Movie Still of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ © Universal Studios
The classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird has been removed from the curriculum in a Mississippi school district because its language makes people “uncomfortable,” authorities say. Critics accuse the school board of a confounding level of censorship.
The 1960 novel by Harper Lee deals with racism in the American south, as a black man is accused of rape in a small Alabama town in the 1930s. He is defended by lawyer Atticus Finch, played by Gregory Peck in the 1962 film adaptation.
“There were complaints about it. There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable, and we can teach the same lesson with other books,” Kenny Holloway, vice president of the Biloxi School Board, told the Sun Herald. “It’s still in our library. But they’re going to use another book in the 8th grade course.”
The novel includes frequent use of the word ‘nigger,’ and has caused controversy in the past for its “offensive language” and “racism,” according to the American Library Association.
The book was taught in 8th grade English classes, and the Biloxi School District website lists it as a key text, noting its message that “compassion and empathy are not dependent upon race or education” and its depiction of historic eras such as the Great Depression and the Jim Crow laws.
The move did not sit well with some people, claiming the ruling resembles censorship.
“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,” a reader wrote to the Sun Herald in an email. “It would be difficult to find a time when it was more relevant than in days like these.”
Some people on social media say that getting rid of the book because it causes offense entirely misses the point.
“Thats the point of the f*cking book,” wrote Twitter user Atticus Goldfinch, taking his name from the hero in Harper’s novel.
“Teach only ‘comfortable’ books about racism in America, and you get students raised to be comfortable with racism,” added another person.
Others pointed out that the book is as relevant as ever with the ongoing racial tensions in the United States, with one noting that while the book was being withdrawn by authorities, far-right marches have not been.
This is not the first time the classic novel has been taken off the syllabus for its use of racial slurs. In fact, it has been on the American Library Association’s Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books since 1990.
Last year, it again caused controversy when it was banned from a Virginia school along with another famous work of American literature, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for much the same reasons.
Harper Lee herself died last year at the age of 89, only a few months after her sequel to Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman, was published.