Opinion: Opposition to books and theories that teach students about racism is a dangerous form of censorship

Ghada Alatrash is an Assistant Professor in the School of Critical and Creative Studies at the University of the Arts of Alberta and holds a PhD in Educational Research from the University of Calgary.

During Virginia’s recent gubernatorial race, Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel Beloved has become a lightning rod problem. Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin, the eventual winner, posted an ad featuring mother Laura Murphy, who attempted to have the book removed from her son’s AP English program. “When my son showed me his reading assignment [Beloved], my heart sank, ”Ms. Murphy said. “It was one of the most self-explanatory materials you can imagine.”

Beloved is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that is loosely based on the life and legal case of Margaret Garner, a enslaved African-American woman in the mid-1800s who killed her own daughter to prevent her from becoming a slave as well.

Ms. Murphy’s campaign begs the question: What is in Ms. Morrison’s campaign? Beloved who could cause such a wave of panic that some parents are fighting frantically to ban it? In particular, who is threatened by this job and feels so uncomfortable?

I come from Syria, a country ruled by a ruthless dictatorship that will shamelessly suffocate voices and ideas. There it is the norm for books to be banned and censored, but for that to happen in a democracy like the United States is indeed a shocking and disappointing reality. Specifically, it is baffling to witness a new attempt to erase the crimes of slavery from American conscience and to erase the shameful stain from collective memory.

Indeed, this parent is right about the gruesome “explicit” realities exhibited in Ms. Morrison’s work – which, when delved into, no doubt lash every human heart that reads them. But I ask this parent: what options do we have? Are we only teaching the good and forgetting the bad?

There is a great danger in this call to ban a book – to tamper with historical knowledge and teach our children a more sterile version of history (not to mention a whitewashed version). How is it not also an “explicit” call for historical amnesia?

“In the Western context, the experience of racism can be a painful site of spiritual injury… a place, a memory of suffering,” notes Marlon Simmons, associate professor of education at the University of Calgary. “Yet many have sought to face these violent events with silence, for historically silence has been a way of life for racially oppressed bodies. “

As Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe argued, parents should not be in control of the school curriculum. It’s important to remember that violent video games, rampant bullying, and gun culture aren’t matters of concern here, but rather an award-winning book.

Over the summer, before this recent fury, Bills supported by Republicans prohibits the teaching of critical race theory in the school curricula of several states in the United States, including Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and North Carolina South. This month, Alabama was added to the list.

I guess I would be out of a job in those states, as I happen to teach CRT as part of a college course, which is a multidisciplinary approach that combines social activism with a critique of the fundamental role played by the racism in the formation of contemporary societies. As Explain by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a pioneering researcher in the field, CRT “is a way of looking at the breed; a way of seeing why, after so many decades – centuries, in fact – since emancipation, we have models of inequality that endure.

These are books like Mrs. Morrison’s Beloved that help us pull and unbox experiential knowledge of the realities of black people who have been gravely and painfully affected by racism – and continue to be so to this day. To deny this is to reject the current reality of the murder of blacks in the United States and Canada, where the murder of George Floyd in 2020 is just one example of the continued systematic criminalization and contempt for life. black.

To ban a book is to mute a language. How can we talk about history, slavery, injustice – and American reality, shaped by race and racism – without language that names these issues and books that tell stories that should never be forgotten?

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