Book bans in schools are catching fire. Black authors say uproar isn’t about students.

From NBC News:

Nearly six months ago, celebrated Black children’s author and illustrator Jerry Craft received a message saying some of his books were being pulled from a school library in Texas.

“I was caught off guard,” Craft, the Newbery Medal-winning author of the 2019 graphic novel “New Kid,” told NBCBLK. “I felt bad for the kids because I know how much they love ‘New Kid’ and ‘Class Act.’ I know what my school visits do. … I felt bad if there was going to be some kids that would not be able to take advantage of that.”

The person who sent the message to Craft is from Katy, Texas, a town near Houston that has been under fire for attempts to limit the public’s access to books that teach about racism. In October, the Katy Independent School District made headlines for temporarily yanking two of Craft’s books, which tell the stories of Black boys who experience racism in schools, from school libraries and postponing his virtual visit. A now-deleted petition with more than 400 signatures showed parents calling for Craft’s visit to be canceled.

At the time, Craft tweeted that he was shocked by the accusations.

“Apparently I’m teaching critical race theory,” Craft wrote in response to a parent confused about the ban, citing the decades-old academic and legal framework that teaches about racism in America.

. . . .

While the Texas school district reinstated the book and rescheduled his visit, Craft is among dozens of Black authors whose works are being pulled from school libraries under the pretext that they’re teaching critical race theory. (Most of the books that are targeted for bans don’t teach critical race theory but are written by and about people of color.). The American Library Association said its Office for Intellectual Freedom reported 273 books were affected by censorship attempts in 2020, many with content that highlighted race, gender and sexuality. Since September alone, there have been at least 230 challenges, the organization said in an email.

Link to the rest at NBC News

For visitors from outside the United States, the teaching of what is usually called Critical Race studies/lessons/etc., has been causing a great deal of uproar during the last couple of years.

PG doesn’t know whether Critical Race Theory is a “decades-old academic and legal framework that teaches about racism in America” or not.

He does know the the latest uproar concerning Critical Race Theory began with an August, 2019, New York Times initiative titled “The 1619 Project,” with the following introduction:

In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed. n the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story truthfully.

The 1619 date is significant because late in 1620, a group of English pilgrims, dissenters from the Church of England, arrived in Massachusetts to establish a new settlement that would allow them to practice their religion without being persecuted.

In November, 1620, prior to leaving the ship which carried them to the United States, The Mayflower, this group of immigrants approved what has since been titled, “The Mayflower Compact.”

IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great BritainFrance, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience. IN WITNESS whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of EnglandFrance, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620.

Prior to departing, the Pilgrims signed an agreement with The Virginia Company, a British commercial venture chartered by James I, to be industrious in Virginia after they arrived.

The 41 male Pilgrims aboard the ship signed the Mayflower Compact. They concluded that they hadn’t landed in the British Colony of Virginia, their intended destination (established by representatives of The Virginia Company as part of a commercial enterprise in 1607). Instead they had landed in present-day Massachusetts, about 600 miles North of Virginia and well outside of any jurisdiction or sphere of influence of The Virginia Company. PG doesn’t know exactly when anyone in Virginia learned about the Pilgrims, but it was certainly well after they and those who followed them to the Plymouth Colony were well-established and prospering.

The Mayflower Compact is significant because it established a framework for the majority of the male residents of The Plymouth Colony to create rules and laws by which all would be governed. Today, it is generally regarded as the first document setting forth a basis for a self-governing settlement anywhere in the English-speaking world and, perhaps in many other worlds as well.

[To} covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony;

More specifically, the male Pilgrims (including two indentured servants) agreed:

  • the colonists would remain loyal subjects to King James, despite their need for self-governance
  • the colonists would create and enact “laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices…” for the good of the colony, and abide by those laws
  • the colonists would create one society and work together to further it
  • the colonists would live in accordance with the Christian faith

The principles reflected in The Mayflower Company would be utilized and expanded upon elsewhere in North America and continue to be fundamental to federal and state governments in the United States. Principles embodied in the US Constitution has been copied and included in the constitutions of a number of democratic nations around the world.

While PG does not condone or excuse slavery in the United States, PG will point out that slaves were freed in the United States more than 150 years ago. The Southern States where slavery existed took more than 100 years to begin to recover economically from the Civil War. Rural poverty, black and white, is still a significantly larger problem in the states of the former Confederacy than it is elsewhere in the US.

PG suggests that the long-term impact of the 1620 document and the people who wrote it has been and is much greater in the US than the tragedy that began in 1619.

