Earlier this month a public school in Biloxi, Mississippi, pulled “To Kill a Mockingbird” from their eighth grade reading list. This is not the first time that Harper Lee’s 1960 novel has been banned from schools–in some cases the actual copies of the book have even been removed from the libraries. The school’s reasoning behind this decision is that the content of the book “makes people uncomfortable.” Not only is this argument vague, but it does not justify the removal of the text from the syllabus; this is just one of the many examples in the very long tradition of banning books that talk about “uncomfortable” social issues, specifically racial issues. For a country that claims to strongly defend freedom of speech, this is a very weird move. Then again, I am not really surprised.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” narrates the story of a black man being falsely accused of rape and the white lawyer that agrees to defend him. For many years, this book has been used to challenge the way we think about racial justice. It would be unfair to say that “To Kill a Mockingbird” is the best and only book schools can use to talk about racism. After all, it is written by a white author, from a white perspective and somewhat falls into the stereotype of the white saviour; however, removing it from reading lists is not the way to go. Ultimately, Lee’s novel is about the consequences of racial prejudice and sends the message that we all should respect one another, it invites the reader to consider other people’s points of view. If this makes you uncomfortable then you are exactly the person that should be reading the book.
This school’s decision comes at an interesting time in U.S. history. After the Charlottesville rally in August, there was a large number of people that advocated for the white supremacists’ right to express themselves, even after a woman was murdered and people were beaten. Somehow, these very same people forgot about the fact that black people have the right to protest peacefully against police brutality, leading to the news being plagued with people condemning NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem. News anchors and even the president criticize the protesters, saying they are disrespecting the flag and the troops, even though the flag is supposed to symbolize the freedom of this country, including the freedom of speech and the freedom to protest. It is clear that people only care about freedom of speech when it suits them.
Graphic by Caroline Polich.