‘Mockingbird’ flares up anew

There’s a bit of irony in the following, which concerns a re-heated topic of racism, as shown in the decision of several school districts to ban Harper Lee’s award-winning novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Touching on Lee’s brilliant novel and of censorship leads me to make a couple of disclosures. First, my mother and I were virtual opposites when it came to tolerance for words and images that appeared in books; she favored censorship. Second, even as a child I never believed that learning and even using what we call profanity — such as the f-word — would corrupt me.

But yet, when I lived with my parents in the mid-sixties, finishing up my last year of college, I discovered how diametrically opposed my mother and I were.

Here’s how: I was enrolled in an upper-level class as Highlands, and the professor assigned a book called “A Psychiatrist Looks At Erotica.” The only place that book, containing bold statements on nudity, pornography and profanity was available was in a bookstore on Douglas, which used to be our main business district. Why that book wasn’t at the Highlands Book Store still puzzles me.

I honest-to-goodness needed that book to meet class requirements, but once Mom espied it and thumbed through it, I knew the book’s shelf life was limited. Mom quizzed me on the book’s content, and I matter-of-factly explained it was for a class I’d signed up for.

Didn’t matter.

I assume that to my mom, the book was trash. But without actually begging, I begged to differ, based on my having read the first few chapters before mom gave the book a secret burial. No explanation. No apologies. It was impossible to get a replacement in such a short time, so I needed to borrow classmates’ books, make photocopies at about a quarter a page, and practically take out a second mortgage on my car in order to reconstruct the book that sold for a buck fifty.

Have I already mentioned that I believe any harm that comes to a person who reads a book like the one my mom purloined is self-inflicted? I went to the bridge with some older boys and must have learned all the four-letter words by heart. Even as an 8-year-old, seeing the f-word splayed a zillion times under the Independence Street bridge didn’t faze me.

I didn’t even know what the words were, and the crude illustrations of sexual acts didn’t faze me at all. At that age I didn’t even know the names of (or even the euphemisms for) the body parts scrawled under that bridge.

But yet, I don’t believe any word considered profane gets more negative attention than the f-word.

Only recently, the brouhaha over the banning of “To Kill A Mockingbird” by some schools has re-ignited. Recent news indicates that a number of southern schools in the U.S. have banned the book from their curricula — and maybe even felt proud for doing so. Several articles on the banishment of “Mockingbird” mention that many who favored taking the book off the shelves had fears that reading the it could corrupt readers because it contained the n-word and dealt with adult themes.

The main theme — really — is about racial prejudice in the Deep South.

A black laborer, Tom Robinson, is accused of sexually assaulting a young, white girl, and the defendant’s lawyer, played by Gregory Peck does a masterful job of defending his client. But before the all-white jury renders a verdict, the defendant is shot and killed.

There’s no need for a plot summary here, except to point out the irony of the book’s banning because “it made some people ‘uncomfortable.’”

The rape trial consumes most of the action in “Mockingbird,” and by standards and morals of the middle of last century, perhaps the tone was a bit too tepid. But yet, I wonder how it’s possible for any reader of the book or viewer of the movie to become corrupted.

Compared to what we Americans hear routinely on school playgrounds, the language in the book and the movie is mild.

But “because it makes some people ‘uncomfortable,’” the censors began working overtime.

Michael Gerson of the Washington Post Writers Group weighs in on the Bixoli, Miss., decision to remove the book from school shelves. He writes, “The purpose of Lee’s classic . . . is to make people uncomfortable with racial prejudice. To do so, it reflects the language employed by bigots in the segregated South, including the N-word. Given a desire to present the repulsive reality of racism, it could hardly do otherwise.”

I wonder how many people can applaud the school board’s decision and declare that censoring Harper Lee’s book was wise, which — some people say — protects all children.

Some critics recently have pointed out that “Mockingbird” is only one of many books about which the “uncomfortable” index kicks in.

Clearly, the book banning is due to several factors, including an alleged rape, profanity, and the use of the n-word which characters use in the film and book but which will not be printed in the Optic.

As for me, I oppose censorship, and doubly so when it’s imposed for frivolous reasons. And if my stance proves harmful to the innocent children in school, I’ll apologize.

And that’ll give me another occasion to write even more on this censorship issue, which has festered for about 55 years.

• • •

We got our granddaughter home and in too short a time, shipped her back to school. I’m referring to Carly Trujillo, a junior at the Santa Fe School for the Arts.

You may recall the out-of-control fires that have blazed in the Napa-Sonoma region of California, near San Francisco. When the fires grew, destroying thousands of homes and killing dozens, officials at Oxbow Art School, where Carly attends, evacuated the campus and helped students find safer climes.

In Carly’s case, the only option was buying a plane ticket and returning to New Mexico. We enjoyed the handful of unplanned days with Carly, the daughter of Diego and Connie. And we’ve been assurred it’s safe for all students to return to campus.
We drove her to the Albuquerque Sunport Sunday.

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