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Recently, Alabama Republican state senator Bill Holtzclaw has been leading the charge to have The Bluest Eye, a 1970 novel by Toni Morrison, banned from schools in the state. This despite the fact that the book has been on high school reading lists across the country.

Why does he want to do this?

Well, full disclosure, I haven’t read the book. I gather, though, that it does have some pretty graphic scenes of pedophilia, incest, and rape. Schools have banned it in the past.

And I get why the temptation is there, I guess. These are awful subjects. These are things I wouldn’t be thrilled to have my kid read about.


such horrible acts do occur in the real world. And everyone needs to be aware of that. I would much rather my kid be exposed to “taboo” subjects in an educational setting where the horrors can be debated, discussed and dissected, rather than experiencing them in some late night cable movie with no context and no adult supervision.

And I think it’s safe to say Toni Morrison wasn’t writing some sort of fetish porn. She wrote a novel where unpleasant things happen. Really unpleasant things. That’s life. Teenagers tend to live in a bubble where nothing, they think, can hurt them, where nothing is beyond their control. I don’t want my kid to be scared of the world, but I don’t want her to know there are scary things in it. A book is a good way to do it.

Not everyone agrees with that, of course. Their reaction to things they don’t like is to lash out at them. Gay people make us uncomfortable? Outlaw them. Decades of science supporting evolution conflicts with religion? Throw out the textbooks. The books teachers assign our kids have concepts in them we don’t like? Ban them.

Back in the day, I was a reporter for my college newspaper. One of my “beats” was the local school district. A local family caused a minor media storm when they asked that a series of children’s picture books about a family called “The Stupids” be banned. The books had the mom, dad and kids doing silly things: wearing goldfish bowls on their heads like hats, wearing pajamas to work, things like that. The volume in the series that really riled up this particular family was when the The Stupids gave their kids rewards for getting ‘F’s in school instead of ‘A’s.

The call to ban failed, of course. The fatal flaw in this particular call to ban was that the problem wasn’t the books were warping children, but that these parents just didn’t think they were funny. That’s cool. Not everyone has to think a book is funny. Or that the subject matter is something they want to read. That’s fine. To each her own. Big deal.

But when you try to decide those things for everyone else, that’s where problems come in. Who decided you get to make my reading decisions for me?

Also, by the time you decide something needs to be banned, a whole lot of people have already read it. And you can’t make them un-read it. And then other people are going to see that, hey, those people who read it didn’t spontaneously combust. So those people will read it too. And then, when your ban goes public, other people who didn’t give a shit about the book to begin with will go out and read it just to see what all the fuss is about.

You’ll be exhausted, hoarse from screaming into the void about the evils of the printed word. But the world just goes on a-spinnin’.

So, Senator Holtzclaw, please put your energy somewhere else. Please.


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