Earlier this week, Professor McCoy mentioned that Beloved often makes appearances on banned books lists. Though Professor McCoy only made brief mention of this, I think its worthy of further discussion. As such, I decided to do some research on book banning, and coincidentally discovered that National Banned Book Week begins on September 25. So let’s talk about banned books. According to the American Library Association:
“By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.”
While censorship is certainly at issue here, I argue that book banning is not just an infringement upon freedom of speech and expression, but also a symptom of a deeper pathology within the US which seeks to sanitize America’s spotted history. Looking at the American Library Association’s lists of top ten most frequently challenged books throughout the years, Toni Morrison makes an appearance nearly every year. Beloved is cited as being challenged because of sexually explicit and violent content. I wouldn’t necessarily deny these claims, but it’s important to consider the book’s context: it’s about slavery’s impact in America, and it’s written by a woman of color. An attempt to ban Beloved is not about protecting children from icky language; it’s an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of a nation still struggling with race relations. It’s an attempt to erase history because that’s easier to do than confront our country’s foundations in slavery.
And I get that Beloved can be difficult to read. Hell, I’m sure it’s difficult for absolutely everyone to read. It is violent. It does contain descriptions of sexual violence. But if scenes of violence and sexual assault against slaves is unsavory to you, perhaps the real problem is not with the book. Let me submit that sanitizing our history does a service to no one. Let me also submit that I am aware of the fact that I am posting on a blog dedicated to Toni Morrison—I’m probably preaching to the choir. So how do we discuss banned books and Morrison outside of this context?
I encourage everyone to check out the American Library Association’s page about banned books.