To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have been suspended from the curriculum in some Virginia schools, after a parent complained about the use of racial slurs.

Harper Lee and Mark Twain’s literary classics were removed from classrooms in Accomack County, in Virginia after a formal complaint was made by the mother of a biracial teenager. At the centre of the complaint was the use of the N-word, which appears frequently in both titles.

The woman who made the complaint said her son struggled to read the racist language, telling the Accomack County public schools board: “There’s so much racial slurs and defensive wording in there that you can’t get past that.” The challenge also appears to be motivated by the current political landscape in the US, as the mother told the board: “Right now, we are a nation divided as it is.”

As a committee has yet to discuss the future of the books, a permanent ban has not yet been placed on the two books. However, they have already been removed from classrooms in the district, a move the National Coalition Against Censorship described as “particularly egregious”. The NCAC slammed the action in a post on its Kids Right To Read website, writing: “By avoiding discussion of controversial issues such as racism, schools do a great disservice to their students.”

In a letter to be sent to the Virginia school board, the NCAC will point out that “each book enables readers to gain a historical understanding of race relations in America and invites them to examine race in the present day. Although discomforting to some, the racial slurs realistically depict American history and should be addressed under the guidance of a teacher.”

Books are at the forefront of battles over free speech across the US. In November alone, a mother in Tennessee led a campaign by parents for the removal of a school textbook they claim “promotes Islamic propaganda”; in Iowa, a proposed ban on Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower was successfully overturned after complaints about “graphic sex”; and in Washington State, a prohibition on “potentially frightening books” being read out at state-sponsored nurseries came under fire after it emerged that daycare providers had refused to read classics including Where the Wild Things Are.

Lee and Twain’s classics are high on the list of most frequently challenged Young Adult books in the US, according to the American Libraries Association. Also on the list are The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, four Judy Blume titles, the Diary of Anne Frank and Romeo and Juliet.

Reasons for challenging a book’s place on the curriculum vary, but religion and sex top the list, according to the ALA’s annual Banned Books Week list. In 2015, Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-time fell foul of parents for “profanity and atheism”, while the Bible received complaints against its “religious viewpoint”.

Source: The Guardian


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