But PG acknowledges that others may disagree.

18 thoughts on “Book bans in schools are catching fire. Black authors say uproar isn’t about students.”

  1. Hi PG,

    An interesting topic, overall. In its most basic form, I think traditional history and political academia argue that:

    a) Certain political views existed from time X to time Y
    b) Institutions Z1, Z2, etc. were built during the same time frame
    c) The institutions built reflected the society in which they were created
    d) Current institutions reflect the foundations that created them
    ERGO, those views are still embedded [to some extent] in the current institutions that derive from that base.

    As you note, the Mayflower compact enshrined ideals that continued through to this day in many institutions. Few would challenge that type of analysis, it’s relatively accepted doctrine.

    CRT in its simplest form says that for (a), racism was considered an acceptable political view. Ergo, following that through, some form of “systemic racism” is embedded “[to some extent]” in all of the institutions that resulted from that base.

    To me, the kerfuffle is quite simple, one based on misunderstanding and one based on a difference of opinion. For the misunderstanding, systemic racism does not mean a policy or institution is racist in its intent, but that it can be racist its outcome. A requirement to be able to read at L3 international literacy rates in order to vote, for instance, is not inherently racist — there are perfectly valid reasons why various groups throughout history have debated if literacy should be a basic requirement to exercise democratic rights. Dumb voters is a bad idea, so the argument goes. However, it is racist in outcome when the groups with the lowest literacy rates are likely to be visible minorities. Often this misunderstand shows up in discussions about ancestors or famous people — “Oh, we can’t name it after person X because they were racist”, but the evidence of their racism is that they were part of an institution that was racist in outcomes. Not necessarily PERSONALLY racist, nor in their actual ACTIONS (to distinguish from Nazi Germany), but because they were affiliated with an institution that did perverse things over time (CIA, for instance, or NASA). People get up in arms saying “Person X is racist” when what they REALLY mean is that they were part of something systemically racist. Some people equate the two, some people don’t. There can be no common ground as they have no common terminology.

    However, I also think the difference of opinion comes in interpreting the phrase I used above “to some extent”. Some believe it is a huge extent, particularly for police forces, others believe it is minor or non-existent any more.

    If you disagree that person X was racist (even if you might agree that they lived in racist times), and you think racism is no longer present in your current police force, it’s understandable that you disagree with using CRT to teach that Person X who created the police force principles back in 1875 was racist and that racism is still part of today’s institutions. Even if you would accept the original form for the Mayflower compact.

    I find it fascinating, as I think it has very little to do with race, quite often. The short version is that to me, it is simply about power and majorities. Those might be tied to race, or they might not, in a given situation, but power and majority rule often explains things enough without having to add race to the question mark.

    In Canada, we don’t have as much excitement around Black communities as we do around Indigenous. Our latest scandal is the number of mass graves near Residential Schools that Indigenous kids were forced to attend. Lots of people will argue that the original behaviour was racist (in intent) and I fear that it was more racist by outcome. The difference matters because if your lesson learned is that “old approaches were racist by intent”, then you assume all you have to do to avoid a similar problem is to just not be racist now.

    For ResSchools, part of the impetus was a huge swatch of Native communities living in poverty. In “white” society, whenever we saw poverty (such as in England in 1800s and early 1900s), there was an assumption that training and education would level all playing fields. So, people dealing with Natives basically analysed their poverty situation, decided the way to break the poverty cycle was education to “normal (white) standards” and they created residential schools to do that, ripping them out of their cultures and communities. Massive abuses, lots of breeding grounds for racist behaviour (“stamping out the savages”), and lost generations within the communities. Fast forward 100 years, and we say, “Ah-hah, that was racist, we’ll avoid that now”. Except our child protection service sees an Indigenous child in a bad situation, acts to protect the child, removes them from the culture and community, gives them to a While family to foster, puts them in a new school…sound familiar? But we say, “But we’re not racist!”.

    For me, it often comes down to stupidity, ignorance and power imbalance. If the three explain everything that happened, I’m not sure racism needs to be added or helps to be added. Differentiated impacts on the community affected, sure, but calling it racism doesn’t necessarily change things enough to warrant calling it that. I found it interesting that I read some accounts of ResSchools in Canada, all with Indigenous kids, true horror stories. And then I read one about a school in upstate New York, basically just for poor white kids, and almost identical stories throughout. Abuse, horrific situations, etc. It looks to me more like the Prisoner/Guard psych experiments test. The problem might not have been the school or approach, just that you gave ill-equipped people absolute power over a bunch of helpless kids in rough situations, and it became more Lord of the Flies than Mrs. Doubtfire. If you can produce the same outcome without the racism, does it matter if it affected the first example?

