Banned Books Week 2019

Banned Books Week 2019 was September 22 through 28, 2019. I regret that I’m a day late (technically), but since the issue of challenged/banned books is a year-round problem, I’m sure this post still applies.

Since 2014, I have participated in the Banned Books Week Virtual Readout (which, by the way, can be done anytime — not just during BBW). In 2018, I read from And Tango Makes Three (here’s the recording and my post). In 2017, I read from I Am Jazz (here’s the recording and my post). In 2016, I read from Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out (here’s the recording and my post). In 2015, I read from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (here’s the recording and my post). In 2014, I read from Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy (here’s the recording).

This year, I am reading from The Hate U Give. The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom recorded challenges to/bans of 347 books in 2018.

Banned Books Week 2019

Of the top 11, this book was number four. The ALA says it was “banned and challenged because it was deemed “anti-cop,” and for profanity, drug use, and sexual references .”

Here’s my readout:

How I chose this year’s book

I chose this book primarily because I had heard so much about it.

Why I would want my kid to read “The Hate U Give”

Although one book alone can’t give a comprehensive view of another culture, this book helped me understand Angie Thomas’ fictional representation of what it is like to be a black family in America, that I assume is based on her experiences.

I would want my student, on reading this book, to:

Wonder about praying to Black Jesus. My kids never heard me implore “White Jesus.” In all honesty, the real Jesus was probably closer to black Jesus than to all the caucasian depictions I (and my children) grew up with. We don’t say “In [White] Jesus name we pray.” Is that because we assume he was white? I want readers to know more about the Black Jesus of Starr’s world.

Understand “the talk.” Starr’s parents had the talk with her when she was 12. “…you do whatever they tell you to do,” [her father] said. “Keep your hands visible. Don’t make any sudden moves. Only speak when they speak to you.” Students who have had the privilege to not have needed the talk need to know about it. They need to know their friends may live by the instructions they were given in “the talk.” They may be in a car with a friend or significant other about whom a law enforcement officer makes an assumption that puts everyone in danger.

Understand why some people in our country don’t trust law enforcement. Again, I had the privilege of raising my children to, essentially, believe that law enforcement was 100% there to protect them. They need to understand that some people in their world have been given pretty solid reasons to think that law enforcement may err on the side of assuming they are the problem rather than the victim. Go to the Plain View Project, scroll through even the first page, and you’ll see that unfortunately some segments of law enforcement culture don’t see minorities in an objective way.

Understand that extricating a black student from their environment (in Starr’s case, a public school) and depositing them into a mostly white institution has benefits (a good education) but equally distressing downsides. Starr says: “Being two different people is so exhausting. I’ve taught myself to speak with two different voices and only say certain things around certain people.” I want my student to empathize with their peers who have to do this.

Understand that “THUG Life” is more than words on a hoodie. Speaking to Starr, her friend Khalil says, “‘Pac said Thug Life stood for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.” He elaborates, “The Hate U — the letter U — Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. T-H-U-G-L-I-F-E. Meaning what society gives us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out.” I still haven’t fully gotten to the bottom of that explanation, but there’s no reason my student as a reader can’t start deciphering it at 17 instead of my age, 54.

Why book challenges and bans matter

Banned Books Week 2019

The theme of this year’s Banned Books Week was “Censorship Leaves Us in the Dark. Keep the Light On!”

I have never understood why people think it will help students be more educated by reducing their options of what to read.

I did not expect to find a quote aligned with my point in a Baptist university’s publication, but I did. Kyle Burrow, a student at Ouachita Baptist University, wrote about why it’s better to try to understand people who want to ban books than to argue with them.

“It is important to try to empathize even with the leaders who try to ban certain books. But if they don’t listen to reason, it’s important to stand up for what’s right, and not back down from your morals,” he wrote. “We need conflicting viewpoints to grow as people.”

I agree.

Banned Books Week 2019

Inauguration Day and Beyond: #One20

It’s no secret at all that my candidate did not win the US Presidency. The election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency makes me sad, angry, and terrified for the impact his policy choices will have on my fellow Americans, on me, and on the world at large.

But he did win, he is being inaugurated on January 20, and I have a choice to make regarding how I respond.

I am inspired by One20: A Day for Doing Good, a call to do good in our communities on January 20, 2017 (Inauguration Day).

Although One20 is focusing on January 20 to begin with, I anticipate that start will create ripple effects long into the future. One20 has inspired the structure of this post: 20 things I, as ONE single person, can do and say in response to the establishment of the Trump Administration.

1. I am not using the #NotMyPresident hashtag.

The day after the election, my daughter and I were discussing the election’s outcome and the reactions of people around us. “Is it that bad?” was her question. While I do believe it is, indeed, that bad, I am choosing not to use the #NotMyPresident hashtag.

