Book Bans In Schools

Book Bans In Schools

Book bans and boycotts are nothing new. Throughout history, select titles have caused ire amongst religious factions, political divides, and parents’ unions for various reasons. The Harry Potter novels, for example, received backlash in their heyday for the supposed influence of black magic at play. To Kill A Mockingbird has become a problematic novel for its use of racial slurs and the white saviour motif, despite once being heralded as an important text on racism. The Handmaid’s Tale is constantly challenged due to its depiction of sexual violence and religious criticism. There’s a long list with contentions that range from the expected to the head-scratching, and plain bizarre. Usually, however, these problems haven’t expanded beyond mere parent-teacher associations and small organisations. Usually. It seems now things might be starting to change.

With an “unprecedented” 330 book challenges recorded by the American Library Association (ALA) last Autumn/Fall, there’s been a sharp increase in calls to curtail cultural change, particularly in the South. Texas State Representative Matt Krause put over 800 books on a “watch list” recently; many of which deals with race and LGBTQ issues. In Oklahoma, there was a bill filed to ban books that address “sexual perversion”. In a county in Tennessee, the Holocaust-themed Maus was outright banned (for violent and sexual imagery). Police in South Carolina challenged The Hate U Give for perpetuating a “distrust in police”. And perhaps most surprisingly, Governor Greg Abbott (of Texas) called for criminal charges against school staff member providing access to young adult novels considered “pornography”. (This would be somewhat understandable for a school, except for the fact that you must question who deems the category.)

Despite popularising the term “snowflake” for liberals, it seems most of these contentions are coming from conservative factions and parents. Their concerns are not necessarily without merit, to be fair. It’s important for students to be given a broad and comprehensive reading list in their curriculum; not one which tilts too largely towards a political ideology. With that said, these challenges have expanded beyond any traditional coursework to libraries stocking books students may just happen upon. And… the process of taking these books down has been short-circuited with librarians growing weary of “concerns” and withdrawing controversial titles before the appropriate committee has even made a decision.

This is particularly unfair for LGBTQ students. Titles like All Boys Aren’t Blue and Heather Has Two Mommies have been challenged just because they don’t present an old-fashioned, heteronormative view in line with the cultural values of certain areas. It sends a message of exclusion to them while running the mistaken exercise of thinking you can shut out knowledge. As Emily Knox (author of Book Banning in 21st Century America) stated in an interview on Slate.com, “people are trying to get books like Maus banned because they are afraid that if their children read them, they will have different values” from their parents. Perhaps then, this can be seen as a desperate last leg to stand on in the generational and culture wars.

With the ALA reporting a 67% increase in attempts to ban school library books from September 2020 to September 2021, one can only worry where this will go next. Primarily, these contentions have come from the right, although it must be acknowledged that the left’s concerns over appropriate language for today’s sensibilities (with Mockingbird or something like Huckleburry Finn or Of Mice and Men) should draw concern and ridicule too. The banning and boycotting of any books, even with the best of intentions, reflects an insecurity on the part of the challengers as well as a high level of patronising. Hopefully, the #FReadom campaign in Texas (of school librarians), among others, will help reinforce the obvious notion that banning something makes it all the more interesting.

“Speak Your Truth” or “The Truth”?

“Speak Your Truth” or “The Truth”?

“Speak[ing] your truth” has become an incessantly annoying phrase in recent years. Once the mantra of the truly oppressed, used for good cause in shedding light on issues like sexism and racism, it’s become a cliche adopted by anyone and everyone. You see it in magazine articles, on inane Instagram posts, in every Oprah interview, and even in ad campaigns. And for what purpose, I wonder, besides some vague reach for headline fodder?

In full disclosure, I’ll admit that I am a curmudgeon and contrarian. So in the interest of attaining some balance, I decided to give “speak your truth” a fair shot by reminding myself of its origins and use. In essence, it’s a reiteration of sharing one’s story or providing a different perspective. With the #metoo movement, it became a calling card for accounts of abused women who were never afforded a platform to share their version of events. Similarly, across history, it rallied strength by numbers for groups of oppressed minorities, whose history was erased; a new edition of “the truth” for many, educated by a whitewashed system.

The truth is different from your or my truth however. It may sound petty to distinguish these, in light of what’s been stated above but here’s the thing: who’s to validate the actual truth when so many sides can claim legitimacy via emotional goodwill? It’s not just the oppressed that use this phrase. It’s dragged out for pasture by the flat-earthers, the anti-vaxxers, Holocaust deniers, and Trump supporters of this world too. And with so much “truth” going on, it gets pretty foggy out there.

The Atlantic highlighted this well in early 2018, speaking about Oprah’s Cecile B. De Mille Award speech at the Golden Globes. A strong proponent of all things spiritual and motivational, she urged people to (you guessed it) “speak [their] truth” leading to calls (among idiots) for her to run for president. To be fair, given the actual good she’s done with her show and her background, there’s some weight to her pronouncement against others except that she’s also helped dilute the power of this message by praising the likes of Jenny McCarthy for her bravery when speaking out against vaccinations (in 2007). This is not meant to fan the flames of a vaccination debate but to simply point out that opposing sides (as we’d imagine them) each believe they’re speaking truth to power.

