Please don’t kill this opportunity to talk about racism

Author Harper Lee, who wrote ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ has dinner at Radley’s Deli in Monroeville, Alabama, in 2001.
Author Harper Lee, who wrote ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ has dinner at Radley’s Deli in Monroeville, Alabama, in 2001. KRT File

Schoolchildren for decades have been assigned “To Kill a Mockingbird” in their English classes.

But one of the greatest works in American literature is no longer welcome in the Biloxi eighth-grade curriculum because it contains a single word that offends some parents.

We think.

The school district has been less than forthcoming with an explanation. Superintendent Arthur McMillan could not come up with a simple “yes” or “no” when asked if the book had been pulled, preferring instead to obfuscate. That’s disappointing in one of our community leaders.

The word in question is an ethnic slur directed at black people that is so offensive this newspaper does not put it in print. But it is a word that is used all too often elsewhere. And unfortunately, too many eighth-graders have heard it far too often. And racism, unfortunately is far too prevalent in our society.

Just as it was in the 1930s Alabama that Harper Lee wrote about.

As Lee said through her character Atticus Finch:

“Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a negro comes up is something I don’t pretend to understand.”

By removing “Mockingbird” Biloxi has missed a wonderful opportunity to have a frank discussion with their children why “reasonable people go stark raving mad.” Perhaps if we talked about race more there would be fewer people cavalierly tossing out hurtful racist language.

Acting as if race is no longer a factor in our society is part of the problem. Acting as if it is too difficult or offensive to talk about is part of the problem.

We have not, in fact, overcome racism.

The racists in our society must be confronted. They must not be allowed to assume our silence is acquiescence.

In the book, the Finch children, Scout and Jem, grow when they confront evil. They discover prejudice and overcome it. And that is because their father, Atticus, treats them maturely and guides them in the right direction.

The Biloxi school system should follow his example.

We hope the parents who objected have a change of heart, contact the school and ask the officials to put the book back in the curriculum. And, if they don’t, the school system should find an alternative for the offended children.

The majority of the students shouldn’t be forced to miss this opportunity for the sake of those offended. And if the school does not relent, we urge parents in Biloxi to introduce their children to this wonderful novel and answer what are apt to be some uncomfortable questions.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.