Shorewood High School is canceling a theater production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” because it uses the “n-word” twice, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Annysa Johnson. The play, based upon the book, was canceled after a couple of parents complained and, according to the newspaper, the principal feared protests.
On Thursday, just hours before the curtain was to go up, Shorewood canceled the production in response to a planned protest over the use of the ‘N’ word in some scenes.
News of a protest had circulated on social media early in the day. And by mid-afternoon, Superintendent Bryan Davis pulled the plug, saying the district should have done a better job engaging the community “about the sensitivity of this performance.”
“We’ve concluded that the safest option is to cancel the play,” Davis said in a statement.
The decision has angered and disappointed students and parents on both sides of the debate.
“That was never our request. We asked for the word to be omitted,” said Patience Phillips, the mother of three African-American students involved in the protest.
“I understand that the children put a lot of work into this play,” she said. “This doesn’t create dialogue. It causes more of a division.”
Apparently 30 children objected to the use of the “n-word” despite the historical context in which it was being used. Shorewood went beyond the demands of a small, ignorant rabble and canceled the performance because it didn’t want to deal with the fallout of a few protesters. The district gave in to a mob rather than plunge ahead with doing it’s job: teaching.
Harper Lee’s famous novel has been banned from school districts and school curriculums before. However, the novel about the unjust treatment of an African American man falsely accused of rape and then convicted because of his race is a classic of American literature (or a pretty good film starring Gregory Peck) precisely because it challenges us to think about race, society and the importance of the rule of law. When the law breaks down, as it did in To Kill a Mockingbird, we see how a man is unjustly treated by society because of his race.
The novel also takes us to a time and place when such racial attitudes, and the language that goes with it, was prevalent. Rather than ignore that part of our history, that part of our culture, the novel forces us to confront it. And yes, that includes the use of the “n-word.”
It’s doubtful that Shorewood schools will correct the decision and reschedule the debate. As the newspaper notes, the district doesn’t have a problem with controversial plays. However, those controversies are politically correct, while Lee’s novel (like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) is now found on the wrong side of the PC ledger.
Lee herself, when told of a school district’s decision to ban her book, probably said it best. “Recently I have received echoes down this way of the Hanover County School Board’s activities, and what I’ve heard makes me wonder if any of its members can read,” Lee wrote in 1966.
We wonder how many of the Shorewood community are capable of reading, too.