I was terrified the first week of my three month assignment in China. I read a couple of books to prepare, Crazy Rich Asians1…don’t laugh, Shenzen, my destination was mentioned and I got a good sense of the incredible wealth in China, streets not on maps etcetera. The second book was Wild Swans; I downloaded it to the Kindle reader on my phone to finish the last two chapters. This is what terrified me; once I arrived and tried to finish the book on my phone, it had disappeared.1 I hadn’t been in the country 6 hours and I felt marked. The book, Wild Swans, is banned in China.
Since then, I have been cautious not to repeat the incident in a text or email. Eight years later and after seven years of blogging, I write with a tinge of trepidation, and limited hashtags for this post. When I speak of the incident, most often people shake their heads and say something like, “China, that doesn’t happen here.” So, why now? Far to often things are dismissed in the US with, “that doesn’t happen here,” or “that was a long time ago.”
“Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.”. That was the theme for banned books week 2021. You gotta love the US, today’s term is “challenged” books rather than “banned.” The book always on the list is “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The recent reason is the image of a “white savior.” Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. The book was written over 50 years ago and right, wrong or indifferent reflects something published in 1960. Are we confusing a product of the time with history? That would be unfortunate.
Larry Whilmore commented on attempts to ban D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation3. I’m paraphrasing; the gist of what he said, we need to keep all those things, “those are the receipts.” I agree. It is proof, evidence of the culture during that time. Erasing something like Birth of a Nation, offensive as it may be, is a history we must grapple with; not only what was fictionally depicted in the movie but how the 3 hour plus silent film was heralded and embraced. When we talk about banned books, it’s not like we’re talking Mein Kamph.
Hundreds of students, parents and residents in York County, Pa., protested limits on books told from the perspective of gay, Black and Latino children.
The list included children’s books like a “A Boy Called Bat,” about a third grader with autism, “I Am Rosa Parks,” and “Cece Loves Science,” about a curious girl who loves experiments.How Students Fought a Book Ban and Won, for Now.
It is easy to say something like,” oh those people,” or “that state.” If we are the Unites States, can we be cavalier and dismissive? Can we discuss required reading lists used in education? Far to often, when students are offended and parents are upset by required reading, a book is “banned” rather than the deeper discussion of, what is a classic or the purpose of required reading. Until recently, homes were not built with a garage door height that would accommodate a hummer. Media consoles were not sized to fit large flat screen TVs. We didn’t ban these items. We acknowledge the framework has changed and shifted requirements.
This week, consider, ban/challenged4, 5, 6 books as the receipts of our times. What do these lists say about what we can’t accept, what we don’t want to discuss, what is US?
1 The Ultra-Wealthy World of Crazy Rich Asians is a Real Thing. Here’s Why
2 The book reappeared on my phone once I was back in California.
3 Birth of a Nation: The movie, set mainly in a South Carolina town before and after the Civil War, depicts slavery in a halcyon light, presents blacks as good for little but subservient labor, and shows them, during Reconstruction, to have been goaded by the Radical Republicans into asserting an abusive dominion over Southern whites. It depicts freedmen as interested, above all, in intermarriage, indulging in legally sanctioned excess and vengeful violence mainly to coerce white women into sexual relations. It shows Southern whites forming the Ku Klux Klan to defend themselves against such abominations and to spur the “Aryan” cause overall. The movie asserts that the white-sheet-clad death squad served justice summarily and that, by denying blacks the right to vote and keeping them generally apart and subordinate, it restored order and civilization to the South.
7 Several books on many list are related to child sexual abuse. The number of victims are increasing. Specialists have noted, with the lockdown experienced during covid, there has been a surge in incidences of sexual abuse. Are books that address a real issues and prevention strategies being banned ? Child Sexual Abuse Facts: One in four girls and one in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old. More than 90 percent of girl in the juvenile justice systems self-disclose trauma. More than 500,000 will be impacted by sexual abuse per year.