I am choosing not to use the #NotMyPresident hashtag because, like it or not, he is what I am getting. However, in the same way that I went to the Grads Made Good breakfast at Florida State year after year and refused to clap for Dr. Stephen Winters (RIP) who groped me in Dodd Hall when I was a freshman, the professor a higher-up administrator basically looked the other way about when I shared the information, I will not be applauding our new President.

2. An Addition to My White House Selfies

Every time I go to DC, I take the obligatory “here I am in front of the White House picture,” like this one from last September.

Political Activism

When I go to the Shot at Life Champions Summit next month, though, the picture may still have a green pen in it (I mean, that’s the norm now, right?) BUT I will also feature a safety pin prominently in the picture. I have seen so many individuals and groups deeply hurt by the reinvigorated spirit of hatred and divisiveness in our country, it is imperative to me that people know I, like @IBexWeBex, am a safe place.

3. I will participate in the Tallahassee Women’s March on January 21.

Organized by the Florida Planned Parenthood Alliance, the event is “a 100% inclusive event and all genders, races, ages, religions, sexual orientations – everyone! – is invited to participate.”

4. Involvement in local, state, and federal politics.

I will redouble my efforts to be personally familiar with the choices my local, state, and federal leaders are making, and to make my positions clear with them.

5. My Profile Picture on January 20

I am not changing my profile picture to one of President Obama on January 20, as many people I know are planning. This relates to the fact that I am not using the #notmypresident hashtag. I am beyond grateful to President Obama and his family. He has been a singularly outstanding President, and I am so excited about how he can apply his intellect and passions once he no longer has the constraints of the Presidency.

I really can’t explain why this choice doesn’t sit right for me. When Beyonce did an impromptu (and very well performed) rendition of the Star Spangled Banner to prove that she could, indeed, sing the song without a lip syncing, I hated the song being used as some sort of “revenge” song. Somehow using President Obama’s image feels the same way to me. (But I support everyone making that choice.)

6. Helping Homeless Women With Personal Hygiene Needs

In keeping with the idea that we can collectively make big impacts when many people do small things, I am adding feminine products to the non perishables I purchase for local food drives. For more on this topic, visit Bustle.

7. Making an Impact in Person, not just Online

I read a great post on Facebook about how we should attend to seeing how we can positively impact the people within five feet of us. I can’t find the initial post, but the concept is true. It is so easy to get wrapped up in our virtual communities that we forget what we can do for the people right next to us. Let’s do it.

8. Read, Dialogue, Read and Dialogue Some More

I am continuing to read books like Debby Irvings’s Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race and Susan Kuklin’s Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out in order to be better informed then finding a way to act on what I’ve learned and be a part of respectful dialogue in order to bring people closer to one another.

9. I am refusing to stay silent in the face of racist, anti-semitic, or other hate jokes.

When a national rental car company picked me up to take me to pick up a car right after the election, the driver, commenting on how safe my neighborhood appeared, went on to remark, “be glad you’re not in California where those Muslims are lying down in the streets.” When I responded that they had something to say, he went on to explain how we can never get along with “them,” and  how I would “figure that out someday.”

I doubt my attempt to defend Muslims registered with him AT ALL, but maybe, just maybe, he will think in the future before spouting his hatred. It mattered to try.

10. I am not moving to Costa Rica, Canada, or anywhere off of US soil.*

I am not going to let this President and his administration run me off. I love my country, think it is great already, and plan to stay put.

11. Voting Matters Now More Than Ever*

I will support efforts to get out the vote, to encourage people to register to vote, and to make it easy for my fellow citizens to vote.

12. Supporting Equity and Safety for Black Students

I am grateful to have met Kelly Wickham-Hurst, creator of Being Black at School. I have made a donation and will continue to support her work advocating for equity and safety for Black students.*

13. Kindness > Sarcasm

Inspired by Caitie Whelan’s Lightning Notes about The Kindness Impulse, I will strengthen my kindness impulse so it is stronger than my sarcasm impulse. For the record, it would probably be easier to move to Canada!

14. You’re Never Too Young to Learn to Make a Difference

I will believe in the capacity of the youngest among us to embrace diversity, to make a difference, and to positively influence their peers. A great place to start is by sharing one of the books featured in this #MomsReading blog from Moms Rising.

15. None of Us Can Afford to Be Single Issue Voters

I will continue to educate myself about issues that affect my fellow women and Americans, even if they don’t directly affect me. It started with We Won’t Wait 2016 and will only grow in the face of closed-mindedness and hatred from our newly elected leaders.

16. I will support the LGBTQIA+ Community

I joined Equality Florida in order to stay informed about issues important to Florida’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community (as well as Floridians at large) including Discrimination, Adoption, Family Recognition, Safe and Healthy Schools, Hate Crimes, Voter Mobilization, Marriage, Transaction, and Gun Violence Prevention.

