A Virginia school district has “temporarily” banned the classics, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, after a parent complained that her high school-aged son was traumatized by racial slurs used in the books.
The parent, whose son is bi-racial, told school administrators that the two tomes’ use of racial slurs was “excessive,” and that she questioned their literary value. She also felt that teenagers weren’t mature enough to put the terms in context, or see the historical value of either of the works. She said her son’s racial heritage had no basis on her complaint.
“I keep hearing, ‘This is a classic, This is a classic,’ … I understand this is a literature classic. But at some point, I feel that children will not — or do not — truly get the classic part — the literature part, which I’m not disputing,” she told a school board meeting in November. “This is great literature. But there are racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can’t get past that.”
She said that, “There is other literature they can use.”
The school board pulled both books pending a meeting where they will fully review the materials, decide whether they should be permanently banned, and make a corresponding recommendation to the school superintendent.
Racial slurs appear around 200 times in Huckleberry Finn, a tale about a boy and an escaped slave rafting down the Mississippi River in the early 19th century, long revered for its insight into the culture of the Deep South ahead of the Civil War. Slurs appear around 50 times in To Kill a Mockingbird, another classic devoted to exploring race relations in the era before Civil Rights, through the lens of an early 20th century criminal trial.
The parent making the complaint proposed that a multi-cultural committee of teachers, administrators, librarians and caregivers be convened, in order to compile a list of “inclusive” works suitable for the classroom.
Hundreds of books are challenged every year in school districts across the country, and no single political ideology seems to have a monopoly on complaints. Harry Potter, the Bible, Of Mice and Men, The Catcher in the Rye, Fifty Shades of Grey, and even Fahrenheit 451, a book about banning books, have all earned a spot at the top of “Banned Book” lists.