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When making people uncomfortable is the point

By Leonard Pitts Jr., Tribune Content Agency on

It "makes some people uncomfortable."

That was the explanation Kenny Holloway, a school board official in Biloxi, Mississippi, gave the Sun Herald newspaper last week, for the board's decision to remove from its eighth-grade curriculum a Pulitzer Prize-winning American classic, Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird."

"There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable," said Holloway. He said this like it was a bad thing.

In a nation where some educational institutions now deem it their duty to offer "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings" to protect their students from vexatious language or behavior like cartons protect eggs and bubble wrap protects china, maybe it is. So I beg your pardon for the heresy that follows.

Because, with pure hearts and noble intentions, these educators are doing nothing less than presiding over what I will call the stupidification and wimpification of this country. Having liberated the American mind from the tyranny of facts, we now seek to liberate it from the bother of contending with difficult words or ideas.

It "makes some people uncomfortable," he says.

By which he means the word "n----r." And yes, it is offensive. Indeed, if you are not African American, you may have trouble appreciating just how obnoxious the word is.

But it is also wholly appropriate to Lee's moralistic tale, set during the Great Depression, of a 6-year-old white girl in the deep South, watching her attorney father defend a black man unjustly accused of raping a white woman. When one of the locals tries without success to goad her father into a brawl, should the dialogue read: "Too proud to fight, you African-American-lovin' b----d?"

Let's be serious.

I am reminded of recent email exchanges with readers angry over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial oppression. These readers argued that protest should not make anyone -- here's that word again -- uncomfortable. One man said protest should "unify" and "educate."

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