What the Censors’ Targets Reveal
The desperate quest to keep children ignorant
I would like to claim that I turned gay when I developed a crush on LeVar Burton while watching Reading Rainbow as a child. Sure, I was 27 when the series began, but I was highly impressionable.
The loudest professed champions of personal liberty (including the right to carry an AR-15 or refuse to wear a mask during a deadly pandemic) are simultaneously determined to restrict the freedom to learn. In the name of protecting children, they demonize intellectual curiosity and put some of our most compelling, highly-honored literature on their proscription lists.
Once you’ve had a taste of controlling people, it is hard to stop.
Some urges are not easily quelled. Since ancient times people have sought religious experiences or higher consciousness via mind-altering substances—so many aspiring superheroes searching for their heart-shaped herb. Some favor magic mushrooms, others smoke toad venom. Then there’s whatever the author of the Book of Revelation was on. These substances are dangerous and usually illegal.
Books are a special class of mind-altering substance whose purported perilousness has populists across the country in a condemnatory zeal. The targeted titles include Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and anything that favorably mentions queer folk.
The notion that any of us needed creeps peddling contraband to figure out that we weren’t like other children is quaint. Yet it persists as a rash on the body politic.
The reason is all too evident: efforts to restrict children’s reading options, like laws that forbade teaching slaves to read, are a tacit acknowledgment that reading is power. That the censors’ leading targets are books giving voice to racial and sexual minorities only confirms this.
Speaking of reading material, it is unclear what substance Sen. John Neely Kennedy of Louisiana (who resembles Foghorn Leghorn minus the charm) was on when he suggested that Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, solely on account of being a black woman, would not know a law book from a J. Crew catalog. A wag online replied, “Here’s your catalog,” showing a voluptuous male model reaching into his pants. I distrust such photos; I always expect a variation of the lady in the bath who seduces Jack Nicholson in The Shining, only to be revealed as a rotting hag. In my case, the model reaching into his pants would turn into Rudy Giuliani in Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm.
The right-wing attack against “wokeness” is a massive case of projection, a cynical ploy to replace exaggerated left-wing coercion with their own variety while indulging barely disguised racism and sexism.
I would not be surprised if the book banning was thought up by marketers for publishing firms. If you ban, say, George M. Johnson’s acclaimed memoir All Boys Aren’t Blue, it will increase sales.
The know-nothings may think they are in control, but that is undermined by the widespread possession of smartphones by teenage students. In their pockets the students carry a literary underground, ready to resist the suppression that Morrison feared would be “a whole universe…being described in invisible ink.”
The right’s orgy of obscurantism offers a case study in how to thrive amid adversity. Who knows how many schoolchildren even now are downloading forbidden titles under their teachers’ noses? (It should be noted, however, that many teachers respect students more than politicians do.) As students read, I can see them poised to hit an emergency switch on their phone that opens a decoy like the King James Bible or a video of Rep. Madison Cawthorn punching a dead tree. Considering how some adults behave, I think we can afford to trust our children.
Unorthodox love, incidentally, is old hat. See a 1991 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation titled “The Host,” in which Dr. Beverly Crusher falls in love with an ambassador who turns out to be a symbiont inside a host body. Things get interesting when it’s transplanted into a female host.
Dear right-wing scolds: the kids are way ahead of you. They will appear to be ordering pizza while secretly reading something steamy and full of educational detail. If you wish to be helpful, try supporting sex education that includes information about avoiding and treating STDs. One useful concept is delayed gratification. As for your eagerness to raise children as sheep rather than human beings, that’s far too risqué for me. ▼
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist at firstname.lastname@example.org.