Category Archives: Toni Morrison

Beginning a Week of Book Banning Awareness

Standard

From September 21st through the 27th, the American Libraries Association has

declared this “Banned Books Week.” They wish to encourage our freedom to read.

The ALA’s slogan for this week is, “Discover What You’re Missing.” I think it is so

important to remind people of how recently we had books destroyed, censored

and banned in our country.

In my opinion, books on any subject are meant to expand our world views. They

open our eyes where we may hold insulated views. Some have been protected,

kept safe and ‘closed off,’ from what is being presented in their community or

‘tribe’ (or family.)There are some who home school, some who don’t believe

in public news, some who wish that all offensive subjects not be mentioned to

or around their children. I respect their freedom to do so and they have valid

concerns. But they must also be careful for ‘what they wish for.’ After having

a protected Catholic roommate my sophomore year in college go, ‘haywire,’

with her sudden freedom. Also, knowing a relative who sent her 3 daughters to

a Christian college, only to have one get married to a Catholic, a Jewish man

and another to live with a man out of wedlock, I think one must be careful

about what kind of life you are presenting to your children and family.

By the way, just so you don’t misunderstand, I felt all three of these choices

were find and acceptable choices. It is just the fact the parents had tried to

prevent this ‘kind of thing,’ from happening, that I mention it at all.

Creating awareness of censorship and banning books may seem ‘foreign’ to

ones in their twenties who may live in a city where this has not recently

happened. Historically, it is no so far in the distant past, as one may think. It

is also part of many cultures’ and countries’ current practices. Awareness of

the dangers in such behavior, burning books, taking black markers and

removing words, opinions, and whole passages of different perspectives is

so important for everyone to recognize.

The definition of ‘ban’ that applies to this practice is defined as to prohibit

especially by legal means or social pressure some form of information.

Censure or condemning through public opinion.

The definition of ‘censor’ is to examine in order to suppress or delete

harmful or dangerous material.

The major problem in both banning and censoring is “Who is doing this?”

Who has the authority to choose what we are able to read, write or talk

about?

The subjects of McCarthyism, Apartheid, Racial Issues and Governmental

Control are the ones that “leap to mind’ and produce a cold hand upon my

heart.

Do I think the military servicemen should have had their letters censored,

for fear of accidentally getting into the hands of our enemies? I would not

wish to make a decision that might cause death or infiltration of the enemy

in times of war.

Do I think that some subjects are ‘gross’ and upsetting to my mind? Yes,

but again, I would not wish to impose my thoughts upon others. I don’t

feel this would be fair or just behavior.

While teaching my first year of middle school, in 1979, I was in a small

town where the principal and the superintendent were from cities. They

said it was important to not feel that parents should dictate how their

students be taught. They made me feel comfortable about approaching

them with topics. Sixth grade Language Arts, along with English, Spelling

and Current Events were part of my instruction responsibilities. We had

team teaching, where the students moved from classroom to classroom.

Once I found out I was expecting my second child (my first miscarriage

had been the year before) I asked when it would be appropriate to tell

the students. We were going to be riding in a bus, in the winter months

to a swimming pool, I would be helping the kids to learn floating and

Life Saving techniques. I would be wearing a maternity bathing suit by

then. They suggested telling the parents in November and I listened to

their more experienced advice. We also were having Sex Ed discussions

in the Science classes. I was a little embarrassed as students would see

my belly expanding, but it turned out they loved getting in a line after

lunch in December to feel the baby move. Then, I would have them put

their heads down, as they rested and listened to the chapter book, “The

Yearling,” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

What books do I think of that have been banned? Without referring to

a list, I imagined “Clockwork Orange,” from my high school readings.

I pictured and remembered that the word, ‘nigger,’ was considered very

controversial and some schools and libraries during the Civil Rights

Movement, mistakenly removed the book, “Huckleberry Finn,” from

their book shelves. The third immediate ‘banned’ book I could think of,

was “The Scarlet Letter.”

Why ban “Clockwork Orange?” Graphic language,  the governmental

control and the futuristic idea of mind control over a criminal. The main

character is injected, I believe if my memory serves me well, with something

that causes him to have pictures of violence and he suffers excruciating pain

from this. Why should we accept this book and not ban it? This is an intriguing

start to a whole new genre of books, which opened our minds to possibilities

and also, made us aware of the dangers of choosing how a criminal should be

punished. Do we have the right to do this? It can also be argued, do we have

the right to kill a man because he killed or committed dangerous acts. Our

legal world, with a ‘jury of our peers,’ makes those kind of powerful judgments.

Why ban “Huckleberry Finn?” I think fear of repercussions and misunderstandings

during a very dangerous, emotional period of our times. We can look at this

rationally, knowing the language was supposed to depict what was acceptable

during Mark Twain’s time. Why accept the book? Because it is an outstanding

story that does cross racial barriers and shows a black man and a young boy in

a fantastic piece of American literature. Their unique friendship and reliance

on each other shows a trust unexpected between two such characters, prior

to Mark Twain’s writing this book.

