Monday, September 23, 2013

Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read: September 22-28

I am a voracious reader. It is one of my true life long passions. During my childhood years my grandparents and my  parents encouraged me to read daily once I had mastered the basic literacy skills needed to pick up a book and independently read a story from beginning to the end.

I have always considered reading as a form of honoring those unknown enslaved Africans who were prohibited or punished for trying to learn how to read or actually reading. 

The idea of an individual or group of individuals prohibiting me from reading a book because they are uncomfortable with the content is an idea that I have no problem with putting a full resistance to.

On September 13th, I was on my laptop furiously composing an e-mail to Ohio's School Board President Debe Tehar about her proposal to ban The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison from the list of books for Ohio's student population. The reasons that were given by Debe Tehar for proposing the ban were insulting and only surpassed by the remarks made by fellow board member Mark Smith, president of Ohio Christian University.

I see an underlying socialist-communist agenda ... that is anti what this nation is about.”
I found that particular remark to be totally insulting to Toni Morrison's work.  How this man determined that this particular book is somehow anti-American is beyond my scope of understanding. I just read this particular novel earlier this summer after realizing that I this was a book I had somehow overlooked. It is definitely a powerful work and it is one that exposes how circumstances can alter a person's total perspective about who they are.  That is a reality about America that Smith or Tehar may not want to face, but it is the truth anyhow.

Toni Morrison is one of Ohio's prolific authors.  Her works are centered from a Black person's perspective which I suspect is the real problem that is not stated. There are no Aunt Jemima's, Magical Negress, Sapphires in her work. There is also the absence of any white male heroes or Miss Ann's that befriend poor little colored folks and rescue them for whatever form of distress they encounter. This is the beauty of Morrison's works.  Fortunately for the older student population in Ohio this proposal is meeting with resistance. Given the current problems that Ohio's schools are dealing with a book that makes someone uncomfortable is the least of the problems to be dealt with. 

Then to add insult to the injury Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison was also banned in a North Carolina School district on the objection of one parent about the work. This time around the book was deemed to have no literary merit, even though Ellison won an award for this very work. This is the second time that Invisible Man has been banned. 

Last year, I posted about Banned Books Week and someone wrote in the comments that this was not a reality in America. A point that I had no problem with disputing because there was ban placed on books in Arizona that were written about Latinos.  Apparently books that are geared to educate and entertain people of color are not as important in the minds of others as the works of mainstream authors.

I am supporting the Freedom to Read because this is a right that our people did not gain easily.  It is also a right that I am not willing to have anyone other than me censor. By protecting our right to read, I realize that I am also charged to advocate for the rights of others to do the same, even when I do not personally support the content of the books that they select. 

There are a lot of different ways that you can join in supporting the Freedom to Read.  There is a website that has an abundance of information and activities that are geared to make it plain that you are willing to push back on the efforts to ban books.

Please take the time to visit Banned Books Week and take the time to explore the website.

If you have a Twitter account and want to post about this week please use  #bannedbooksweek to share your tweet.

You can read the full article regarding Debe Tehar's proposed banning of the Bluest Eye on the Columbus Dispatch website.

The response from Toni Morrison regarding the proposed ban is here.

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