The Importance of Who is Speaking

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Last week, a friend of mine posted two stories about curriculum conflicts in his home town. He grew up in Monette, Missouri where a school has pulled the novel Dear Martin by Nic Stone. The book had been included on a 9th grade assignment list but it has now been replaced by . . . To Kill a Mockingbird.

Really?

Don’t get me wrong. I really liked To Kill a Mockingbird. It was also one of my son’s favorite assigned books. But it does not need to be the go-to book to assign to teach high school students about race and society. It does not.

The discussion surrounding my friend’s post was interesting. One woman admitted that although she loved the book and her children liked it, her grandkids just didn’t understand what was so amazing. They didn’t connect with the book the way my friend and her classmates had.

Why? It is hard to say. Writing styles change over time so that books published in 2017, when Dear Martin came out, is going to be notably different than a book that was published in 1960, when To Kill a Mockingbird was published. And one of those things is more than a matter of style. it is a matter of who tells the story.

To Kill a Mockingbird was written by Harper Lee, a white woman. In the story, a white character saves the day. And really? That’s a problem for today’s reader. Today’s student needs a story that is not only accurate in discussing race and racism but is also empowering.

That’s why #OwnVoices stories are so important. Young readers need to read stories penned by a variety of authors. Not only do a variety of people need to be heard, they need to tell their own stories. When one of my friends pointed out that To Kill a Mockingbird suffered from white savior syndrom, I laughed. No, the reality isn’t funny but what my friend said was so obvious. And it isn’t the sort of thing that the majority of Black readers will need to have pointed out.

They see it in books. They see it in movies. They see characters who look like them in narrow boxes, allowed to do only certain things.

Me? I’ve checked out the audiobook of Dear Martin.

–SueBE