PW’s 2022 People of the Year: The Defenders

From Publisher’s Weekly:

There has been no shortage of extraordinary stories from the book world in 2022. But no story this year has been more extraordinary than the ongoing, unprecedented surge in book bans and censorship efforts being pushed by right-wing groups in communities across the nation.

“What we’re seeing is a coordinated political effort to stigmatize books dealing with the lives and experiences of diverse communities, particularly the LGBTQ community and persons of color,” explains Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. “We’re seeing rhetoric that seeks to turn librarians and educators into villains. We’re seeing librarians whose jobs and livelihoods are being threatened because of their defense of intellectual freedom in libraries. In some states we’re seeing legislation threatening to put librarians and teachers in jail over the lie that certain books are pornographic, when they simply reflect gender identity or sexual orientation themes or characters, or deal with sex education.”

New headlines emerge seemingly every day. Local library and school board meetings have become battlegrounds, and local elections are flooded with money from national conservative groups. Librarians and educators are being intimidated into silence, with many choosing to leave the professions they love. And legislators in a number of states are seeking greater control of which books can be made available in libraries and schools.

This is not a time to despair, however, as veteran free speech defender Chris Finan, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship wrote in a PW Soapbox this fall. This is a time to fight. In recognition of the foundational threat posed by this new wave of book banning, PW has named those standing up to these would-be censors as our People of the Year.

To begin, we recognize the authors being targeted by the banners. Among them is Maia Kobabe, whose critically acclaimed graphic memoir Gender Queer was declared “the most banned book in the country” in a May New York Times profile. In that profile, Kobabe spoke of what it means to be singled out. “When you remove those books from the shelf or you challenge them publicly in a community, what you’re saying to any young person who identified with that narrative is, ‘we don’t want your story here,’ ” Kobabe said.

Nikole Hannah Jones, Pulitzer Prize–winning author and creator of the 1619 Project, has seen her work not only banned but legislated against. “This is actually trying to control the collective memory of this country,” Jones told CNN’s Brian Stelter. “It’s one thing to have right-wing media saying they don’t like the 1619 Project, or they don’t agree with the 1619 Project. But it’s quite something else to have politicians from state legislatures down to school boards actually making prohibitions against teaching a work of American journalism or really any of these other texts.”

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Last year, PG blogged about The 1619 Project, sponsored by The New York Times Magazine.

Here’s the description of this program from the online 1619 Project Introduction:

The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.

PG notes the purpose of the 1619 project:

It aims to reframe the country’s history

If one replaces the term, “reframe,” with “rewrite,” one can get a better sense of what’s going on under the auspices of The New York Times, a formerly preeminent American newspaper that has fallen on hard times, as witnessed by a substantially declining circulation every year since 2014.

To illustrate the decline, the average paid Sunday circulation of the paper was 2,409,000 in 2014. In 2021, the average paid Sunday circulation of the New York Times was 820,000. To spare visitors to TPV the math, in seven years, the Times lost 2/3 of its paid circulation.

During that same time period, The Wall Street Journal, another respected American newspaper became the largest-circulation newspaper in the country with daily circulation of more than 2.2 million subscribers. By some measures, USA Today has also passed the Times in terms of readership during the same time period.

Perhaps “reframing the country’s history” and similar changes at the NYT may not be all that attractive to a great many people.

The Director of The 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones was not recognized as a historian prior to her commencement of the Project.

The 1619 Project has also been condemned by a significant number of academic historians as inaccurate in many respects, including its assertion that the American Revolution was primarily fought to preserve slavery.

Ms. Hannah-Jones also caused a stir earlier this year when she claimed that Europe was not a continent, but rather “a geopolitical fiction.”

PG realizes that he is getting into political issues which he typically avoids, but he has read enough history and witnessed the politicization of fact-based events to be concerned about current political weaponization of misrepresentations posing as “narratives” or “alternate views” that remind him most of all of his ancient college and post-college experience with others who were rewriting history and politics to achieve their own misbegotten ends in much the same manner. .

“Trying to control the collective memory of this country,” has been a strategy used many times in the past to achieve political ends rather to accurately depict historical facts and the people involved with them.

5 thoughts on “PW’s 2022 People of the Year: The Defenders”

  1. Perhaps “Birth of a Nation” should be shown to American History classes? No? Maybe shelve “Mein Kampf” in school libraries? No? How about a collection of (pre-woke) Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler magazines? No?

