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‘It Was Wrong’: Author Ta-Nehisi Coates Attends School Board Meeting In Support of South Carolina Teacher Who Was Told to Stop Using His Book In Lesson on Systemic Racism

Ta-Nehisi Coates sat quietly at a school board meeting on Monday in support of a South Carolina teacher who was told to stop using his book in her lessons on systemic racism.

Students in Mary Wood’s Advanced Placement English class at Chapin High School in Chapin, South Carolina, wrote a school board member in February to express that the unit being discussed in class made them feel “uncomfortable” and “ashamed to be Caucasian.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates crashes South Carolina school board meeting in support of teacher. (Photo:@MSNBC/Youtube screenshot)

Wood instructed her students to read Coates’ book “Between the World and Me” and watch two videos she used to introduce systemic racism. Then, they were tasked to identify themes of the works and discuss their thoughts, which included whether they disagreed with Coates’ view, according to The Associated Press.

Coates wrote the book in 2015 as a letter to his teenage son about how racism and violence based on skin color are part of American society. The book also discusses how it feels to be Black in America from his perception.

According to the Lexington-Richland 5 school district, officials pulled the book from Wood’s lesson because they were worried it would interfere with a rule in the South Carolina budget that bans schools from using state money 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.”

South Carolina is one of 37 states to ban books that target stories by and about people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals. The book bans are protected by laws that suggest they are in place to prevent kids from being influenced by the content.

A student who complained about the lesson wrote “pretty sure a teacher talking about systemic racism is illegal in South Carolina.” The comments were reportedly sent directly to the school board instead of Wood.

Coates and Wood sat next to each other during the Monday meeting at Irmo, a Columbia suburb, but neither spoke.

Tess Pratt, chair of Chapin High School’s English department, spoke in defense of the book being used in the lesson.

“On the day that I took Ta-Nehisi Coates’ books out of the hands of Ms. Wood’s students, I silenced his story,” Pratt said at the meeting. “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.”

The Monday meeting was packed with teachers and people like Coates there to support Wood, which was much different from the June meeting. Many people called for her job at the meeting last month.

Republican State Rep. RJ May said lessons should reflect a color-blind society that doesn’t discriminate against white people because of past racism.

The Lexington-Richland 5 school board has not taken any disciplinary action against Wood or changed its policies.

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