Last week, despite protests from senators and The National Council of Teachers of English, as well as the National Coalition Against Censorship, Virginia has approved a bill allowing parents to block explicit sexual content in schools.
Lani, you may be asking, why shouldn’t a parent be allowed to have a say in a child’s reading material? Parents know what their kids need!
To you, disgruntled hypothetical person, I say, you’re right. However, in this case, we’re dealing with something larger than a parent’s right to protect their kids from explicit content. We’re talking about erasure, the obliteration of history and intentional ignorance surrounding the past. Allow me to explain.
In the case of Virginia’s new bill, parents will be prompted to approve reading material in their child’s classroom, effectively removing whatever they consider to be explicit from their path. The books specifically in question were novels by Toni Morrison, winner of the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and is the last American author to win the Nobel Prize for literature. Morrison is most famous for The Bluest Eye, and what some argue to be her magnum opus, Beloved. The later novel can be crudely summed up to be about the harrowing struggles of black persons in the face of trauma and poverty post slavery. Both are difficult books. Both have excruciating passages about torture, death, sexuality, and the struggle of identity, as do many of Morrison’s pieces.
Herein lies the problem. Parents should have the right to keep their children safe from harm, mental or physical. I don’t have children, and I don’t know what I would do if my 16-year-old asked to read Morrison’s God Save the Child, because that book broke my heart and tore me to pieces. But Morrison’s books are a deep, critical reflections on the black struggle, from slavery to Jim Crow to today, and I am who I am because of them. I think most, if not all readers, can think of a book that pricked them, that made them look inward and then find themselves affected, and I am sure that book wasn’t The Red Pony or Amelia Bedelia.
To deny students exposure to Morrison’s books denies the importance of the African American struggle and narrative, something I don’t believe we as Americans get to be choosey about hearing.
I truly believe to refuse students the opportunity to discuss and expound on such great and challenging works as those by Chinua Achebe and Harper Lee and Chimamanda Adichie and Ralph Ellison, great authors whose writing on the African and White and human experience is full of violence and thick with deep truths, is dangerous. To deny them is erasure, the act of ignoring truth for the sake of comfortability. It is to deny the history of both our country and the world, and then rewrite history to better suite a preferred narrative. This law is the kind of small act that eventually leads to individuals denying the Holocaust and Apartheid, thanks to the passing of time and the desire to pretend our historical slates are pure and clean.
I believe our schools already do this when they tell students that African slaves were “migrant workers” or only celebrate Martin Luther King in February. Banning books about the Black struggle is just another step downward.
We should not be afraid to expose ourselves to the stories of the other. We should fear the consequences of refusing to acknowledge one another’s stories and pain. Ignoring the symptoms of racist politicians and the folly of #AllLivesMatter will endanger the people that already make America great.
No more excuses. Open yourself to the power of story and read.Tweet This