Why are books about people that don’t look like you threatening?
Listen to the audio version here.
This is dedicated to the (hopefully) small sub-set of parents screaming at school board meetings that the current version of U.S. history is “uncomfortable,” diversity is Satan’s work, and white kids shouldn’t be made to “feel bad.”
I folded my legs under that desk-chair hybrid thingy like a teenage flamingo, mechanical pencil poised to take notes, as a sing-songy voice said, “Welcome parents to ninth grade English! I am so excited that our first unit is an exploration of To Kill A Mockingbird. We’ll be studying it for the next eight weeks. It’s one of my favorite books.”
Losartan addled blood pooled in my feet. To Kill A Mockingbird? Are you serious? Eight entire weeks? Why?
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee is widely considered a classic of American literature. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961. It is one of the most read books about race in America and is assigned reading in many Junior and Senior High Schools.
The story of racial inequality, injustice and class is told through the eyes of a white child about the trial in 1933 Alabama of a Black man accused of raping a white woman. This hard-working Black man tries to do a good deed for a white woman that he feels sorry for and, spoiler alert, he ends up dead for it.
Just some light reading about racial inequality, rape, intolerance and Black people dying for no reason. N’est pas? Why would any ninth grader want to read this? How about the Twilight trilogy? Sweet Valley High? Anything else?
The novel is not universally praised. Author Roxane Gay criticized it in a New York Times book review. Gay is ambivalent to the story because, “I don’t need to read about a young white girl understanding the perniciousness of racism to actually understand the perniciousness of racism. I have ample first hand experience.” And she notes that “the n-word is used liberally throughout.”