My grandmother taught me many lessons. The one I have never forgotten and took notice of was the day she pointed to her head and said, “Whatever you put up here, no one can ever take away from you.”
I’m not sure if it was an innate desire to learn, my grandmother’s guidance, or a little of both, but I have always loved to read and to learn. The majority of books I own and have read in life are nonfiction. The fiction I read has to have meaning and it has to teach me something.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been following several stories from around the country about banning books and/or removing them from a school’s curriculum. The American Library Association puts out a list of its most challenged books each year, but the people who challenge the books were always on the fringes. No one took them seriously. It only took us 90 years to reach the 1930s.
Somewhere along the way, we decided the people who want to remove books and burn them were only on the fringes. Over the past decade, however, they have been elected to local school boards and other local offices. They’re now pushing an agenda that says if it isn’t something a conservative, evangelical christian would approve of, out it goes, setting a dangerous precedence.
We have sat back for far too long thinking mass banning or removal of books isn’t going to happen. Banning and removing books, however, is the first step. They’re now burning books. History is repeating itself and we have come full circle to meet the Nazis who live in America and hide behind religion, patriotism, and nationalism.
Greg Locke of the Global Vision Bible Church in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, and his followers burned books yesterday in a disgusting display of ignorance and hate. The book burning begins about the one hour and three minute mark.
Last week, a Tennessee school board banned the acclaimed Maus. It’s now a bestseller. I wish I had kept my copy. It was a first edition, but I gave it to someone who wanted it, but couldn’t afford it with the promise it was to be passed around forever to anyone who wanted to read it.
Texas conservatives have a list of nearly 1,000 books they want to ban. Around the country, school boards are attempting to flex their muscles and ban books that educate youth about a variety of subjects. The aim is to remove books which “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex.”
Books that cause you discomfort are precisely books you should be reading. We can never learn or grow as a people if we never challenge our thoughts and ideas. Keeping people ignorant is a way to control the masses.
The majority of books in Texas are LGBT related, but one of the books listed is V for Vendetta, one of my favorites. Alan Moore, who wrote the graphic novel, said, V is designed as an enigma because he, “didn’t want to tell people what to think, I just wanted to tell people to think, and consider some of these admittedly extreme little elements, which nevertheless do recur fairly regularly throughout human history.”
I want books that challenge me. I don’t want to live my life with my thoughts set in place before I am a teenager and then never challenged again. How can I begin to understand anything if I am prevented from learning everything?
One of the books Locke and his followers burned was the Twilight series. I’ve read bits of it. I didn’t like it and have no desire to read the series or watch the movies. You know what? Not only is it okay, I’m not calling for the banning of the book because it’s something I don’t like. If the Twilight series gets kids reading, how is that a bad thing?
I checked out books from the school library often. We couldn’t afford all the Encyclopedia Brown books, but I could borrow them from the library. Curious George was there, too. So, too, were books on astrology, an idea discarded with my teen years.
Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret? got me into a little bit of trouble in sixth grade when I passed it around to my classmates, pointing out the more salacious bits of the book. You know what happened? The book was taken away from me for the rest of the day. I picked it up after school from the principal, along with a lecture to not bring it back or show it because different people had different beliefs about their child reading such books and it was better to not cause a fuss. I had already caused the fuss, so 12-year old me didn’t mind taking it back home.
My mother wasn’t notified. Parents didn’t receive a note from the school. The principal handled the situation because he knew by tomorrow, we’d all be onto something different. He also spoke to me as a young adult who could understand why someone else might not like a book I do.
I read the Diary of a Young Girl in eighth grade. It spurred me to find an unedited copy. I visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam many years later to see where it happened and to learn more about a little girl murdered simply because of who she was.
To Kill A Mockingbird was standard reading in high school. So was Nineteen Eighty-Four and Fahrenheit 451. I never read Brave New World in school, so I read it, We, and The Handmaid’s Tale as an adult.
I made a point for several years to read the top 10 challenged books on the ALA list each year and questions myself as to why it should or should not be on the list. I eventually came to the conclusion that I understood why the list was necessary, but I didn’t need to read those books every year. There was nothing wrong with them. I instead follow the principle of “if I don’t like it, I don’t read it, but I’m not going to tell someone else they can’t read it.”
I have also read a book full of contradictions. It’s poorly written, but people love it so much, it is sacrilege to question it. The book has descriptions of rape, incest, murder, genocide, and torture, as well as approval of slavery, misogyny, and racism, but none of these people calling for the removal of books over the past 100 years has ever said this book should be removed as well. I suspect, like all the other books they want removed, they have never read this one either.
Another parent in Katy, a Houston suburb, asked the district to remove a children’s biography of Michelle Obama, arguing that it promotes “reverse racism” against white people, according to the records obtained by NBC News. A parent in the Dallas suburb of Prosper wanted the school district to ban a children’s picture book about the life of Black Olympian Wilma Rudolph, because it mentions racism that Rudolph faced growing up in Tennessee in the 1940s. In the affluent Eanes Independent School District in Austin, a parent proposed replacing four books about racism, including “How to Be an Antiracist,” by Ibram X. Kendi, with copies of the Bible.
On that day nearly 40 years ago, my grandmother and I were discussing the Nazis of World War II, but the Nazis of today scare me. They enjoy being authoritarian and fascist. Their propaganda is effective, especially today with social media to boost their signal quicker and farther than in the 1930s. Eliminating intellectuals, the educated, and people who think for themselves are always on their agenda.
I am their target. I read. I learn. I think. I defend people who are unable to defend themselves. I question authority. When these new fascists reach their goals and begin their own version of Kristallnacht and Intelligenzaktion, I could very well be on their list. I live in the reddest county in my state. I will not go quietly.
Some will think this is all hyperbole. It couldn’t possibly happen here. I encourage you to read, “It Can’t Happen Here,” and “They Thought They Were Free.” I hope you will fight back in whatever way you can, before it’s too late because, “Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.” (Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too.).
To anyone who thinks banning or burning books, or removing them so people cannot read them is a good idea, I will repeat the words Henry Jones, Sr., “Goose-stepping morons like yourself should try reading books instead of burning them!”
My grandmother was right, what you put in your brain can never be taken away. I would add if the knowledge is never made available, a person can never truly think for themselves, forever being susceptible to propaganda and the desires of those who control them.
What are you going to do and what will you do besides continue to turn your head away?