Banning To Kill A Mockingbird From Schools is Racist, not Anti-Racist – Conservative Article
To Kill A Mockingbird, the 1960 book written by Harper Lee, has been taught in schools for decades since its publication. The text explores the narrative of a Black man in Alabama who undergoes a false accusation of rape. Atticus Finch, a white lawyer defends his case. Thus, making the text well known for its discussions of racial justice in America. Lee’s text has been taught in the GCSE syllabus for years. And has become an incredibly famous text all over the world. In a bid to decolonise the curriculum, however, there are discussions surrounding the removal of the book from schools, amongst others such as Of Mice and Men.
James Gillespie’s High School in Edinburgh is at the forefront of this discussion. Allan Crosbie, the Head of English at the school is tackling the “white saviour” narrative of the text in his attempt to remove it from the curriculum. Crosbie states that “Their lead characters are not people of colour. The representation of people of colour is dated. The use of the N-word and the use of the white saviour motif in Mockingbird – these have led us as a department to decide that these really are not texts we want to be teaching third year anymore.”
On top of removing texts such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men from the syllabus, there are proposals to teach literature from a range of experiences and viewpoints. Ultimately, tackling the Western-centric canon of literature is at the core of the current curriculum. Angie Thomas’ 2009 book The Hate U Give has been one of the texts discussed in reshaping the “colonised” curriculum. The book was “written in response to the shooting of Oscar Grant in 2009.”
There are clear benefits to a restructure of the English Literature curriculum in the U.K. Teaching a range of texts that focus on various aspects of our racist past and present can help teach the nuances of the subject in a way that has never been taught in schools before. We could use this opportunity to move away from a denial of a racist history. Instead teaching the realities and varieties of experiences of racism through literature.
Equally, we cannot, nor should we use this possible restructure as a way to erase our racist history through the removal of books such as To Kill A Mockingbird. To remove a text due to its “white saviour” narrative is to simply deny our part in creating such narratives, contributing further to racism itself. Texts such as Lee’s book frame integral parts of our racist history. Parts that we must not forget if we are to be actively anti-racist.
Ministers have questioned the decision to ban the books in the process of decolonising the curriculum, stating that we should “educate, not dictate”, of which I completely agree with. It seems much more beneficial to keep this literature in the curriculum. Instead, highlighting the racist roots of the motif of the “white saviour” narrative. This would educate students in the nuances of our racist past and present. Thus, challenging deeply rooted attitudes of racism that are ingrained in our society.
Stephen Kelly, a headteacher at Liberton High in Edinburgh touches on the importance of education. He states that teaching should be more about “developing an anti-racist culture”, rather than simply banning books. Teaching students about the problematic idea of the white hero seems significantly more anti-racist to me. In comparison to just eradicating the text from the curriculum altogether.
In the pursuit of being actively anti-racist, those who are campainging to remove Harper Lee’s text are really just continuing these ideas of white-greatness that pervade our racist past and present. Literature like Lee’s should be taught alongside more current literature such as Thomas’. Only then would students would receive a much more well-rounded understanding. They’d understand how racism fits into our culture and how we can tackle it in our current society.
Censorship never has a positive outcome. And censoring such a pivotal text in our education of racial justice seems foolish to me.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Rebecca Selt
Point of Information
Amplifying black voices and experiences is not racist – A Labour Response
I’d like to start this response by recommending a blog post that succinctly and efficiently covers this topic from a relative position of expertise and experience as a secondary school English teacher in Scotland and an academic background of racial dialogue and education.
Studying To Kill A Mockingbird at GCSE made a huge impression on me. I cannot deny its introductive capabilities and social commentary. However, it wasn’t until I started researching this response that I fully became aware of its flaws. I am well-versed in critiquing viewpoints and challenging narratives as part of my A-Levels, undergrad, and masters. Whilst GCSE content has definitely improved in that time. It’s quite telling and shameful that it’s taken this long for me to be critical of this book.
My first point is that, contrary to sensationalist media coverage, the book is not being banned. It is being removed from the curriculum to create space for other more intersectional and amplifying texts to be explored. Crosbie has stated that the book will still be available at school.
