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).
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
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.”