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To Kill An Icon

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By: Kevin Sheehan, Special Columnist

I heard sad news last week: In Biloxi, Mississippi, To Kill A Mockingbird was removed from the school reading list, due to racial language that made students uncomfortable. This bothers me to no end, and there are several reasons why.

First, growing up in West Georgia, I always had a fascination for reading and had read To Kill A Mockingbird by the time I was in fifth grade. That being said, I was raised in the south, and as a young white male, I saw Atticus Finch as a role model for equality. The book has always held a small part in my heart.

The second reason is because of the plot itself. Atticus, as a widower attorney, is assigned a case of a young black man (Tom) accused of rape. Taking place in the early 1930’s, racial tensions were not exactly calm. Yet Atticus, trying to set an example for his children and community, defended Tom, so far as staying outside his jail cell through the night to deter a lynch mob ready to kill the defendant. Based on all the evidence, the black man was innocent, yet was convicted unfairly.

Atticus dealt with racial slurs, being called vulgarities based on his decision to defend a black man versus a white woman. He dealt with threats, and his children were attacked by the woman’s father as revenge for defending the accused.

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why people would want this book removed. Does it contain racial slurs? Yes. But it also contains the story of a white man who went against everything to defend a black man who otherwise had no hope. It is a role model of a story, and inspires the courage to stand up for what is right, not what is socially acceptable.

We cannot change the past based on the fact that we do not like it. I don’t like my past at all, yet I would not be here typing this if I hadn’t lived it. When we allow others feeling to dictate our history, we alter our future. We need to remember where we came from. We need to remember the struggles and the fights for equality that led us to this point. It is what makes freedom and life now precious.

Speaking of freedom, that brings me to my third point: censorship. As both a writer and a reader, I do not like being told what I can or should read, and what I can’t. That being said, there are some things that just shouldn’t be written, but I am largely against censorship because our lives are not censored. The people we talk to, the situations we encounter are real. We cannot escape it based on the fact ‘it can hurt feelings.’ Life is raw, and any emotions you experience from words on a page has been felt by someone else, and that is why they are on that page. To censor one’s writing based one the harsh realities of growing up in a different era because it doesn’t suit our current ideals negates their writing and renders it valueless.

It’s tough. Our lives are tough. Our world is tough. Our history is tough. I will not sit and lie to you saying anything otherwise. Anyone who contributes to tickling your ears is simply preying on your ignorance. The only way to conquer the future with any sort of confidence is to face it head on, not building bomb shelters for emotions. Atticus Finch said in the book, “They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions… but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” Now while that may seem to be the case in our society, with everyone attempting to coerce the system to cater to their conscience, I need to be able to stand for and have courage for what I believe. “…Instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through, no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” – Atticus Finch.

Ignoring and censoring literature does not help us progress, it helps us stay ignorant. It helps us hide from reality, and from seeing a world from a bigger perspective than just from ourselves. Maybe I am a little too passionate about this, but remember: It’s a sin To Kill A Mockingbird, because it does nothing but make music for us to enjoy.