In a “post-truth world” of “alternative facts” and headline readers, speaking one’s truth isn’t entirely a noble endeavour. I’d even go so far as to say that it emboldens political opposites by adding an extra layer of sanctimonious narcissism to their bubbles. On top of that too, it’s been capitalised on by celebrities for surpassing a certain number of followers (The Rock) and by clothing brands like Calvin Klein who featured a roster of celebrities in their “I speak my truth” campaign. (Kendall Jenner was one of them.)

The use of language changes throughout history and most people will dabble in hyperbole from time to time but with important concepts like truth and lies, one should take the time to consider their value. After all, a large percentage of Americans still believe the election was stolen from Trump despite clear evidence to the contrary. Their arguments may be non-existent but the emotional weight attached to their call can’t be denied. And when one begins conflating their opinion with facts, it gets pretty to see where the my and your get separated from the the (truth).

Will Corona Response Be Trump’s End?

Throughout history, it’s often been the case that great crises produce great leaders, should they meet the challenge of their time. Lincoln prevailed in his efforts to pass the 13th Amendment during the bloodiest war in American History. Franklin D. Roosevelt saw America through both the Great Depression and World War II. Even John F. Kennedy, to a less significant extent, bolstered his legacy by navigating the Cuban Missile Crisis (although it must be said, this was a crisis he had a hand in creating). In trying times, petty squabbles are usually put aside, and people do something quite rare; they support their leaders.

That support can be inspiring albeit brief. After the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush’s approval ratings rose to 90%. His father’s also peaked during the Gulf War, a decade before. In both cases, those numbers quickly dwindled. I would like to suspect the same will happen for Donald J. Trump, whose approval ratings have somehow risen, despite a disastrous response to Covid-19.

I would like to think that because…

The effects of his inaction and bluster are palpable. As I write (Easter Sunday), the death toll in the US resulting from Covid-19 has reached 20,000. Unfortunately, that will continue to rise and many more will continue to be incapacitated to some extent or another. Hospitals are overwhelmed and there are not enough face masks to go around. Trump’s position has shifted considerably from a month ago when he glibly downplayed the extent of the crisis; something a lot of people did, but not those with top-level intel. I’m glad he is now taking it seriously and yes, perhaps it could’ve gotten a lot worse but really, with a competent president, it could’ve been a lot better.

Before this crisis, Trump had already made a mockery of the Oval Office and committed himself to the status of being the worst US President in history. However, a lot of his legacy was also built on the fragmentation of politics and polarisation of liberals and conservatives. The latter, fervent in their beliefs, would not give an inch even if it meant ignoring treason on their leader’s part. That’s pretty despicable and we can get into it another day but what’s fundamentally different about this crisis, is that politics simply shouldn’t enter the equation. Trump’s response is not political dogma; it’s sheer incompetence. Economically and emotionally, neither liberals or conservatives will be spared. The figures speak for themselves.

Alas though, I suspect he might survive this…

His election in 2016 was a fathomless affair so who’s to say this will finally be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? He’s defied reason and become exception at every other turn. Maybe, ideological differences will continue to outweigh any other perceptions. Maybe, this will still not give credence to the importance of a comprehensive health care system. Plus…

Well, you might have heard that Bernie Sanders dropped out of the Democratic race last week. This was a surprising turn for many although even if the primaries weren’t delayed, he was unlikely to succeed (being 300 delegates behind). Effectively, this has rendered “Sleepy Joe” the Democratic nominee. Again, I would like to think he would be a shoe-in to defeat Trump but his interviews thus far have been… they’ve been disastrous. Let’s not beat around the bush. He’s clearly out of his wits; uncertain of what he’s quoting, what he’s saying, and what exactly is going on. Is this a harsh assessment? Yes. But a necessary one. Joe. Needs. To. Get. His. Shit. Together. Hillary Clinton lost to Trump after all. Joe Biden, like her, is perceived by many as an establishment centrist but he’s a) “another old white dude” and b) less smart.

Now, Bernie’s supporters should do what they can to help him get elected. Although he has an iffy track record in several departments and is a less than ideal substitute for a progressive, he is a lot better than Trump. He will be reasonable, he may even work with some of those progressives, and yes, restoring a sense of normality would be a good thing. More importantly though, there’s just too much at stake to take a risk at another four years. Joe and his cohorts are right when they say the character of America would be fundamentally changed by a second term.

