“Fear picks out objects in the dark
And guides a moonbeam to an axe...”
- Anna Akmatova wrote this long before her only son was locked up in prison, long before the dual occupation of Leningrad, long before any oppression of the intellectuals, writers, composers and others to later become simply known as dissidents was widely felt or known. It was still a premonition then, a feeling before anything or anyone in her circles was censored, and certainly long before anyone got exiled, locked up or simply executed for their words, notes, thoughts – in that order.
But fear, even in that nightmarish daydream was the tyrant, which brings me almost a hundred years later to a whole new country and a small place I call home for now – Flagler County. Perched rather conveniently between the Intracoastal and the Atlantic but on the less traveled side of both, this place was left to its own devices for decades after its more progressive neighbors to either side accepted urbanism, desegregation, industry and every fault and favor that followed. Flagler stayed rather as it was until the last.
As such, rumor has it that until the year I was born, there was a sign on the only bridge to the shore from the mainland stating that ‘no niggers were allowed over the bridge after dusk, unless in the employ of a white person”. It may have said Negroes, although I don’t see it making much of a difference at the time to the ones so referenced, whether then or now. The sign came down in 73. Not surprisingly, Flagler was also the last county in the country to finally desegregate their schools, and that came by a way of a court order.
This little bit of history into the place where I now live may not mean much on its own, but I really wanted to give the uninitiated some context for the most recent bout of shameful censorship that took place here.
Our local high school, FPC, the one my oldest just graduated from last year, was in the midst of rehearsing for a performance of “To Kill a Mockingbird”. The choice of play made sense, given our above referenced history for one, and the anniversary of the publication of this book for another. At the promptings or complaints of a few members of the community, the school principal and district superintended chose to pull the play, citing concerns over language, specifically the use of the word “nigger” in the play. That same word is also in the book multiple times, in the same unmistakably unambiguous context, of course, as anyone who’s ever read it or even watched the film would know and expect. The book is and has been required reading for every 9th grade student in that same school for over two decades.
The elected members of the school board had the last word on the subject and chose to support the principal's decision and cancel the play, even after rather vocal dissent and outrage from the community at large, and more importantly, kids who spent the last few weeks inhabiting the characters of that work.
The school board is now citing protocol as the root of their decision, and not cowardice, of course. The protocol calls for any controversial materials to be approved by the administration of the school first. The teacher did not seek such approval, given that these same kids have all had to read the book already, rather uncensored. The kids from FPC drama club have also previously performed scenes from the play for the general public. The issue of controversy of any kind simply never came up, except for now. One of the folks who objected is a black Palm Coast City Councilman. He seems to have never read the book or seen the movie. Being black, and an elected official, his objections carried some weight with the school board, or so I can now speculate.
Whatever the reasons or objections, the community that might have merited that specific play the most will most likely go without. Flagler County’s elected and powerful will stand by their asinine decision, because anything else requires a minor bit of courage. Courage to do the right thing and let the kids perform the play, as they have in the past, as it has been performed elsewhere on stages and in the classrooms. Mostly – let them perform it in the one county that is still so damn backwards that its representatives are more afraid of someone hearing the “N” word uttered by a student from the stage of the Auditorium in the context that can’t possibly confuse even the slowest and least passionate among us, than they are of giving validity to the very distinction between the black and white members of the community that they had just done, albeit inadvertently. When fear guides the decisions of those who are in a position to dictate the path of education of our kids – and not a single person on the five-person board has the gonads to see that not-so-elusive line between right and wrong, we are indeed the most regressive place on earth, no matter our patria.
For the first time, I am actively ashamed of living here. For the first time since we moved here am I feeling that this is maybe the worst sort of place to raise my kids. For no amount of natural beauty in the world can recompense a kid if an injustice has been done. No amount of sunshine can fix certain scars.
Only people with power and courage can, and in this county – that combination is apparently an improbable if not an impossible one.