Letter to the Editor:
I’d like to preface this with the fact that I am a student who attends Burbank High. I am a person of color, and I have a deep love of literature. I hope to only inform the public on this issue, and help others to understand the severity of the situation our public schools are dealing with- It has often been cast aside.
Last year, the Burbank Unified School District permanently removed five books from the English curriculum, meaning that these books are longer allowed to be discussed in class. Those five books, being The Cay; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry; To Kill a Mockingbird; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; and Of Mice and Men. The district states, “these books are problematic in the following ways: they repeatedly use the n-word; they cast Black people in negative, hopeless, and secondary roles; and all but one are written from the lens of a White author. As our teachers, administrators, students, and parents have all agreed, we need to diversify our reading list. Our current book list highlights the danger of a single story.”
On June 16th, 2021 a statement was issued by Sharon Cuseo, Assistant Superintendent and head of Instructional Services, and BUSD Superintendent Matt Hill, stating that “For all grades, the use of the n-word is not allowed in instructional materials that are mandated for all students to read. The Superintendent or Designee shall develop a process to approve supplemental materials that may include offensive language, such as the “N” word.” In an email, Sharon Cuseo sent to me a couple of days ago, she clarified that, “…teachers have strict guidelines that forbid the use of novels that have the N-word in them.”
There are many foundational works that cannot be discussed in our classrooms right now- the reason for their current ban within our classrooms is this policy which forbids any text with the n-word to be studied. Works like Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, the works of James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison; the list is extensive. As our district awaits final decisions on moving forward with texts and works that include the n-word, I feel a growing pain. I am becoming scared, scared to know how much of this policy will allow the works of black thinkers to be studied in a BUSD classroom ever again.
As a black student I have seen my voice disembodied. I have felt my own estrangement to my identity when watching the district’s actions, when watching faculty choose what is best for me, when sitting in class. There is a voice disembodied that continues to represent my own, that chokes on its throat before making itself known.
I understand the district is doing this on behalf of black students’ comfort- they are attempting to remove the possibility of us students having to come face to face with such language that can bring immense pain. However, no matter what way we spin it, the n-word is an integral part of African American language- the history of the word itself taps into a history essential to understanding the African American experience. If we are, as a district, to negate and police that word, we will only be nurturing ideas of ignorance, a lack of empathy for the black community by sheer miscommunication. We will be censoring our own education. We shouldn’t try to abridge academic freedom or prevent “problematic topics” from being addressed in classes. How will people learn?
The Los Angeles Times reported on the Conservative push in places like Texas that are directly challenging critical race theory, and included reports of BUSD’s book removal to back up the growing fight against allowing POC and LGBTQ+ experiences to be made known in classrooms. I don’t see how any family can agree that the same actions are needed in districts that claim to want to alleviate black students uncomfort with the same actions as districts that wish to remove critical race theory. It is ironic. It all seems warped- the issue itself is complicated, but censorship cannot be the correct option. There is no fair allowance to black authors and their works to be taught in this district. It’s a pick and choose battle that inherently results in a silencing of black voices.