17. I Will Advocate Tirelessly for Banned Books

I will continue to advocate passionately against censorship and other types of limitations to the freedom to read. Learn more about Banned Books Week.

18. Climate Change Is Bigger To Me Now

Although it has not been one of my “top” issues, I will redouble my efforts to track climate change issues and make a personal impact (ten good ideas in this article).

19. The World Beyond Our National Borders Deserves My Support

I will continue to be involved in international issues and in the lives of individuals in other countries for whom my access to freedom, resources, and security can be a help, such as the three children we sponsor in Guatemala and El Salvador through Unbound.

20. I Will Respect The Lessons of History

At the wise recommendation of Steve Schale, I read Rep. John Lewis’s letter of forgiveness to Governor George Wallace today. In one passage, he said, “Much of the bloodshed in Alabama occurred on Governor Wallace’s watch. Although he never pulled a trigger or threw a bomb, he created the climate of fear and intimidation in which those acts were deemed acceptable.” In the letter, Rep. Lewis forgave Governor Wallace, who in his view “grew to see that we as human beings are joined by a common bond.”

President Elect Trump will probably never pull a trigger or throw a bomb himself, but until he is proven otherwise, I stand ready to be one of the many Americans doing my part to mitigate the climate of fear and intimidation I see infiltrating the 2017 version of America which should know so much better by now.

As my friend Mary Schaefer quoted in a recent blog post:

We tell people who we are with every breath we breathe. (Source Unknown)

Mary’s unknown source is so right.

I can’t change who is going to be sworn in on January 20, but I can be a part of keeping America great …. for all Americans … until I run out of breath.

*Items with asterisks were inspired by “my commitments to protecting our democracy,” a reflection on President Obama’s farewell address by Leah Jones. Thank you, Leah, for helping me fill out my list of 20 actions/observations in such a substantive way.

More Ideas For How To Continue Advocacy Beyond 1/20/17

Political Activism

 

Banned Books Week 2016

Banned Books Week gets me fired up every year, and that passion has only grown since last year’s Curious Incident Incident.

Since 2014, I have participated in the Banned Books Week Virtual Readout (which, by the way, can be done anytime — not just during BBW). In 2014, I read from Captain Underpants; in 2015 I read from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, and this year I read from Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out.

I am a bit of a newbie when it comes to “clipping” passages via Audible, and I found the passages I had intended to share in my readout, after the readout. I want to expand on those a bit (the read-out is limited to 3 minutes) before I pass the paper version of the book along to a friend.

Other Important Passages

The three passages I shared were from:

Jessy, who was born as a girl and now identifies as a male. Jessy spoke about how he enjoys life “from a different perspective.”

I can see the world simultaneously from a male and a female perspective. ~ Jessy

Wanda, mom of Jonathan, who is gay and Christina, who is transsexual. As a parent, Wanda’s statements really resonated with me.

Hug your children. Hug them. ~ Wanda

Luke, who was born as a girl and now identifies as a male, and whose poem inspired the title of the book. Luke said coming out trans is “very exposing. It opens you up to a lot of mockery.” It was important to Luke to come out via a poem.

Said, ‘What are you?’ said, ‘you gotta choose’

said, ‘Pink or blue?’

and I said I’m a real nice color of magenta.

The passages I couldn’t find due to my Audible clip-finding incompetence and the ones I did not have space for are:

Wanda, Jonathan’s and Christina’s mom (again). [in response to a man who had physically attacked Christina]: “You’re not from here, right? In America people are used to this. There are gays, there are lesbians, there’s transgender. There are all kinds.”

Wanda continues, “…when I’m in the train with her, I still hear little kids say, ‘Mom, is that a man or a woman?’ I don’t want to hear that. I sometimes have to remind her not to show her Adam’ apple, and that’s so sad. I don’t want to have to remind her to keep her chin down.”

These passages about Wanda’s response to the man who had attacked Christina, and about the interactions she and Christina have with strangers on the train, resonated with me. I think it was because Wanda had an opportunity to educate the man who had attacked Christina (obviously it’s horrible that an attack is what led to that educational moment). Secondly, talking about the train made me think of how we can jump to assumptions about one another and the absolutely moronic (and hurtful) things people can say to one another when silence would be a better choice (but I understand that kids ask filter-less questions…).

Mariah, who was born as a boy but is transitioning to female: “A lot of transgender girls feel that they look like a boy and they try to fix it. The thing is, real beauty comes from the inside. You could be the most passable trans woman ever. Real beauty from the inside!”

The thing is, real beauty comes from the inside. ~ Mariah

I just loved this because …. it’s so very true.

Cameron, who was born as a girl and, at this point, requests to be referred to with pronouns such as “they, them, and their” talked about being treated with male privilege: Because I’m perceived as a male, I get male privileges. Male privilege means I don’t have to prove myself for my opinion to have weight. People assume that I’m intelligent. People assume that I have something to say. I get a fair amount of respect.

