"To Kill A Mockingbird" has recently been removed from a reading list in a Mississippi school district. (example article)

On Twitter, I've come across US conservatives blaming US liberals and vice versa. Conservatives sometimes claim that liberals are over-reacting to the use of an anti-African-American epithet, while liberals sometimes claim that conservatives dislike the book because of its anti-racism message.

What is the political orientation of those who've removed TKAM from reading lists, removed it from libraries, or made successful or almost successful (e.g. initially successful but then reversed) requests for the book to be removed from reading lists or libraries (as opposed to someone merely trolling people and getting ignored)? Failing instances of TKAM, other books that have been removed with similar rationales (e.g. Huckleberry Finn) would be useful.

  • Are you asking about the particular case in Biloxi, or in general?
    – James K
    Oct 15 '17 at 11:31
  • The former would be good, but if it's not possible, the latter. Oct 15 '17 at 11:54
  • 8
    I think banning and removing from a school reading list are two different things.
    – ugoren
    Oct 15 '17 at 13:10
  • a) the book wasn't banned b) I can't find any article that makes any inference as to any specific complaint let alone political orientations. I think the only answer would be pure speculation.
    – user1530
    Oct 15 '17 at 19:39
  • @ugoren "banned" was only used in the title because it was more concise than the alternatives. Oct 15 '17 at 20:05

A brief bit of context: In the USA a "School board" is a body that gives oversight to typically one High school, and its feeder elementary schools. There are two school districts in Biloxi (a town of about 45000 people). A school board is a rather local level of administration.

According to the representative of the school board, the decision not to use "To Kill a Mockingbird" was taken at by the English department in Biloxi Junior High, and was not voted on by the board. It was taken following complaints about the use of the word "nigger" in the book. We will not know the identities or opinions of those parents making complaints.

This being the case, the decision was made by the teachers in Biloxi JHS, we will not know their political affiliations. It is notable that the English faculty continues to list TKAM on their website and describes the book as "one of my favorite books and arguably one of the best books ever written".

To Kill a Mockingbird is listed as #4 on a list prepared by the American Library Association, of "Banned & Challenged Classics". It was "removed from the St. Edmund Campion Secondary School classrooms in Brampton, Ontario, Canada (2009) because a parent objected to language used in the novel, including the word 'nigger.'" However it was "retained in the English curriculum by the Cherry Hill, N.J. Board of Education (2007). A resident had objected to the novel’s depiction of how blacks are treated [...]. The resident feared the book would upset black children reading it."

The reason given for challenges to the book generally relate to the language used in the book or the depiction of racist people, not its overall anti-racist message.

  • So it's mostly left-wing people, who consider the book is racist or tolerant towards racism?
    – ugoren
    Oct 15 '17 at 19:10
  • 5
    We don't know that. It is mostly people who object to the language used in the book, or the depictions of racism, perhaps they are concerned that the presence of such language normalises it. It is a very minority opinion. Most people consider the book to be a classic, and part of the canon of American literature.
    – James K
    Oct 15 '17 at 19:26
  • 2
    I mean, within the minority that objects to it, are most of the claims that it supports racism (i.e. liberal objection) , or that it falsely displays American society as racist (i.e. conservative objection)? I think this is the center of the original question.
    – ugoren
    Oct 15 '17 at 19:35
  • @ugoren we don't know. All we know was that there were complaints. We can only speculate.
    – user1530
    Oct 15 '17 at 19:38
  • 3
    Sounds like the article boiled down to click bait. One school in one district. Pig Flu all over again. The only thing left is if there was any chicanery in amplifying this outlier or just "We need ratings" Oct 15 '17 at 20:03

First note that, as others have said, removing a book from a required reading list is entirely different from banning it. Nor can we know why it was removed from that particular school reading list unless the people responsible for removing it have stated their reasons. If they have (and you believe them) the question is trivially answered, and there's no point to discussing it here. If you don't, we have to speculate.

Perhaps we can approach an answer by asking why that particular book (or any book, really) should be on so many other high school reading lists. Could it be because many of the people responsible for those lists liked the socio-political ideas it expresses? It surely, at least from my memories of high school English, can't be because of any inherent literary merit, or appeal to the typical teenaged mind*. I recall it as boring & tedious (though not nearly as bad as that other favorite of English lit, "Catcher in the Rye"), yet it was required reading in my high school English class, less than a decade after its publication. It evidently remains there, while other books of far more lasting popularity (and IMHO much more interest) from the same period are ignored.

So why do some books that aren't) of obvious (at least to me) interest to most high school students placed on reading lists, and why are others of much greater interest (as judged by sales and/or library borrowings) ignored? Shouldn't at least one goal of English be to get kids to enjoy reading?

I suggest that a large part of the answer to both questions lies in the socio-political ideas expressed in the book. People who wanted it on reading lists starting in the 1960s essentially wanted to use it to spread an anti-racist message. People who try to remove it now seem largely to object to the language of the period as perpetuating racist attitudes. (As with the objections to "Huckleberry Finn".)

*Granted that I probably wasn't a typical teen, but my choice of reading matter back then included Heinlein, Tolkien, Stout, Christie, and pretty much all the non-fiction in the library. I read them because I liked them, not because it was a class requirement :-)

  • I'm not sure this answers the question. Are you implying that it was removed in the Biloxi case because it was felt to lack sufficient artistic merit?
    – James K
    Oct 15 '17 at 18:58
  • 2
    My choice of reading matter is also Heinlein, Tolkien and Christie (I guess I should try Stout), but TKAM is, IMHO, a masterpiece. So I'd say its popularity is surely due to literary merit.
    – ugoren
    Oct 15 '17 at 19:01
  • "can't be because of any inherent literary merit" - doesn't that describe 80% of the reading list? :)
    – user4012
    Oct 15 '17 at 19:03
  • 1
    Your personal opinion of a book as 'being boring' does not make for a very objective answer--especially in light of the fact of the particular book we're talking about which, needless to say, has a few fans that disagree with you
    – user1530
    Oct 15 '17 at 19:40
  • 1
    @blip I literally had to double check which site this is on, with all the skeptical comments on all answers. This isn't Skeptics, even if it should be....
    – Wildcard
    Oct 17 '17 at 12:35

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