Should Books Containing The N-Word Be Banned?

The Virginia school system has banned To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn because they contain the N-Word.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

The decision to remove “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain and “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee came after a parent filed a complaint, WAVY reported. The parent cited excessive racial slurs as the reason for wanting the books banned, Superintendent Warren Holland told the news station.
 
The parent, whose son is biracial, said that her concerns are “not even just a black and white thing.”
 
“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 said at a Nov. 15 school board meeting. “This is great literature. But there (are so many) racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can’t get past that.”
 
The parent said her son, who was reading “Huckleberry Finn” for a high school assignment, couldn’t get past a certain page in that story on which the N-word appeared seven times. 
 
A racial slur appears 219 times in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and 48 times in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
 
“So what are we teaching our children? We’re validating that these words are acceptable, and they are not acceptable by (any) means,” the parent said, also noting psychological effects language has on children. “There is other literature they can use.”
There are the facts of the story.
Here’s an opinion video you might find interesting as well.

It is important to note that some Accomack residents were not in favor of the ban, saying such a policy presents a dangerous slippery slope when it comes to literature in education.

“I don’t want to see it happen because if you start with one racial word in a book and have to go on and on and on and pretty soon you’ll be burning books left and right,” R. Kellam told WAVY.

And another parent, Catherine Glaser, who has children who will go through the Virginia school system, said, “Everybody’s read it. … It didn’t change a difference in my views at all. I’d like my son to read those books. … My daughter’s mixed, and I don’t have a problem with it. I love those books.”

So where do you come out on this debate? Should the books be banned or do you think they should remain a part of the school curriculum?

Personally, I’m against censorship, and I agree with most of what the video commentator said above. I think this is a slippery slope and once you start banning books for one thing, that sets a precedent to keep doing it for other books people might consider offensive.

In my opinion, this is another case of insane PC’ism striking again.

If you agree, why? If not, feel free to make your case in the comment section.

 

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41 Comments

  1. one word: context.

    There is a world of difference between Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, and a neo nazi rant.
    There is a world of difference between To Kill a Mockingbird and what it entails and why, and some two bit southern mayor raving about nigras in the school.

    The value of these books is not only the story and the authors, but a wonderful opportunity for teachers (and parents) to open the doors to a discussion of why those words WERE used, and how our perceptions of them have changed.

    • All great points, Judy. It’s like we try to wrap people in bubble wrap so the real world can’t intrude because it might hurt their feels.

      Another danger is that if we don’t come to terms with this being a fact of life at one time, and we continue to pretend it didn’t happen, we also face the very real possibility that history will repeat itself.

      • Yes, good point. The use of such a word was historically common and kids need to be taught that. If it is hidden from history, just as you said, it may be repeated. That is the purpose of history, to learn from our past mistakes (as well as the things we got right). If a child (teen?) says they are upset by the use of so many words in one page that means they already know it is a prejudicial word anyway, and it is a chance for the parent to explain why they are there, or if the parent isn’t capable, the student can ask the teacher about it, a good chance for some education – exactly why the book is on the school list.

  2. If these parents actually have read To Kill A Mockingbird, then they never understood it. The whole message behind that book is anti racism, so to ban it because it uses racist language – and by assumption is racist – shows an unbelievable amount of ignorance. Or is it actually a racist cover to actually have banned one of the best ways to teach children about the negative affect of racism? Surely if you want to teach your kids about racism, then To Kill a Mockingbird would be one of the best ways to.

  3. I dont think they object to the books, they object to A Word being used. I suspect a lot of them have never read the books in question, and are doing the knee jerk polka because someone told them a Bad Word was in the books.
    Im amazed no one has gone after Gone With the Wind…Or Roots.

    this happens every year, someone gets all shirty about a bad word in a book for chldren (who probably know more bad words than mom and dad by the age of ten) and it might harm them.

    There is a whole list of banned books online, and i suspect it does wonders for the sales of the books.

    And you’re right. To Kill a Mockingbird is a powerful book, and the movie really drives it home too.

  4. I really enjoyed Anthony’s points on this, GC. While I watched, he seemed to echo my thoughts as quickly as I had them.

    A few facts are missing from the news report, however. What age and grade is the child? Not completely relevant, mind you, but I’m wondering how a child was so seemingly traumatized (I’m paraphrasing) by the use of the N-word in those books? Does the reader not understand the concept of context yet? And if they don’t, then why are they reading such a sophisticated book as TKAM?

    Speaking from personal experience (and you know how I hate THAT word, haha!), I read TKAM and Huck Finn when I was around 8. I feel that the tenor of both of those books is ANTI racial injustice, and that was my take away from both. Again, my personal experience and I’m not trying to berate anyone else’s experience of the same.

    It would be nice to know exactly how a parent WAS able to accomplish this banning. Did they threaten litigation? lol.

    But regardless of anyone’s position on the N-word, I believe that the over-sheltering of children is NEVER good thing. I thought Anthony did a great job of pointing this out with his myriad of examples of how detrimental that can be. Mom and dad won’t be around to ban EVERYTHING in the world that might be upsetting….and if this is the pattern being established, then someone better call the WHHHHAAAAAAAAAmbualnce! Heh.

    I’m off to dreamland….dream sweetly, you.

    ~J

  5. Reading these books is a reflection of the goings on of the time. Why shy away from that?

    I’m not sure if banning everything we find offensive does anything to help move society forward? What’s next? Paintings? Films? Music?