Secondly, I agree with Rebecca that our school curriculums do need to change. They need to be drastically re-shifted and modified to reflect reality and history. However, to be effective, they need to be radical.
To Kill A Mockingbird is problematic. Firstly, the dehumanisation of black people throughout; Tom Robinson barely gets any lines, he is a largely silent and passive victim whose experiences, thoughts, and feelings are seen through white eyes. Likewise, the Black community are described as speaking “funny” and there is little coverage of the impact these events have on them and the collective trauma that these and other events cause.
Undoubtedly, the white saviour narrative needs to be tackled and acknowledged. However, the problem with it is that it makes discussions of race more digestible and comfortable to white audiences as it assuages guilt and prioritises white feelings over Black experiences. Surely this is best tackled through comparison to a truer representation of events and experiences? This can only be provided from a black perspective and enables one to see white savourisms flaws.
My other problem with presenting these books as representative of “our racist history” is that they are American and too easily fit into the common rhetoric that racism is confined to the U.S. and that Britain is innocent.
No one protested this much in 2014 when Gove banned American literature (specifically To Kill A Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men) to make room for more British literature. It’s only now that “woke” ‘snowflakes’ want to reshuffle the curriculum that it becomes a problem.
Whilst To Kill A Mockingbird had a big impact on me and my understanding of racism, I’d like to include some other books that had an even more profound impact on me, many of which I read at a similar age as To Kill A Mockingbird. These however, were written by Black authors and therefore elevate and prioritise black voices when talking about their own experiences.
Firstly, Noughts & Crosses which has now entered the curriculum and approaches Britain’s racist history in a dystopian setting where Black and white roles in society are reversed. Secondly, The Colour Purple which tackles racism, sexism, misogynoir, queerness, and self-empowerment in the U.S. And finally, Girl, Woman, Other, a collection of inter-woven short stories which provide insight into a dozen black women’s lives growing up, dealing with racism, classism, sexism, cultural clashes, and queerness in Britain.
Other widely acclaimed novels which I have not yet read include Rainbow Milk, the story of a young black man tackling queerness and racism in Britain in the 1950s and Queenie, which covers mental health, culture, class, and consent in Britain.
Whilst To Kill A Mockingbird was undoubtedly an important contribution to this literature when it was written, there are so many other, more representative pieces out there that can build on it and improve our anti-racist education.
Written by Senior Labour Writer, Zoë Olsen-Groome
So Many Books, So Little Time; Other books can do the job better than To Kill a Mockingbird – A Liberal Response
I agree with Zoe on many of the issues presented in this debate. While I understand Rebecca’s perception of this removal as erasure, in the context of how secondary school English Literature teaches. I think that other books can teach the desired lessons in a more digestible way to a young audience. Secondary school English did not often seem to take a book and say “here is what is wrong with it”, and “here are the problematic concepts surrounding it”. There was far more focus on symbolism and language analysis at this level. So often the book would not be scrutinised to teach about white saviour complexes anyway.
The To Kill a Mockingbird debate, to me, feels like the convergence of two issues to create a storm. Firstly the issue of updating the curriculum. Sometimes books have outstayed their welcome on our reading lists, due to age, relevance, or other characteristics. And secondly, the issue of ‘woke’ and decolonisation and significant conversations surrounding what we should or should not be teaching.
One of the key aspects of teaching literature to children in schools is to try and instill a love of reading. Some books might not fit this purpose any more. It could be beneficial if Lee’s novel was substituted for a more modern book. A book that might enable a broader discussion of racial justice in classrooms. Rather than one solely from the white perspective in TKAMB.
For example, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas would bring forth discussions of police brutality and more modern issues of racial justice. Some of Zoe’s other examples would also underpin important conversations. There is only so much time in the school year to teach a certain number of books. If children are first taught a more modern book on these issues, perhaps they would be better equipped to read TKAMB in their own time. And ultimately see the issues in the white saviour complex of the novel.
I disagree with Rebecca that removing the book would be racist in itself. As long as it is replaced by another book that tackles racial justice. If it was being swapped out for yet another book by a straight white man then it’s a problem. But to remove it in favour of another book that might better educate and better instil a passion for literature, is less pernicious than it is made out to be.
Written by Junior Liberal Writer, Emma Hall