With Virginia’s gubernatorial election ticked off this week’s list, it’s worth considering the path that led Republican Glenn Youngkin to victory.
In the home stretch of his campaign, one tactic used was particularly controversial – a video advertising centered on the dangers of Laura Murphy, a bossy mother who sought to have a certain graphic book removed from her child’s English curriculum. The effort was blocked by former Virginia governor, Youngkin’s opponent Terry McAuliffe.
What is most convincing is what was omitted from the ad. The student was a high school student who was taking an advanced course in English. The book? Toni Morrison’s Nobel Prize winning novel, “Beloved.”
A small investigation found that behind the appearance of parental choice, this campaign ad was really meant to create white solidarity to alleviate the racial malaise that books like “Beloved” awake. It is a question of race, in particular, how race is or is not taught in public schools. What is most threatening to the Conservative agenda is not the graphic content, but the confrontation with the harsh realities of American slavery.
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Essentially, the Youngkin ad promoted a policy of banning books in public schools to protect students from graphic literature – but historically and culturally significant. Murphy’s testimony argued for censorship – denying students the intellectual freedom to consume content of educational value. The implications of this type of censorship extend far beyond Virginia’s gubernatorial elections.
There are a wide variety of reasons for banning books based on different sets of political, religious or cultural values. Regardless of ideological justifications, the practice of censorship generally stems from a desire to silence a prospect of opposition. In the context of American history, this often means marginalizing the voices of minority groups.
More specifically, the works of black authors are repeatedly and systematically censored. In fact, “books by black authors are among the most frequently banned,” according to the National Coalition Against censorship.
a little black writers who are frequently banned across the United States include James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Maya Angelou. Black authors with works that have made the American Library Association Top 10 The list of the most contested books in 2020 includes Ibram X. Kendi, Angie Thomas and, of course, Toni Morrison.
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Since it is safe to say that the banning of black authored books has a painfully long history, the Youngkin ad cannot be viewed as an independent incident that relates to the banning of a black author. Instead, this effort would be more accurately characterized as a targeted attempt to censor a valuable educational resource through thinly veiled racism.
The impact of disproportionate black voice censorship is the promotion of whiteness as the standard of life in the United States. This homogeneous education lacks the nuance necessary to provoke critical reflection on systems of power and oppression.
To put it another way, when black voices are omitted from black experiences, so is the truth.
Active efforts must be made to strengthen freedom of information, especially when it comes from historically marginalized perspectives. Corn numerous see the race for governor of Virginia as a barometer election for the foreseeable future of American politics. We should take Youngkin’s victory as a warning for the kind of illiberal policies to be expected from conservative leaders across the country.
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Fortunately, there are countless organizations across the United States that do not take the issue of the book ban lightly. The aforementioned NCAC and ALA work to educate citizens about the dangers of censorship, organize political movements, and organize recommendations to encourage readers to delve into the world of prohibited literature.
There are also opportunities within the Madison community to share and interact with banned books. In 2007, College Library organized an event with the American Civil Liberties Union which included prohibited book readings from a variety of diverse authors. Since then, campus libraries have created annual collections for forbidden book week encourage students to exercise their crucial civil liberties.
The protection of intellectual freedom within our community is a powerful tool of resistance. In an age where the future of censorship is more uncertain than ever, we must engage with banned books – not only to bring depth to our own perspectives – but to support those who have been silenced.
Celia Hiorns ([email protected]) is a first year student studying political science and journalism.