    The beauty of any book is that if you find the connect objectionable you can stop reading it, that’s why I never finished 50 Shades or Harry Potter. Great post! 😊

  6. GC, it is interesting that you posted this right after your Censorship post. Hahaha. Was that intended? 😉

    I say not A or B, but C. In other words, the N-word — and all other highly-offensive-to-offensive words & language — should be edited or modified in literature to reflect the ‘proper’ social change. I am currently about 90% sure of this opinion. I am all for preserving factual history; propaganda and all its evil nurturing should be exposed for what it is, however, just removing a word out of literature, films, or social language will not be 100% effective. That must be done by parents, all educational institutions, and government by unified methods. And as I pointed out in your previous post, sensitive controversial social change on these levels MUST be done with stoic poised civil empathy. Otherwise, one is simply replacing one form of Elitism with another.

    • “GC, it is interesting that you posted this right after your Censorship post. Hahaha. Was that intended? ”

      Haha. No, actually. Just coincidence.

      “the N-word — and all other highly-offensive-to-offensive words & language — should be edited or modified in literature to reflect the ‘proper’ social change.”

      I highly disagree with that. That would infringe on intellectual works. The author’s likely wouldn’t agree either and it’s their work. I also don’t think you can hide the real world or historical context from people and have anything good come from it.

      But as a hypothetical, would you ban that word or have it replaced in all music as well? I large portion of music today contains the N-Word. Should the usage of that word be banned there as well?

      Regardless, thanks for your thoughts. Interesting as always. 🙂

  7. I wonder what would happen if they offered to ban these books so long as the Bible was banned as well. No, the Bible doesn’t use the N-word, but it delves into a large assortment of wholesome topics such as incest, polygamy, rape, genocide, suicide, homicide, bestiality, etc. Christians defend this with the argument that “it was a different time and culture,” but of course the same could be said in regards to classic literature.

      • “Sheltered” is a perfect word for this. I think that one of the greatest things about classic literature (any literature, really) is that it presents the reader with the ability to imagine a life that is nor his or her own. We look at people who travel the world and consider them well cultured. Literature provides a means of traveling, not just space, but time (figuratively, of course). We can teach kids the stats of history, but why would we pass up the opportunity to give them such wonderful depictions of how things really were?

        And I’m not even going to get into the crock that is the “war on Christmas.”

  8. I agree with Tyrone’s comment. I think these classic works of literature are a great way to teach history. And a good opportunity for a teacher to raise these issues in class – teachable moments.

    My kids read old comics like Superman and Tintin which have a very racist portrayal of non-white characters. My kids are old enough and intelligent enough to understand the historical context of those portrayals. They know it is not okay, by today’s standards. And so they can understand how history has shaped society today and how far we have come on issues of racial equality and there is still further to go. All while having fun reading comics!!

  9. [ Smiles ] Great! Another controversial topic that I can delve into!

    I understand the lady’s pain. She is not in favour of the “N” word.

    Now the biggest irony is, that some African Americans greet each other by using the “N” word.

    If you have ever listened to Rap music, or watched movies with African American actors and actresses, you would hear the “N” word being used regularly.

    To ban it in books and to allow it to run rampantly in movies and in music is somewhat hypocritical.

      • Glad to hear your take on it. I agree he would benefit and could learn quite a few things. I also agree that censorship in general is bad. I also would add I think the Virginia district is engaging in censorship. However, I do have some other thoughts to add. I would have less a problem with the woman’s position if she were making an argument for her son alone, similar to the atheist who doesn’t wish to read the Bible. I think there should be an option for her child if he really finds the content objectionable. Let me explain.

        One of the biggest issues that I haven’t seen anyone address is curriculum is arbitrary. For example, not every school district requires their 10th graders to study the Bible as literature. Mine certainly didn’t. The atheist student in the article above happened to be in a district that did require it. If he just happened to be in two towns away and in a different district perhaps he wouldn’t have even been required to read it and it would’ve been a non-issue. The problem is when you assign a single book as part of a curriculum and your grade depends on reading it, then you’re not really allowing students liberty to choose. I am particularly thinking of Tyron’s comment above:

        The beauty of any book is that if you find the connect[sic] objectionable you can stop reading it, that’s why I never finished 50 Shades or Harry Potter. Great post!

        This is fine when we’re talking about an individual picking up a book on their own time. Even in college you can pick and choose your courses to a certain extent. The problem, though, is a student in high school (ignoring that many won’t read the book anyway and just use Sparknotes) is that they are being required to finish the book, otherwise their grade will suffer. They don’t technically get the option to stop reading if they find material objectionable.

        The overall issue with censorship of this sort and where it crosses the line into censorship is the lady didn’t just request that her son be given another option, which I actually see as somewhat reasonable, but she is making a decision for other people!

  10. I graduated from the high school system about two years ago. In my time, I read both books (To Kill a Mockingbird in Freshman year and Huckleberry Finn as a Junior). I’m very fortunate to have been in a school who didn’t see things the way that parent did, because those books bring about more benefit than harm. As difficult as it may be for modern eyes to get passed that word, the word is used in this book for a reason — a good reason. The N-word isn’t being used for effect or shock value as many may falsely assume. It’s illustrating a time period and using it to push a message that is very positive: discrimination is wrong.
    I can go on about how much better off people will be for having these classic stories under their belt, but I’ll simply say that the intentions of the books should outweigh the books’ ability to offend. I say leave them be. It challenges modern readers to affirm why they think racism is wrong instead of just saying that’s how they think.

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