Biloxi Bans 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' Makes 37% Black Mississippi 'Uncomfortable'
Harper Lee’s classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” has made its way on yet another list of banned books because it makes people “uncomfortable.”
“To Kill a Mockingbird,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction the year after it was published, ranks as No. 21 of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books for 2000-2009, coming after other classics including Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (No. 6), “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison (No. 15) and “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker (No. 17).
The Mississippi-based Biloxi School District removed Lee’s critically acclaimed novel from its eighth-grade curriculum. Kenny Holloway, vice president of the district’s school board, told the Sun Herald there were “complaints about” the book, which is reportedly still in the school’s library.
“There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable, and we can teach the same lesson with other books,” Holloway said.
According to the school district’s website, one of the intended learning outcomes for including “To Kill a Mockingbird” in its eighth-grade English Language Arts curriculum is to “Demonstrate openness to divergent language, ideas, and opinions from a variety of cultural communities as expressed by mass media and literature.”
As suggested by one user on Twitter, “If ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ makes you uncomfortable, you should probably be reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.'”
Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has inspired discussions about race-related issues since its publication in 1960.
Lee’s iconic story explores themes of racism, rape, class, gender roles and inequality in the justice system, all through the eyes of a child, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch. Set in rural Alabama in the 1930s, the tale is based loosely on people and events Lee witnessed in her hometown during her own childhood.
Scout’s father, Atticus Finch, is a lawyer asked to represent a Black man accused of raping a white woman. Despite the physical and circumstantial evidence in favor of Tom Robinson, the accused, Atticus knows he has been thrust into a losing battle. He agrees to defend Robinson anyway, understanding the importance of the case and hoping to set a new precedent in a town plagued by inequality: that while people are not in fact born equal, the court is meant to serve the nation’s greatest equalizer, despite race, ability or socioeconomic status.
Robinson is found guilty of rape, proving what Atticus already knew to be true: his small Alabama town is not yet ready to view Black men as equal to white men, even under the eyes of the law.
The book’s themes still ring true today, nearly 60 years after its publication, as demonstrated by the killings of Black men by police officers who are not held accountable for their crimes.
Banning Lee’s classic novel is an attempt to silence a voice that brings to light important issues that are just as relevant today as when Lee’s book was first printed. Another way these racial inequalities are being brought to the forefront is through the national anthem protests NFL players are participating in, which many are also trying to silence.
Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began taking a knee during the national anthem last football season to draw attention to racial inequalities demonstrated in America’s criminal justice system. This season, Kaepernick has yet to be signed to a team despite leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012 and maintaining good stats. He filed a grievance against the NFL over the weekend, accusing the owners of the NFL teams of collusion.
Many other players joined Kaepernick’s silent protest this season, garnering praise from some but largely drawing criticism.
In a letter addressed to NFL team owners, Roger Goodell, the league’s commissioner, said that players should be standing during the national anthem, calling recent protests a “dispute” and “controversy” that has to be put to rest.
“We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players,” Goodell said.
In his analysis of the “controversy,” though, Goodell does not address what the players are really trying to draw attention to. Not once does he mention the word race in his statement.
Attempts to squash the protests have come all the way from the White House. President Donald Trump referred to the players protesting as “sons of bitches” and suggested they be fired. And Vice President Mike Pence, reportedly at the request of Trump, left an NFL game after players refused to stand for the anthem.