American Friends Service Committee
Patrica Watson, Editor
Sara Burke, Assistant Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
It's Not Just About Huck Finn
We recently received a request for help responding to a proposed policy to ban "racially offensive" books from the high school curriculum.
As readers of Censorship News know, Huck Finn is a perennial target for censorship because the world "nigger" appears in it repeatedly. It's hard to convince some people that this 19th century classic is still important enough to make students encounter this provocative word. So I started looking for contemporary books that had been challenged on similar grounds. In short order, I found more than 60--and the list was growing.
Some examples: Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (instills "bitterness and hatred against whites"), Forrest Gump by Winston Groom ("pokes fun at blacks"), Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles (contains the word "nigger") (same for Gone with the Wind), Claude Brown's Manchild in the Promised Land (depicts "life in a black ghetto"), Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold (memoir of family picnics "stereotypes" African-Americans), Luis Rodriguez's Always Running ("stereotyping of Latinos"), Richard Wright's Black Boy (might "spark hard feelings"), Michael Crichton's Congo (part of "racially discriminatory practices"), Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird ("represents institutional racism").
The research revealed something else: the American Library Association's list of banned and challenged books discloses a virtual "who's who" of African-American and Hispanic authors: Isabel Allende, Rudolfo Anaya, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Walter Dean Myers, Alice Walker, James Baldwin, Wilt Chamberlain, Alice Childress, Eldridge Cleaver, James and Christopher Collier, Ralph Ellison, Carlos Fuentes, Gabrial Garcia-Marques, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Jamaica Kincaid, Gordon Parks, Piri Thomas, Richard Wright, Jesse Jackson, Carolivia Herron, Luis Rodriguez.
If "racially sensitive" or controversial material were eliminated from high school reading lists and libraries, these are some of the voices that would be silenced. While the proposed policy might avoid some hurt and angry feelings, the students most vulnerable to those feelings would also lose access to literature that speaks to their experience, that offers role models, and that nurtures creativity. The entire community loses if the harsh truths of history and social experiences cannot be shared through literature.
The students whom the proposal would
protect are the ones who stand to lose the most from it.
Joan E. Bertin
is the executive director of The National Coalition Against Censorship.
This editorial appeared in the Spring 2001 issue of their Censorship