make them uncomfortable, too. The last thing we need is another generation that melts down like snowflakes in a jacuzzi every time a football player kneels or a department store worker offers a generic holiday greeting.