    I don’t know. I find lots of proponents of CRT who want to burn down current instititions as having bad seed originally, and they attract opposition. Yet if it is simply “Hey institutions rarely have the same impact on majorities as they do on minorities”, that’s a hard fact to refute.

    No solutions, I just find that most debates on the topic are not comparing apples and oranges, and often like to ascribe a single variable for everything when others would seem potentially larger contributors to the outcome.

    P.

    • “I find lots of proponents of CRT who want to burn down current instititions as having bad seed originally, and they attract opposition. Yet if it is simply “Hey institutions rarely have the same impact on majorities as they do on minorities”, that’s a hard fact to refute. ”

      It is also impossible to avoid for reasons even more contentious than the CRT “debate”.

      Let’s accept for an instant (and just for the sake of argument) that the diagnosis is valid, what prescription can be applied? How long will it be applied? And what if (as most activist prescriptions do) it creates more and worse problems without solving the identified issue?

      From where I stand, the bone of contention is the distinction between Equality of Opportunity (ala MLK) vs equality of outcome. Which has never been achieved even in the smallest and most homogeneous of monocultures. To truly achieve the former the latter must be given up.

      Yes, the debate is apples vs oranges but worse is that not only are the tribes talking past each other, they’re not even speaking the same language. By now any debate is meaningless: both are right, both are wrong, and it has all devolved to a urination contest, a pure power struggle with no rationality involved, no middle ground, no compromise, and no winner.

      Somebody will be ground to dust but everybody will lose.
      Only mutual destruction remains.

      • Felix – For me, the idea that institutions created on one basis or set of values somehow have those values/basis permantly embedded and don’t really change is ridiculous on its face.

        Groups of people are perfectly capable of changing and causing institutions comprised of like-minded people to change over time as well.

        This sounds like some sort of weird idea about the prevalence of an old original sin committed by one race that caused harm to another and can never be altered or ended. In fact, each new generation that comes to power in an institution has the ability to change the institution in any way they decide is a good idea.

        Racist clauses in college charters have routinely been struck down by courts whenever they have been challenged.

        • Me, too.
          Institutions are collections of people and their behavior is controlled by the living.
          Need not go any further than the wokeness of “higher learning” institutions, most founded by the oh so evil dead white guys yet have “transcended” their original sins.
          Hence my question of how long the “remedies” are to be in place; until tbe asteroid impact?

    • The problem with CRT isn’t that it teaches that there was unfair treatment based on race in the past, it’s that it teaches that race is the most important thing about a person and SHOULD be the basis on which you decide how to treat them going forward.

      This is 100% backwards from MLKs dream (content of their character, not color of their skin)

      If you should be treating people differently based on their race, then they don’t actually disagree with the attitudes of past racists, they just want to be the oppressors this time.

      CRT also utterly falls apart when the races mix Does the white quarter oppress the black 3/4 of a person? (remember the horrors of classifying people based on what percentage of their ancestors was Black?? think what could be done today with mandatory DNA testing)

      • “… it teaches that race is the most important thing about a person and SHOULD be the basis on which you decide how to treat them going forward. This is 100% backwards from MLKs dream (content of their character, not color of their skin).”

        Bravo.

      • Sorry, but this is an inaccurate, unnuanced view of critical race theory. (And CRT does have problems, like every other overarching/master/universal theory of human behavior and/or human culture.) One does not understand what CRT consists of by reading partisan soundbites attacking it, just as one does not understand “evolution” by reading hard-core creationist tracts put together by fundraisers (see, e.g., Kitzmiller).

        If one actually reads CRT materials, one discovers that they’re trying to engage with how racial history interacts to create inequality of opportunity. This is partially a high-correlation proxy issue — socioeconomic class in the US is largely (not entirely) determined by a combination of the social and economic circumstances of one’s direct ancestors half a century ago, but there are exceptions that no large-scale theory can account for, since this is about “people.” Consider, for example, the problem of how much student loan burden Individual X must shoulder for a high-falutin’ college education. There are both obvious and subtle factors in there that are highly correlated with the way racial discrimination worked half a century ago — half a century ago because so much of the “available resources” question baked into student-loan availability and terms comes down to “ownership of residential real property.”

