Mother Keeps On Fighting That Good Fight To Keep Kids From Learning About Race, Science
It always surprises me when parents try to get schoolbooks banned. The point of school is education, and education involves being faced with new and occasionally complicated things. But one Tennessee mother is rallying the troops to ban a “pornographic” book from her local high school, even though the book is about a black woman with cervical cancer and the lasting effect she had on medical research and scientific ethics.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, is a nonfiction account of the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman who died of cervical cancer and whose cells were stolen during treatment without her consent. Those cells launched several important medical breakthroughs, but also illustrate clear issues with racism, classism, and medical and scientific ethics. It’s an important story, but Jackie Sims says high school children should not be reading it because it is “pornographic.”
According to Yahoo Parenting, Sims particularly objects to a scene in which Lacks discovers her cervical cancer. In the scene, Lacks “slid a finger inside herself and rubbed it across her cervix until she found what she somehow knew she’d find: a hard lump, deep inside, as though someone had lodged a marble just to the left of the opening to her womb.”
That’s the description Sims says is pornographic.
“My mouth dropped,” Sims said. “I understand the story is about cancer and I’ve read the book, but for a 15-year-old to read this kind of graphic material — if it was a chat room and someone was typing these words, we would think it was a predator and the adult would go to jail. It’s pornography to me. I understand the context of why [Lacks] was doing this, but I’m an adult.”
The context of why she was doing that? She was looking for the cancer that would eventually kill her, and she found it. There is no conceivable reading of the scene that is hot or sexy. It is a woman discovering her own death sentence buried inside her body. It’s horrible, not sexy.
I am having a hard time wrapping my brain around the idea that a cancer discovery is in any way erotic or pornographic. There is almost nothing in the world less erotic than cancer. Still, Sims says this is the sort of thing that predators say to kids in chat rooms.
Sims’ son is a rising 10th grader at Knoxville High School, and when Sims complained about the material the school said he could read another book instead. But now Sims is campaigning to have the book taken off the recommended reading list entirely, because she’s not happy with her own kid not reading it and wants to stop all the others as well.
“There’s good in this book, I’m not saying there isn’t,” she says. “But to take this material and put in the hands of a 15-year-old, it’s just too much. … There are so many other good books out there, so why do we have this in the hands of our children?”
The book’s author, Rebecca Skloot, says Sims has “confused gynecology with pornography.” Luckily, the school and its students seem to be siding with the book, and all the extra attention is just going to make the book more attractive to kids. $20 says Sims’ son has already read the whole thing just to see what all the fuss was about.
“My book is many things,” Skloot said. “It’s a story of race and medicine, bioethics, science illiteracy, the importance of education and equality and science and so much more. But it is not anything resembling pornography.”
Everyone seems to get that except Jackie Sims.