Why would “The Scarlet Letter,” which has a 19th century woman wearing a

red “A” across her chest be considered censorable? I think some would say

go ahead and promote this book. It holds their own judgments of the situation

on adultery. I am not sure if it is on the banned books list, which I had decided

when I set out to write this, that I would not ‘peek’ at the list until I finished my

opinions or had a chance to ‘editorialize.’ I think it may have been on the list

but would take it off, due to my determination that usually the WOMAN is

given the scarlet letter, not the man who was part of the couple engaged in

adultery. This is an antiquated viewpoint, but sadly this is still held in some

form or other, which is not the time nor place to talk about why this still goes

on.

 

The Office of Intellectual Freedom gets reports and complaints. They usually

get the most “challenges” to freedom from the public wishing to ban books

after the Top 10 Book List is published.

Here are the Top 5 out of a list of Top 10 the OIF received after the 2013 Top Ten

List was published:

1. “Captain Underpants,” by Dav Pilkey.

The complaints were: Offensive language and unsuitable for age group.

2. “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison.

The complaints were: Offensive language, sexually explicit, violence and unsuitable for age group.

3. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian ,” by Sherman Alexie.

The complaints were: Drugs, alcohol, smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit and

unsuitable for age group.

4. “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E.L. James.

The complaints were: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoints, sexually explicit and

unsuitable for age group.

5. “The Hunger Games,” by Suzanne Collins.

The complaints were: Religious viewpoints and unsuitable for age group.

Hmm…I would have added violence possibly.

Overall, there are large numbers given on the official website of the Office of Intellectual Freedom

of the population that wish to restrict our reading materials.

 

 

The funny thing that someone in my life mentioned about censorship, I am

not quite sure who, but he asked this thought-provoking question:

What book has many adult themes within its pages, including adultery,

fornication and murdering one’s family members, but is considered

‘acceptable’ by those who wish to forbid and censor books?

(The Bible, he answered.)

What books came to mind, when I first started this post, that may be on past

banned books lists?

 

Nelson Mandela’s quotation seems apropos:

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains,

but to live in a way that respects and enhances

the freedom of others.”

 

Safe world vs. protected and insular one

Standard

I was on my way to work while enjoying the banter between two

local radio cohosts, Dino and Stacy. I honestly have seen Dino

Tripodis, out and about, also at the Children’s Hospital fundraisers.

The music is always easy listening on Sunny 95 (94.7). Their choice

of subject matter may make you “cringe.” Dino is frankly a great

late night comedian at the Funny Bone located at Easton Towne

Center, Columbus, Ohio.

Dino is Greek, he mentions this a lot. He is dark, attractive and I

would term him, “swarthy looking.” A dapper dresser when  a host at

fundraisers and I think most people would find him a tad ‘raunchy’

(dare I say, “potty mouthed?”) when performing as a comedian. Sorry,

but  who isn’t when they are entertaining a night crowd of drinking

adults at a comedy club?

Dino made his opening introduction of the “call in” topic of the day:

“How does your workplace do in their handling controversial

subjects?”

Dino’s first three examples may offend you but they were meant

to open discussions and receive more call ins. One example of

bigotry Dino explained happened to him, “Hey, exactly what ethnic

group are you a member of?” Dino said there was no preamble or

lead in lines, either. Just jumping right in.

His next one was aimed at a fellow coworker who had brought in

his own family specialty. Dino overheard someone coming into the

radio station, saying,

“Hey, who is cooking that smelly food?”

Last example given, was asked of a friend while they were

walking together around the Columbus Jazz and Ribfest,

“Are you black or are you Indian?”

These are ‘cringe worthy’ comments. I think that sometimes

the people know they are politically incorrect and proceed

to aim them, with some kind of animosity. But, on the other hand,

sometimes they may be just plain ignorant of social norms. In this

case, they need to start moving in a wider circle and embracing

more differences in their lives!

I am appalled to tell you that my third grade grandson, Skyler, was

walking in for his first day of school with his stepdad and little

brother, Micah. A classmate came up to him, while they were both

trying to find their lockers. They had been given for the first time,

the number of a “big kid” locker and Mike and Micah had dropped

back a few paces to allow the learning experience to unfold. This

boy asked him the following question, really truly…

“Is your Dad black or is he one of those terrorist groups?”

Skyler blinked a few times, looked up at his stepdad and with a

whole lot of moxie and so much intelligence, answered,

“Hi Jacob, this is my stepdad, Mike. Actually, he is half black and half

white, his son is my brother. My biological Dad is white. I call my

stepdad, “Dad” when I am around him.”