        It’s far too easy to mix CRT with disfavored arguments about remedies. That, to my mind and in my experience, is the biggest problem here. Criticizing “radical reparations” is one thing; tarring a different theory with the same brush merely because some of the people who advocate radical reparations also engage with that theory is another.

        tl;dr Please ensure that vehement arguments against a specific label accurately reflect (and attack) the beliefs and analysis of that theory, not what others would have that label state. I’m old enough to remember vehement arguments that “Mormons aren’t Christians and therefore should be treated as second-class citizens”… and much of the rhetoric and vitriol in discussions of CRT is just as intellectually dishonest, albeit better disguised (and thus more able to rely on the Big Lie theory).

        (And “decades old” is indeed accurate; CRT traces back to the late 1970s and early 1980s.)

        • The problem is that there’s a difference between academic CRT and pop CRT, and pop CRT is what most people encounter–and is what most people are reacting against.

          And pop CRT really is reducible to soundbites.

          • I’m a nerd, Tom. I don’t do pop distillations. (Although, sadly, I think you’re being too generous — “pop distortions” might be better.)

            Then, too, as a commanding officer I had to write an “I regret to inform you” letter because pop distillations/distortions on a matter of national security (overseas)… distorted things. So I have a pretty visceral and internalized reaction — sometimes overreaction.

        • …because so much of the “available resources” question baked into student-loan availability and terms comes down to “ownership of residential real property.”

          Are you referring to collateral? If so, that would be a very small subset of student loans that do not come from the dominant government programs. Students can get a loan with no collateral. That’s what makes them so easy to get, so easy to abuse, so insulated from bankruptcy, and pegged at 5.25%-6.25%.

          Availability of loans isn’t a problem for students. They are easy to get. But that easy availability is what subsequently makes them such a problem for graduates or dropouts. I suspect basic financial literacy is more a factor in student loan outcomes than than grandparents.

          And CRT? If we can’t say what is taught in elementary schools is CRT, then we also can’t say the arithmetic taught in elementary school is mathmatics. Both are subsets of larger sets.

        • That may be what you label CRT in graduate class, but what gets presented after getting filtered through corporate HR departments and public school teachers for young kids has no subtlety to it and is very in-your-face about the need to judge people by their skin color.

          Even the Smithsonian put out a horrific list of attributes to attribute to people of different skin colors.

    • As a minority who has often been the target of people trying to help me achieve equity in a purportedly unfair society, I have never seen these attempts as anything other than condescension from people more interested in parading themselves as saviors of us poor folks in need of rescue… or, in reverse, as minorities manipulating the guilt and savior complexes of the people around them in order to profit.

      It’s exhausting and annoying. I’d like it to stop.

  2. When this topic comes up, it’s important to differentiate between ‘indentured servitude’ and ‘slavery for life’.

    The first person declared a slave for life in the colonies by a court was in 1654, where a Black man sued to claim ownership of another Black man.

    It’s also important to point out that Slavery has existed just about forever (as far back as records go) around the world, and still exists in some forms today (not in the US)

    None of this excuses Slavery (let alone claims that it’s good for the people enslaved like was done in the past). This is just adding contest that tends to be left out in many discussions of the topic.

    • The historical record that the first legal declaration of lifetime slavery for a black man was issued at the request of a free black man who asserted his ownership of the black slave is one of the many ironies of the history of slavery in the United States.

      You can add that dominant black tribes in Africa captured other black men and women and sold them into slavery for transport to the United States and in the British West Indies as another tragic irony.

  3. Current institutions reflect the foundations that created them.

    Interesting idea. We can have lots of fun with it.

    The Democratic party was founded in the 1830s, and supported slavery.
    The Republican Party was founded in the 1850s, and opposed slavery.
    What does that tell us about how today’s parties reflect the ideas of their founding?

    Anyone can play this game. Just pick your institutions and go for it. I recommend it for large family gatherings where multiple generations and several lines of in-laws are represented.

  4. After I saw the reference to Jerry Craft’s book, I decided to take a look at one of them – Class Act.
    Not at all what I expected. It was an honest look at the interactions of young people, focusing on the boys’ point of view. A lot of it involved the kids experiencing the world from a different perspective than their own. The characters were full, rich in character, and – despite Liam’s mother being overly anxious to be “culturally sensitive” to the Black characters, not stereotypical at all.
    So, the parents ought to read the WHOLE series. It’s very sensitive and thought-provoking. I do understand parents being suspicious of “Woke” or CRT being thrust, in a very heavy-handed fashion, upon their kids. It’s happened in many schools.
    But, this series of graphic novels is NOT that.

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