Banning Books and the ‘Stupidfying’ of America

Let’s face it: America is getting stupider.

At least a good chunk of it is. And I know that’s not a word: stupider. Neither is “stupidfying.” But somehow the very idiocy of those fits the current, frothing state of American culture, which, in recent days, has been behaving badly at school board meetings, hissy-fitting against lifesaving vaccines; even—despite the original Nazis and Fahrenheit 451 being set firmly in the past—banning and burning books with impunity.

As they say on Twitter: WTF, America?

Do right wing adults want their children to be undereducated? Is that the goal? Or is the intent to pretend if one bans a book they actually have the power to make it invisible, like a toddler who closes his eyes believing he can no longer be seen?

Photo by Freddy Kearney on Unsplash

It is a confounding task, sorting out the stupidity of regression; the stunning, ignorant, backwardness of outlawing thought by ascribing nefarious traits to literature, most of it classic and brilliantly rendered. Because it seems that, as we advance as a society, as we purportedly modernize and evolve as members of the human race in the 21st century, a contingent of conservative, likely hardcore Christian, certainly right wing indoctrinated, Americans has decided to put their feet down, dammit, and halt progress. All this evolution, change, diversity, sexual identification, pronouns, asserting rights, freedom of expression, all so au courant these days, is just NOT GOING TO BE TOLERATED.

Teach children the unvarnished, unwhitewashed history of America? Are you kidding? All that truth about slavery and genocide and the decimation of Native lands and brutalization of bodies of color is just going to make our fragile white kids “uncomfortable,” feel “guilty” and “shamed.” So, no, absolutely not. We’ve branded that unvarnished, unwhitewashed history of America as “critical race theory” (again, WTF?) and decided it’s dangerous, upsetting, and possibly enlightening— I mean, possibly frightening—to our kids.  We will stamp our feet and legislate our schools to death so that nonsense like that will not be inflicted on those tender children.

(Phew… dodged that bullet, red America.)

They’re already making regressive headway on the “women’s right to body autonomy” front, with SCOTUS tilted right and long held Republican notions of small government that stays out of our body parts being shelved for a more invasive GOP that crawls into wombs to vote on what the hell is going on in there. Apparently the process of pregnancy, despite requiring a man’s full participation—or at least his sperm count—has been designated as “women stuff,” and, given conservative definitions of women as “those softer, less-self-determined humans men get to control,” body autonomy (for women, that is) is not a priority, nor does it subscribe to conservative Christian dictates. Therefore, it will be theocratically removed from the equation. Sit down and shut up, ladies, and be grateful we’re letting you go to college and get jobs.

(Hang tight, red America; we’re almost there on that one.)

As for books… well, we all know Catcher in the Rye has eaten the souls of countless American youth, and Harry Potter has lured whole generations into the occult. To Kill a Mockingbird makes white people cringe and includes a rape, and we can’t have our kids (forget that 90% of them watch porn or emulate its stars on the street) read about that kind of rough stuff. The Color Purple is unacceptable for teens, “due to its graphic sexual content and situations of violence and abuse,” despite the brutal video games they play or TV shows they watch. One could go on and on and on. This list here (which I can’t credit because I haven’t found who put it together), includes a staggering compendium of some of our very best literature, and, yes, I checked every title. They’ve all, indeed, been banned (and some likely burned) at one point or another.

It’s a great list. As someone on Twitter said, “I’m making this the summer reading list for my kids.”

(Good parent… don’t tell the other side!)

What are we doing, America? Seriously, WTF? When did reading books that depict life, both real and imagined, become (or, sadly, revert back to) something to ban, something to burn? What ignorance, what cluelessness, compels a parent, a teacher; a priest, a school board member, to decide that life, particularly as chronicled by some of our very best writers, with all its brambly edges and imperfect people, must be sanitized, censored, and shunned to protect the minds of children?

Have you seen teenagers in 2022? They are exposed to media, social and otherwise, that’s left them as savvy to modern culture, as versed in sexuality, as knowledgeable of the atrocities of bigotry and hate, as most adults… more so. They don’t need these books banned, they need these books taught.

They need to learn the truth of the Holocaust, not the dismissive denialism pushed by some. They need to learn the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth about the destructive path of Manifest Destiny, the horrors of slavery and immigrant labor, the tragedy of Native American genocide and theft of their lands to build a ” home of the brave” for white Europeans. They need to learn it all.

Because learning truth, all of it, even the gritty parts, is the only way to evolve. To raise consciousness. To prevent a repeat of those atrocities. To raise children free of hate, prejudice, denialism, arrogance, sexism, aggression, narcissism, and ignorance. To raise children who not only want to learn about the diversities and nuances of our country and the lives we all live here, but to embrace them.

Red America may believe if they close their eyes—or burn paper, binding, and torches in a show of fascism—the aspects of life they eschew will disappear, lose power, become moot. But that’s not the way it works. Smart people know that.

Hopefully, their children are smart enough. Hopefully they will reject the regression and backwardness, the censorship and shunning, supposedly being done on their behalf. Hopefully these kids will avail themselves of everything wise writers and brilliant teachers have to offer, allowing them to grow more accepting, better educated; less…stupider.

Until then, check that list, grab a book, and read.

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