It’s not about the book or it being part of curricula; it’s about who’s putting their spin on both.
Yes, it [the responsibility to facilitate discussion of race/racism/justice, using books such as “To Kill a Mockingbird”] can’t all fall on the teachers. OF COURSE, it shouldn’t. But I also shouldn’t have to undo damage done by an insensitive, unthinking clod, or a flat-out racist. My kid’s psyche means more than trusting that some teacher “means well” despite the fact that they apparently don’t know their ass from their elbow. Teachers need to be better. At everything. They HAVE to be held to sky-high standards because they’re responsible for young minds. If a pediatrician was as bad as some teachers are, they’d be in prison for manslaughter, or outright murder, for the destruction someone with too much power and not enough brains, heart, or insight can do.
Not all on teachers, no, but I’m not down for undoing damage I didn’t even inflict.
And like[other commenter] said, whether it’s conscious or not, self-aware or not, meant or not, racism is racism. Ignorance doesn’t excuse the breaking of laws nor except one’s responsibility for one’s actions or words. Nor the effect those things have on others. What is intended means nothing. Intent can’t be quantified the way OUTCOME can.
“What’s more, a teacher may not even realize the shortcomings of such a book.”
That may not be their fault, but it’s certainly not their students’ faults, either. Teachers, like EVERYONE, need to take responsibility and power for their shortcomings and correct them. I can’t do that for another adult and shouldn’t have to. Vigilance. Complacency and certainty, to the point of arrogance and blindness to one’s own flaws, is a common human failing. Teacher, doctor, cop, whatever. Only that individual can be responsible for self-improvement. No one should see themselves as beyond improvement. Vigilance. Just like things and people can always be worse, they can ALWAYS be better. Especially these days.
“That doesn’t make him/her a racist.”
Yes, it does. Just not a self-aware one. Not one with the courage of their, ahem, convictions. The world is full of half-assed Nazis and racists. People who are unaware how horrible their closest, least-questioned beliefs are. How harmful and deeply entrenched. But ignorance doesn’t excuse that. And I DO NOT excuse that. I’m not perfect, but I’ll swallow my pride and cop to wrong-doing/wrong-thinking if someone calls me on it when I don’t catch it myself. But some people don’t even have that baseline decency to say: “What if I’m wrong? What if my beliefs, speech, and actions are harmful to entire segments of society?” There are racists and bigots who are UNAWARE that they are. But though their racism is to a different degree than that of marching Klansmen, the ONLY difference is in degree/conviction. They’re still racists, still awful, still wrong. Even if it’s relatively so, they’re still all those things. And even “relative” racism is dangerous and evil.
Apes don’t stop being primates because they don’t know they’re primates. They’re just ignorant and unaware primates.
“It’s the duty of those that do to speak out and come up with solutions.”
It always is. Because the ignorant and evil certainly aren’t. But they’ll fight us every step of the way. Even those well-meaning ones, who think they’re not racist. They’re the most dangerous of all because they’re STEALTH. One can’t see them coming as easily. One can be blindsided by their prejudice. I’ve had that happen a LOT. Surprise-racists are the worst of all. They look just like friends. No convenient hoods or swastikas to make the recognition faster. And I don’t want THEM teaching any kids. ANY kids. That’s not a compromise my conscience could tolerate, or my instinct to protect my kids and other helpless kids who don’t deserve that can tolerate. Nor should it. NO ONE should settle for a “lesser” evil. Because “lesser” is still evil. And it’s a slippery slope. Seriously, even a well-meaning racist can do SO MUCH FREAKING DAMAGE to a child of color. Just incidentally, never mind with TKAM or another “sensitive” bit of material at their disposal. Experience has made it difficult for me to trust non-POCs and non-black people to handle discussions and teachings on racism in which black students must partake. For many reasons. But the biggest, the well-spring of that distrust is well-meaning racists and their proliferation. And the “well” that these racists mean? Isn’t for children of my complexion.
“Banning books in any fashion is not a solution. It’s merely a band aid. Kids are going to run into all kinds of social injustices, hiding them from them isn’t going to help them think any more critically.”
I’m not saying hide or keep from. One CAN’T keep that stuff from kids of color. We feel it everyday of our childhoods, some of us. We are never unaware of racism and social injustice. It’s water and we’re fish. We know it. We recognize it. And often times, non-POCs unintentionally gaslight our experiences (“Are you SURE it was a racial-thing?”). So, would I rather my (imaginary) kid never reads TKAM as part of a CURRICULUM, than be indoctrinated with the-fuck-knows-what-garbage from some well-meaning racist?
YES, I WOULD. VERY MUCH SO. ALL OF THAT, PLEASE!
Black parents have ALWAYS taught their kids more about their own history than public schools do, anyway. As far as most of history and public schools are concerned, black people were slaves and are burdens. End of story. If POCs want their kids to know anything beyond that, we have to be professors of black history to our kids, and the kids of our nearest and dearest. So, we’re entirely used to educating our kids about what their forebears have faced and what they will likely face. And their kids. And THEIR kids. The loss of a well-written novel about how a small white child observes the racism around her and what it does to black people is no real loss to POCs, beyond a decent novel. (And we’ll ALL die having missed out on a THOUSAND decent novels, some of which will be far better than TKAM, even.) I can hear firsthand accounts of far worse racism than in TKAM from my older relatives. I don’t need fiction to inform me or to help me inform my kid. Life will do that well before they’re in middle school, or whenever TKAM is generally read. It’s not a novel necessary to inform BLACK people of what blackness and racism mean, and is not meant as such.
POCs aren’t the ones who lose out when a curriculum excludes that novel. But we ARE the ones who lose out when its introduced by a teacher who may not know what they’re talking about when it comes to racial issues. Who may not be sensitive enough to admit that and LEARN what they don’t know. So, in a very real and practical sense, for BLACK kids, TKAM is no loss at all. Not as social commentary and informative history. If one has no other experience with the losing side of racism, though, I can see where it would be integral to broadening horizons and perhaps . . . strengthening empathy? I dunno. I’ve never read it as anything other than a person of color and nothing in the novel was eye-opening or new to me because I’d heard the stories before. (Heard how, a few years before I was born, my uncle got chased through Bensonhurst one evening, by a gang of white kids looking to do him some damage or worse. Just for Walking Through Bensonhurst While Black . . . which is STILL, even now, NOT a thing I would recommend for young black men to do if they want to become old black men.) And even recently, two months ago, an eight year old got lynched in New Hampshire and nearly died. You can bet black parents are telling their kids their history. And telling it from the INSIDE. All the stories and anecdotes and observations that are really warnings to keep those kids safe and alive and strong. TKAM isn’t a wake-up call for BLACK people. By middle school, I’d already had some small, but bitter tastes of the kind of prejudice that led to that sort of hideous outcome — the death of an innocent due to skin color. It’s neither shocking nor unprecedented, nor “sensitive” for black children. It’s their history and their life. MY history and life, and POCs, even children, have never needed Harper Lee to tell it to them, nor did we ever need an uninformed teacher to show us how to feel about it. When teachers step up their game, I won’t say peep against states putting TKAM on their school curricula. But the improvement has to be sweeping and system-wide, or it means nothing. Literally nothing.