Acclaimed author Ta-Nehisi Coates attended a meeting in South Carolina where a local school board debated whether his award-winning book on growing up Black in America should be banned from classrooms.
Coates sat silently through the Lexington-Richland District 5 School Board meeting on Monday to support high school teacher Mary Wood, whose AP Language and Composition lesson on his autobiographical work “Between the World and Me” was stopped in February after complaints were received, the Associated Press reports.
Wood had taught the lesson using Coates’ book before. However, after a few of her Chapin High School students wrote a school board member in February that the unit made them feel “uncomfortable” and “ashamed to be Caucasian,” the books were taken, and the assignment ended.
Coates wrote the book published in 2015 as a “letter to his teenage son on his perceptions of the feelings and circumstances of being Black in America and how racism and violence based on skin color are part of American society.”
The students in the AP English class were asked to read the book, identify themes, discuss their thoughts, and watch two videos on systemic racism, which was reportedly met with backlash from parents.
According to the AP, records from the local district indicate that officials were concerned that the assignment could be in violation of a rule in the South Carolina budget, which bans schools from using state funds to “teach that anyone is consciously or unconsciously racist simply by their race and preventing lessons from making anyone feel discomfort, guilt or anguish based on their race.”
PEN America, a nonprofit that works to advance free expression, called removing the book “an outrageous act of government censorship.”
According to DailyMail.com, the school board meeting on Monday heard arguments on both sides over whether Coates’ book should be taught, with some individuals donning blue — the school’s colors — to show support to the teacher.
Even though Coates did not speak at the gathering, others defended his book. Tess Pratt, head of Chapin High’s English department, told the board that she had personally ordered copies of Coates’ book and regretted having to take them away from students, according to the AP.
“On the day that I took Ta-Nehisi Coates’ books out of the hands of Ms. Wood’s students, I silenced his story,” she said, according to the media outlet. “Even though this was a decision that was not mine, I will regret that moment in front of those students for the rest of my life because it was wrong,” she added.