We all have to read this way


Last week, Banned Books Week in America, when the MacArthur Foundation rightly awarded a Genius grant to Ibram X. Kendi, noting: “Kendi is an American historian and writer with a deep understanding of racist ideology. to present a framework for building a more equitable society.

It should be noted that the American Library Association recently reported that Stamped: racism, anti-racism and you by Kendi and Jason Reynolds was America’s most banned book of 2020, noting that “in their complaints, parents claimed that Stamp contained “selective storytelling incidents” and “does not encompass racism against everyone”.

A familiar story, more predominantly white telling non-whites how they should tell their own childbirth story.

“It’s ironic,” Kendi replied to the ALA report, “that our book be challenged because it documents how generations of Americans have challenged the idea that racial groups are equal and fought to suppress the truths. same content on each page of Stamp. The heart of racism is denial, and history in Stamp will not be refused and the access of young people to this book will not be canceled.

It should not be canceled. The ALA reports that among the more than 273 books that were challenged or banned in 2020, “… there has been a marked increase in rhetoric challenging anti-racist materials and ideas … which discuss racism and the history of America with racism.

It should not be canceled.

Over the millennia, ideas and history have been passed down through cave paintings, cuneiform letters, hieroglyphics and early Semitic alphabets, through Gutenberg, evolving into Java and Python, evolving into dependence on computers and portable devices.

Other languages, like the Cretan hieroglyphics, are still not deciphered, the stories they tell remain a mystery.

Ideas, often competing, were shared on walls, obelisks, tablets, scrolls, manuscripts, books, posters, graffiti and social media.

Attempts to suppress ideas, especially those that challenge the authority of preconceived prejudices, followed. Books and manuscripts were burned in Granada during the Spanish Inquisition and purged by fire in Berlin and Nuremberg in 1933 in an “action against the non-German spirit”.

In the last half-century alone, 13th-century manuscripts have been burned in Timbuktu by al-Qaeda terrorists and the Jaffna public library in Sri Lanka has been set on fire by Sinhala Buddhists, cremating around 97,000 books. rare Tamil history and literature.

Over the millennia, the limits of religious and secular freedoms have been strained when powerful rulers or privileged institutions decided that creative intellectual works questioned their authority – a practice that continues today.

Whether it’s challenging the right of marginalized communities to tell unredacted stories or trying to delegitimize intellectuals by distorting their work. Whether through insurgency and big lies or denying the right to vote to minority communities, the oppressive efforts of those who deny America’s history are relentless.

To cope with such efforts to delegitimize the voice of the Other, Americans must insist on the freedom to read books like The Satanic verses by Salman Rushdie, who was sentenced, in absentia, to death by Ayatollah of Iran, and Ibram X. Kendi’s works on American racism, insist on reading Harper Lee Kill a mockingbird and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Insist on the freedom to learn from them!

Understand that Rushdie, Kendi, Lee and Rowling are not just challenged because some people disagree with their theology or their opinions, they are challenged because their ideas threaten patriarchal authority and privilege.

“I read how a person could swim, to save their life,” wrote Mary Oliver in Wild goose. “I wrote that way too.”

We all have to read it this way.

We must read like this to defend ourselves against racists, anti-Semites and Islamophobes. Against fanatics, against those who would attack communities on the basis of color, ethnicity, sex and gender identity. Against those who fear a paradigm shift that could, after centuries, deprive racists of their civil rights and foster diversity, inclusion and justice and build a more equitable nation.

Read this way too, to honor those who have died to protect all of our freedoms, including those of the First Amendment; died to protect even the authoritarians who maliciously claim that the press is “really the enemy of the people.”

And to get there, as Neil Gaiman wrote: “We need libraries. We need books. We need literate citizens.

“… If you don’t value libraries,” Gaiman continues, “then you don’t value information, culture or wisdom. You silence the voices of the past and you damage the future… It is a matter of common humanity. “

To secure an honorable future, we must know our history, let go of the sanitized, whitewashed past of an imagined reality that has brought comfort and ease to some but dehumanized too many others, in favor of a future that embraces a intergenerational recognition of the universal intersectionality of race, class, religion, gender and ethnicity.

Sylvia Plath wrote, at age 16: “You ask me why I spend my life writing? … I write only because / There is a voice in me / It will not be still.

Today, the voice within America that will not yet speak for justice, speaks for diversity, inclusion and equity. Speak clearly, because that’s who we are.

(Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer living in Exeter. He won the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications First Amendment Award in 2018. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com and he can be reached at [email protected].)


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