Write in black under supervision

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Texas challenges author Jerry Craft’s books

Writing while being black in the United States is not as dangerous as drive in black, but with the right-wing assault on anything hinting at critical race theory, black authors face censorship and book ban. In Katy, Texas, children’s books from Newbery Medal-winning author Jerry Craft has been pulled from the shelves of the school library. Craft was also disinvited from speaking at school until the books were banned, new child and class act, has been cancelled. The books focus on the experience of an African-American pre-teen who is subject to discrimination at the fictional private school he attends where the student body is predominantly white. According to Craft, the books are based on the difficulties his own sons had in fitting in at a similar school.

A local white parent and school board candidate behind a petition calling for the book banning and canceling Craft’s visit told the Houston Chronicle she “checked all the books and looked at all [Craft’s] interviews and he discusses microaggression, which is a racial term coined by the conceptual founders of critical race theory. This allowed me to know the ideology of these books. Apparently she wanted Craft censored for talking about microaggressions, which to her meant he was secretly advocating critical race theory, which he doesn’t seem to have mentioned.

Jerry Craft responded to the effort to ban his books in a post on the American Library Association Freedom of Information Blog.

“Many aspects of my life have changed dramatically since my book new child became the first graphic novel to win the Newbery Medal. But through it all, what hasn’t changed are my goals for my books: to help children become the kind of readers I’ve never been; let the children see themselves on my pages; and showing children of color as normal children.

As an African American boy who grew up in Washington Heights, New York, I hardly ever saw kids like me in any of the books assigned to me in school. Books for children like me seemed to be all about history or misery. That’s why it’s always been important to me to show kids of color as normal kids and create iconic African American characters like Jordan Banks from New child. I hope readers of all ages will see the kindness and understanding my characters show and emulate those feelings in their everyday lives.

When I started writing and illustrating new child, I knew there would be giant hurdles to overcome. But I was convinced that I was the right person to create this book, for the simple reason that I had experienced many of the same things as my protagonist Jordan Banks. I wanted to illustrate the things kids like me had to deal with on a daily basis – like teachers mistaking you for another kid of color, or classmates who are afraid to come to your house because they assume you live in a bad neighborhood. These things are a lot for a child to handle. Oh, and you still have to get good grades! To counteract these stressful moments, I added elements such as strong values, loving families, very supportive friends, and lots of humor.

I would especially like to thank the many teachers, librarians, students and parents who love and defend my books. You have changed my life, the same way I hope to have changed yours. And to my readers and fans around the world who tell me how much they identify with my characters, I can’t say how much your support means to me.

Craft is just one of many African-American authors facing bans because their work touches on racism affecting black children. According to American Library Association, in 2020, banning campaigns targeted more than 250 books, many of them because they dealt with race, gender and sexuality. The most difficult books included george Alex Gino, because he is a CM1 student dealing with sexual identity; Stamped: racism, anti-racism and you by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds; All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely and The hate you give by Angie Thomas for allegedly promoting anti-police views; Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson because he talks about rape; Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story of Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins and Ann Hazzard; and classics like Kill a mockingbird by Harper Lee, The bluest eye by Toni Morrison, and Of mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

Contemporary black authors under attack include Tiffany D. Jackson, the author of the 2018 novel Monday does not come. Jackson wrote about a teenage girl of color who goes missing and no one seems to notice she’s missing. At a school board meeting in Loudoun County, Virginia, parents backed by an anti-CRT group Fight for Schools demanded that the book be banned because it contained “sexual content.” Another attacked book is Hood Feminism, a non-fiction book by Mikki Kendall. In the book, Kendall argues that feminists must fight for the basic needs and issues that affect many women of color. These include food security, access to education, living wages and protection from armed violence. Cinderella is dead is a young adult fantasy novel by Kalynn Bayron. He is under attack for reimagining the Cinderella story from an African American and LGBTQ+ perspective. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely was attacked for being anti-police. In the book, the lives of Rashad Butler, who is black, and Quinn Collins, who is white, are changed after Rashad is beaten unconscious by the police. The book won a Coretta Scott King award in 2016. The authors, like their characters, are Black and White.

Texas is at the forefront of the book ban campaign due to initiatives by Governor Greg Abbott and State Rep. Matt Krause. Abbott, who wants to run for president as a right-wing Republican alternative to Donald Trump, demands that state education officials ensure that “books and other highly inappropriate content in school libraries public”. Krause, also a Republican, released a list of more than 800 books that could “make students feel uncomfortable” because they discuss race or human sexuality and demanded that school libraries report if any of the books were in their collections. Krause’s list includes between the world and me of Ta-Nehisi Coates, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron, and The rules of the cider house by John Irving. Coates and Styron write clearly about race and racism. Krause wants Cider House banned because it contains references to abortion and child abuse. Per Krause’s request, a school district in San Antonio, “out of an abundance of caution” removed more than 400 books from the shelves of its library.

If Abbott and Krause learned anything about history, they would know that their campaign places them in a certain terrible company. The Confederacy banned Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and other abolitionist books during the American Civil War. In the United States, the federal Comstock Act led to the banning of The Canterbury Tales, the books of Oscar Wilde and James Joyce’s Ulysses. Nazi Germany books burned by Jews and other people considered “non-German”. In the modern age China repeatedly banned books by authors critical of the government. Al-Qaeda also burned books in the territory he seized.

In a 1980 speech at the Library of Congress, the author Barbara Tuchman explained what happens when books are banned and burned. “Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is mute, literature mute, science paralyzed, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible.

the American Library Association sponsors an annual banned books week to challenge the thought police. In 2022, it will be from September 18 to 24.

Follow Alan Singer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AlanJSinger1

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