When my children were little, I made a point as my parents had

done before for my brothers and me, to introduce many cultures

including their foods. I found my son to be the one who enjoyed

the spices in curried chicken, who loved the sardines and different

fish from cans. My father had introduced us to gefilte fish with his

good friends, the Lezbergs. We liked going to their unusual house

that had a two story atrium where birds flew around and lizards

crawled. The children became our friends and we had the great

experience of seeing the eldest son’s Bar Mitvah in their synagogue.

Dad, in fact, at NASA, had another coworker who was named

Samuel Palmer, who introduced him to pigs’ feet, corn “pone” and

black-eyed peas, bringing home some of Samuel’s wife’s homemade

Southern family dishes for us to try, too. We ended up being one of

only three white families at their daughter’s wedding.

While in California, Dad really enjoyed the Chinese food he had

discovered in Chinatown and tried buffets where the selection was

fantastic. He would call home, just to hear that we were having hot

dogs, salad and mac ‘n cheese. Mom said it bothered her more when

he was eating steak and lobster, since she missed “surf and turf” more.

While traveling we would try Japanese food, watching the fascinating

Chef/servers with their sharp knives chopping the vegetables and

meats up. The strange treats of chocolate covered ants and crickets

were given us, without much fanfare. We liked the sweet and sour

sauces and eventually the spicy General Tso’s sauce, too.

Living a life full of plain mashed potatoes, corn and chicken, one

of my ex-husbands loved his time in Japan. He learned to immerse

himself on weekends in the culture. He spent time getting off the

base and participating in local theatre, trips up gorgeous mountains,

exploring and sightseeing. He discovered beautiful gardens, special

museums and worship places where they took part in spiritual

ceremonies like churches.

This surprised him when he would inquire of his fellow Air Force

buddies if they would like to join him. There were few who were

interested in venturing out. He mentioned to me, on one of our

early dates,

“I felt alive while exploring more there than in our own country.

Somehow, a little “risk” and becoming involved in a different part

of the world, made it even more exciting than his past vacation

experiences.

Back to the subject of parenting, my youngest daughter, some

may have read that I chose to raise her on her own. When she

started to get curious, she would have her “real” Dad come and

visit.

Mainly her sources of love and father role models were her two

uncles and her grandfather.

Her stepfather, having an Irish name, had more of a tan complexion

and coal black hair, along with dark brown eyes. He was often asked

where his coloring came from, he would say his mother’s side of the

family. He could have said, there are also “black Irish,” too.

In Spain and France, located in  the Pyranees Mountains, a group

lighter skinned and blonde ancestors were supposed to originate.

While in Mexico, one of the students on our Spanish Club trip, got

a lot of attention. Gina was blonde and blue eyed. While in Spain,

a year later, she was not accosted as often nor called, “muy bonita

Senorita!” as often, due to this strange fact that there are blonde

inhabitants more in the Northern region.

Recently, a friend of mine who was raised on a farm, confided that

her family wasn’t very open minded sometimes. In her lifetime, she

could remember her Dad using the word “n—— rigged” when he

would take two parts and try to connect without any connection

or meaning “making do.” She also mentioned that her Granny used

the name with “n” in it to talk about in those days,people who my

family was still using “colored” people or “folks.”

We did advance to the seventies, where my Mom introduced in her

English classroom modern “Black Literature.” Her curriculum

included books like , “Black Like Me,” by John Howard Griffin,

(written in 1961.)

Other famous writers during those times were James Baldwin, Toni

Morrison and Langston Hughes. While Mom assigned these to her

high school students, the books were given to us on our family

bookshelf for summer reading.

When my middle brother, Randy read John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl”

and his fourth grade teacher, Miss Root, doubted he really read it.

Even after hearing his book report this was challenged.  With some

fierceness in her approach, my Mom went in to back him up on this.

Books open many peoples’ lives and give them dreams, along with

knowledge of other cultures and the world, too.

My discussion started with the impetus or spark of a controversial

radio show this morning. It continued to “fester” and include some

‘close to home’ examples. Then, it became how families need to

evolve sometimes to meet the challenge of our multicultural

environment.

The gifts to our children and grandchildren can include tasting a

variety of foreign foods. A new lease on life can be found in all the

wonderful festivals that surround us. It may involve visiting some

museums around that feature culture in many dimensions of the

word.

All Fine Art Museums include international art. There are examples

of cultural artifacts, tapestries and sculptures. In Columbus, Ohio

our art museum is totally free on Sundays! (There is a donation

box but no one pressures anyone on these family days!)

History or Science Museums can open doors to a variety of unique

and fascinating subjects. The subject of nature and its exploration

was mentioned in my last post, so no need to go to that as a way

to widen little ones’ horizons.

I love this simple old fashioned comment,

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

It is so much deeper than I thought it meant. Especially,  when it

includes changing and accepting more exciting worlds than your

own back yard! By opening your doors, you may just open your

children or grandchildren’s ways of thinking, too.

And that is a “gain” no one can put a price tag on…