Cameron continues, “By being male, I’m automatically given some kind of validity that is weird. ‘Wait, guys, I haven’t said anything yet. And besides, you shouldn’t be giving me male privilege because I’m not really a guy — at least not by your standards, I’m definitely not.”

Why did this section intrigue me? Honestly it’s because there have been a few times in my life when I wouldn’t have minded just a few moments of “male privilege” when I was treated condescendingly.

A Few Closing Thoughts About This Book and This Topic

This book gave me insights into being transgender that I have not had previously. At the same time, as a parent, I found myself mentally sorting out some dynamics that were specific to teenagerhood and family dysfunction. It must make teenagerhood, which is already fraught with its share of difficulties, even harder to be so misunderstood.

In all honesty, though, I struggled with pieces of the book. Maybe it’s because my journey of understanding what it is to transition and to be transgender is fairly new. I do see why teens who want to supplement their transition with hormones and/or surgery have to go through intensive counseling. I heard their impatience to “just move things along” and worried that they had not developed the critical thinking skills and self awareness necessary to make such life-changing decisions.

I guess no book about such a heavy topic SHOULD be neatly tied up with a perfect bow. That’s why I feel so strongly about access to all kinds of books, and am such a staunch advocate for the freedom to read.

AND … I have to commend author Susan Kuklin for her photography skills as well. Perhaps Audible has that stuff in “the files” (those things I never look at after reading an audiobook) but it was a special pleasure to hold the pages (and images) in my hands, especially the ones at my beloved NYC High Line!

A Great Banned Books Week Video

I thought this video from Phillips Academy Andover (which mentions Beyond Magenta, I might add!), was creative!

Their summary statement echoes my position pretty well:

In honor of #BannedBooksWeek, the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library and Phillips Academy encourage students to read and obtain knowledge from all sources. At Andover we believe in the First Amendment and that we should not censor what is available to our students.

Literature Challenges

A Curiously Close Call With Censorship

I wrote this and submitted it as a “My View” for the Tallahassee Democrat to coincide with Banned Books Week. It was not accepted by the Democrat, and Banned Books Week ends today so I am out of time to try to convince them otherwise. This piece is the most heart-generated and fussed-over composition I have written in a long time, so I want it to see the light of day. If you see fit to share it, please do. After two previous blog posts and countless other interactions on this topic, this post is my last. That sure doesn’t mean I am not watching, though, to make sure procedures are followed in the future and freedom to read remains exactly that: FREE.

A Curiously Close Call With Censorship

“Never mind.”

There are times when “never mind” is an appropriate response.

For example: change your mind after asking your son to pass the plate so you can take a second helping at dinner?

“Never mind.”

However, when it comes to free access to the written word, “never mind” is the wrong response.

As Banned Books Week 2015 ends, the “never mind” which was issued in response to a few parents’ complaints about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at Lincoln High School should not be brushed off.

At the end of the 2014/15 school year, students at Lincoln High School were informed their summer reading assignment was to be The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon.

On August 4, the principal sent an email stating that the assignment was being changed from “required” to “optional.” In that email, he said “I understand that the language used in this summer’s selected novel makes this text inappropriate as an assignment for all students…I am lifting the mandatory requirement for this novel.” The email continued, “ this novel will not be used for instruction during the school year.”

In a subsequent conversation with the principal, he told me that parents of incoming freshmen had expressed concerns about the language used in the book. He ultimately decided that the book “set the wrong tone” for an incoming freshman’s first experience with Lincoln High School.

An email which stated, “this novel will not be used for instruction during the school year” felt like a “never mind.”

Over the weeks between August 4 and now, I have struggled to put my finger on exactly why this situation angered me so much. While trying to figure out my own intense reaction, I visited as many articles and blogs about this situation as I could. Countless times, I have responded to people worldwide: “I am a parent of a child at the school in question. To be clear, the book was not banned. The assignment was made optional.”

I want to believe the public statements of my School Board members that this is not “censorship” or “banning.”

Here’s where I have an issue.

If this “never mind” isn’t censorship, what is it?

It falls somewhere between the American Library Association’s “public attack” and “censorship.” A public attack is “a publicly disseminated statement challenging the value of the material, presented to the media and/or others outside the institutional organization in order to gain public support for further action.” Censorship is “a change in the access status of material, based on the content of the work and made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes.”

The ALA does not have a “never mind” category.

As Banned Books Week ends, we owe it to our students to be vigilant year-round, not just one week a year, and to stop ourselves when and if we inch close to censorship.

We need to know when to say, “I mind.”

BBW_ALT2015_Poster_180

My Banned Books Week Virtual Readout:

This post was also published on LinkedIn here.

And for the last word, thank you Judy Blume, without whom my childhood would have been much duller.

judy blume