    Well, no. Much as I dislike the Left, I do not wish strokes on the majority of them.

  2. PG’s concerns are well taken. However, they should also be applied to accepted, “received wisdom” narratives, as objectively as possible. Perfect objectivity probably isn’t possible; it requires not just the willingness to accept, but the willingness to state, that at least some of one’s ancestors/heroes were <FamilyFriendlyMode> jerks </FamilyFriendlyMode>, and that at least some of the advantages of the high and mighty come from despicable conduct. One fairly indisputable example, with an edifice in Nashville, is a certain gunrunner who sold defective weapons to both sides in the Second War of American Secession (1861–65), and has a university named after him (with no acknowledgement) and so on. Not to mention the continued prominence of some of his descendants.

    Consider, for a moment, what Manifest Destiny means to the people already there — whether indigenous or prior immigrants (and there were more than a few of the latter). Or consider the conflict in narratives over Martin Luther King, Jr — it was a very narrow thing indeed that he was not successfully and publicly branded an unAmerican commie and thoroughly rejected.

    Which is not to say that all of the details, or perhaps even the specific/general narrative, of the 1619 Project merit reification as the “new consensus narrative.”† It is only to say that the existing consensus narrative should be subjected to the same inquiries as would be imposed on whatever revisionary version is at issue at the time. There’s a long tradition of this in American history — I mentioned Manifest Destiny, but consider also the ever-shifting rhetoric about what “caused” the Second War of American Secession, and more importantly what missteps led to it; for example, one of them was Jackson’s suppression of the Bank of the United States, which however flawed it was provided the only nonagricultural “development funding” then available. (And it gets worse when you look at who personally benefited from suppressing the Bank… such as Jackson’s Secretary of the Treasury and former Attorney General, whom Jackson then appointed Chief Justice and gave us Dred Scott, not to mention those whose loans were written down.)

    Those of us who are getting old remember this sort of thing coming with body counts: Neil Sheehan was right, “domino theory” (and its consequences) was a bright and shining lie. And if you’d like another statue to tear down, consider the one at the entrance to West Point celebrating a man who ordered a massacre of peacefully-protesting US veterans in the Bonus Riots (not to mention all of the other demigods involved; at least a couple of them later expressed regret).

    † Those who’ve studied the Age of Revolution — the century and a half from 1767 to about 1920 — may recall that phrase, or close variants, as weaponized discourse. For good reason; and almost without exception, those who resorted to it were villains. Of course, in some of those revolutions, there were only villains to be found…

  3. Might as well stand in the way of an oncoming train, PG. I believe this country has unfortunately gone beyond the tipping point where it could be pulled back to any reasonable level of sanity and common sense.

    China’s launching secret satellites while we’re fretting over “appropriate” pronouns and taking bold strides to ensure every human in the States can freely identify as a can of soup if um, err, it wishes to. Which is perfectly fine. It’s easier to simply accept the assertions of spoiled, bratty people than to have to step around adult humans on the sidewalk who are holding their breath until they turn blue.

    Soon enough in the United States, as a further test of our pliability, it will be common knowledge that the sun rises in the west. I suspect that, even attempted today, that ridiculous assertion would probably test out at around 40% positive, and I’m being conservative.

  4. I’m not conservative, not least by the standards of America, but I think that the problem is that a clear eye would look at history and see it as heaps of dead, one piled on top of another, of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

    Sometimes the dreams about past glories lead to a better tomorrow.

    We romanticize the past as a means of generating hope, but the truth is that there is no better tomorrow, just more of the same wrapped up differently to sell it to the next generation.

    Therefore, unpacking the horrors of the past should be left to historians who can write about it is learned journals when the distance of time has rubbed off all the emotional baggage of murder, death, and mayhem has been forgotten.

    For if we all stood and looked at the horrors, and understood that it was driven by all that we hold dear (family, spouse, children etc) the existential agony of life would drive civilization to despair and destruction.

    Happy to have my opinion proven wrong.

  5. I prefer attempts to be clear-eyed about humans and history over attempts to pretend something else (better or worse) happened. If you start from known falsity, you are already lost.

    There may be no truth to be had in this vale of tears, but that’s no reason to side with lies.

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