Messenger: Banning Toni Morrison’s book only proves his point about the discomfort of language | Tony Messenger

With every election cycle, it seems, there’s a new way to nominate a group of voters who seem to have all the juice. These are the voters that elected officials are targeting to put them ahead in tight races.

Some time ago it was the mothers of football.

The last presidential election was suburban moms.

This cycle, it seems, public school parents are the target. Finally, I count. I was an on-and-off public school parent for 30 years. Three decades of back-to-school parties, emails with teachers over lost homework, meetings with principals over discipline issues, meetings of booster clubs, chaperone visits to the zoo. All this work, and for once, I am part of the select group of voters who matter.

It’s always the Republicans who come up with these things. A consultant like Frank Luntz develops a sample-tested phrase. The national media is taking advantage, and the Democrats, who can’t agree on what day it is, let alone which voters to target, are catching up. The Affordable Care Act becomes Obamacare. The safety net becomes socialism. Environmental protections become job-killing regulations. Rinse. Repeat.

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Parents are the new electoral goose. Well, as Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of “The 1619 Project,” so aptly pointed out during a recent appearance on “Meet the Press,” the real target is white parents. Specifically, white parents who are harmed by racial equity; white parents who would convince a local school board to ban, say, the groundbreaking book “The Bluest Eye” by acclaimed American author Toni Morrison.

That’s what happened last week, as the Wentzville School Board voted 4-3, against a review panel’s recommendation, to ban Morrison’s masterpiece about a girl black woman in the Great Depression struggling with racism and sexism, and struggling with her own worth. .

In 1993, Morrison won the Nobel Prize in Literature for her lifetime of using language to challenge racial and gender stereotypes, as she did in her 1970 book which currently sits at No. 9 on the American Library Association’s list of most disputed books. The ALA has kept statistics on these challenges since 1990, so while the current book ban craze fueled by Republican fear over racial equity is dangerous, it’s not particularly new.

In 1994, as a parent, I helped push back such an effort at my children’s elementary school in Colorado. A group of white parents who identified as Christians came to the school’s site management committee – I was a member – and asked us to remove a series of books from the school’s young adult readers section. .

It’s almost quaint to think back to those controversial days more than a quarter century ago in light of legislation pushed by Missouri Republicans calling for a so-called ‘parental bill of rights’ to bring more transparency. to public schools. As parents, we had then, and still have, all the things that people like Attorney General Eric Schmitt claim we don’t have now.

To read a book in the young adult section – books by RL Stine, Judy Blume, JRR Tolkien – students needed a permission slip signed by their parents. The school district maintained a list of books in this section, available to all parents. There was a well-established system by which a parent could protest the inclusion of a book – or any element of the curriculum – all the way to the school board.

No books were banned at my children’s school that year, but efforts like this happen every year in school districts and libraries.

There’s an uptick in 2022 because Republicans are fueling a push to rewrite history, highlighted by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ efforts to pass a bill that would ban any teaching about discrimination that would cause ” malaise” to whites.

If she were alive, Morrison would see the irony in the fact that the same Republicans who falsely called it censorship when Twitter and Facebook banned certain politicians from using their platforms are now pushing their own security bills. government censorship aimed at banning any content that brings them discomfort.

As Morrison said in his Nobel lecture so many years ago, the discomfort of language is the point.

“Whether it’s obscuring state language or the fake language of stupid media; be it the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commercial language of science; whether it is the malevolent language of unethical law or language designed for the alienation of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek – it must be rejected, changed and exposed,” Morrison said. “It is the language that drinks blood, laps up vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly to the baseline and the lowest spirit. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language – all are typical of police mastery languages ​​and cannot, allow new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.

Today’s Republican masters seek to erase history by first banishing the very difficult language that opens our minds to new ideas. We parents, with our new electoral bloc power, need to stand up and make sure they don’t get away with this.

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