Image courtesy of Kristin via Flickr Creative Commons.

Did you know that To Kill a Mockingbird is no. 21 on the American Library Association’s list of most banned or challenged books in the past decade? That’s why it didn’t come as a surprise to me when Mississippi’s Biloxi School District pulled To Kill a Mockingbird from all eighth grade reading lists.

First published in 1960, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book explores themes of sexuality, rape, innocence, social class, and racism. Written by Harper Lee, the book has long been regarded as a classic in American literature.

So why then, would a Mississippi school district remove the book from their eighth grade reading curriculum? The answer provided by the Biloxi School Board’s vice president, Kenny Holloway, still has people scratching their heads.

“There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable,” Holloway told the Sun Herald.

Holloway didn’t specify what precisely the offensive language is, but if I had to guess, it’s more than likely the n-word.

To be fair, the n-word is used quite liberally throughout the novel. However, it is central to the story’s plot.

Set in Alabama during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the book illustrates racism and social class as seen through the eyes of an innocent child. The use of the n-word is supposed to make readers uncomfortable, as it is meant to inspire a sense of compassion and empathy towards those being discriminated against.

James LaRue, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said it best:

Silence doesn’t make us smarter. A classic is something that makes us uncomfortable because it talks about things that matter.

And if we’re truly trying to prepare our children for the “real world,” then we ought to be encouraging them to face the uncomfortable. The truth is, life is not always rainbows and butterflies. But if we can open up a dialogue and get people talking about these issues, it will put us one step closer to resolving them.