Letter to the editor in response to March 12 column



Dear Editors:

This letter is a response to Gnally Boukar’s column titled “Books with Racial Slurs Should Not Be a Part of Curriculum.”

“To Kill a Mockingbird” has been for many years and remains one of my favorite books – precisely because it DOES call out blatant racism, sanctioned injustice, and the heartbreaking results of discrimination.  And it lifts up both the possibility and the fact that there are people out there who will stand up to wrong.  At no time did Harper Lee endorse racism or racial slurs but rather brought a penetrating light to a difficult subject at a vulnerable time. She chose to do it through the eyes of a child – her literary prerogative.  

During the era that is the setting for the book, discrimination and segregation were still legal in our country and were still widely practiced in the South.  It is essential that young people today learn about our history so that they can avoid making the same mistakes – Philosopher George Santayana, and later Winston Churchill said “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  Well researched historical fiction is one of the most interesting and therefore enduring ways of learning about the past and so should absolutely be part of the curriculum.

I see two issues that can be extrapolated from Gnally’s column:

1)  Offense vs. Harm

When I was in high school, I was repeatedly shunned and verbally maligned because of my faith and my association with a large church youth group.  Those two things made me a “goody two shoes” in the eyes of many of my peers.  Though I was not at fault nor was I offensive in any way, I was stereotyped.  This both hurt my feelings and offended me, but far from harming me – it made me stronger.

Offense is not the same as harm.  Harm is restricted and even punished by law because it is definable and provable.  Offense, on the other hand is subjective, variable from person to person, and defined by changeable cultural norms.

Yes, you are likely to be offended many times in your life.  Our society is currently obsessed with cancelling anyone who speaks out with a view that is different than the current norm.  But someday when the spotlight turns to other matters, and (hopefully) people are not afraid to speak for fear of being, not just criticized, but ostracized or cancelled, you may again find yourself vulnerable to being offended.  I suggest that we take those times and use them to develop discernment, a “thicker skin”, resolve not to be offensive ourselves and become strong in both character and resilience.

2). Freedom of speech.

In the mid 1970’s, in the predominately Jewish village of Skokie, (Chicogo) IL, a neo Nazi group applied for and received a permit (with ACLU backing) to hold an anti-Jewish march right in the center of town.  This was, to say the least, controversial.  When one of the Jewish leaders was asked for his reaction to all this turmoil, his response was – I hate what they stand for, I do not welcome their activities – but I understand that my freedom of speech and peaceful assembly is directly tied to their freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.  

In America, we don’t pick and choose who gets or has to think or say what – here, we do not have thought police as they have had in so many countries through the centuries.  I realize, because I faithfully follow cultural and political trends and news, that we may be on the verge of losing our rights to freedom of speech, assembly and religion.  I am on record encouraging our young people not to go down that road.  A free society yields diversity, creativity, give and take, persuasion and ultimately trust as we realize that we value and exhibit our freedoms mutually. 

In a free society, friends, you and I can have this conversation – this disagreement – with grace and respect and acceptance.  

Respectfully submitted,

Ellen Kershaw

Bellevue West High School