I’m not a big fan of theoretic propositions or what ifs when it comes to history. That way lies some Back to the Future II madness. But what if we actually tried to learn something from this crisis. It’s a devastating and frankly depressing time and one which should not be trivialised. To that extent, I’d like to specify that I’m not referring to some vague spiritual reawakening on mankind’s part or for the celebrities involved in that “Imagine” cover to reconvene and do better. I mean, what if we learn to appreciate and prioritise what matters on a practical level: the health care system. For too long, America’s rolled the dice on this one and sorry to say, it’s coming back to bite them on the ass. Politicians have sold out their peoples’ future and now innocent, less well-off people are suffering in the masses.

This crisis couldn’t have been avoided completely but it could’ve done with a steady pair of hands and a calm, reassuring voice. Like Obama’s. Trump is no leader. He’s not a unifier. He’s not smart. He’s not willing to learn. His ego means more to him than the lives of his people. That’s a hard truth for people to accept but we’re running out of time for bullshit. Again, politics shouldn’t matter. How could they in this situation? There’s no use left in blaming all those who voted for him in 2016 but it’s time to start thinking about what it’d be like to have, if not a genius in the Oval Office, a decent individual?

Alienating Centrists

Last week, I took a political profile quiz to determine which camp I belonged in. Somewhat to my surprise, I was labelled a liberal with ideologies not so dissimilar from Gandhi’s. Strange, I thought, I’m far too stubborn and curmudgeonly for that kinda stuff. The quiz, for all its comprehensiveness in the issues addressed (and actual issues at that too, such as health care and education) was flawed though. Firstly, it was based on the rather limiting agree/disagree dichotomy (with the somewhat unnecessary “strongly” accords), which doesn’t pave way for much nuance. Secondly, it failed to grasp the actual tone of liberalism/conservatism so rampant in today’s media and social landscape.

I consider myself a liberal of a vague and tepid persuasion; sometimes a centrist for kicks (though on a couple of occasions, people have charged that that’s what conservatives always say???). I believe in universal health care, a good measure of gun control, tackling climate change with the utmost expense, free speech, and equal rights. In fact, I think most Republican measures in the last thirty or so years have been reprehensible and guided by mostly terrible leaders. With that said, I admire President George H.W. Bush a lot, I think a balanced budget is important, and in certain cases, Democrats do over-legislate (e.g. in 2017, there was a proposed law to fit alarms into cars to prevent children being left in hot conditions; this is really a parent’s responsibility in my opinion). These are to many, minor concessions; an olive branch of a feeble sort to the other side. Increasingly however, these considerations have become all the more necessary, if toxic.

It’d be foolish to fully comply with the notion that you can’t be a Republican who believes in gay marriage or that you can’t be a liberal who wants to protect the 2nd Amendment. For one, it’s inherently stupid and two, you’d always find some smart-ass commentator picking a part your language specifically. But at its essence, I think most people are finding a conversation between both sides increasingly frustrating and pointless. Conservatives think liberals promote a decaying state of morality whereas liberals think conservatives promote every kind of prejudice with every sentence they utter, etc, etc. To a degree, we’ve come to expect this from the GOP with their arsenal of attack ads, in play since the Reagan era. What’s so disappointing is how bad the left has gotten in recent years.

What do I mean by this? I mean the manner in which certain peoples’ opinions are smeared across every edifice of our culture. We can’t watch the new Joker movie without some question mark wavering over whether it’ll inspire alienated white men to grab up arms. We can’t cast a new film or TV show without accounting for a strict diversity quota. We can’t watch old films without a moment of silence for the lack of wokeness at play. We’re told to hold certain opinions over certain matters because they’re politically correct, before examining whether they’re intellectually sound (indeed, reports have shown conservative students reluctant to speak out in their liberal universities). And if you disagree and think, Caitlyn Jenner’s not a hero or that female-reboot of Ghostbusters was lazy pandering, the chances are you’ll be called a trans-phobic or sexist individual by someone in the comments section, no matter what the argument.

This is by no means a rallying call to be politically incorrect for the sake of it or rude or sexist/racist/transphobic, etc. I’m not trying to provoke anyone in saying these things. For the most part, these liberals have admirable intentions. The problem is, in their plea for open-mindedness, they fail to open their own to the possibility of reproach; because racism is so entrenched in society and so historically destructive, they aim to stamp out anything even approaching intolerance. But it’s not that easy and it’s not that clever because when you try and enforce your values on somebody, no matter how sensible or decent they are, you push them away. Calling someone an idiot does not make them change their mind, it only paints you in a negative light. You want to get Trump re-elected in 2020? Start promoting the most pious and patronizing Democrat available.

The Democrats have the right ideas and a good chance of winning in 2020. Let’s not squander that opportunity by alienating centrists or soft right-wingers who don’t agree with us on everything or perhaps liked an off-color joke back in 2004. Let’s get back to focusing on the important issues which should define our political persuasion, as in that quiz, and not the petty minutiae of woke culture. It seems a redundant statement but people aren’t good or bad, left or right, liberal or conservative. They’re a blend of various factors and while I personally thought The Last Jedi was the worst Star Wars made, that does not mean I hate women in power (#warren2020).