Erasing Black History: A Black History Month Tradition
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” -James Baldwin
I have so many things I want to share — it’s been a busy, eventful, and at times overwhelming week. But I can’t talk about any of that until I talk about what’s foremost on my mind today.
As I wrote in an editor’s note on this Black History Month book roundup on Cool Mom Picks last night:
Today, in 2023, some of the books listed right here have been targeted for removal — or already removed — from school libraries and classrooms. I…am deeply concerned with the increasing rash of censorship, book banning, and attacks on curricula that aim to educate students about our nation’s long, complex and painful history of racism, bigotry and discrimination.
Censorship is a wholly anti-democratic path toward authoritarianism and needs to be called out and challenged. In addition to buying or borrowing these books to support their authors, we urge you to visit the ALA website for actions you can take, and contact your elected leaders at every level of government, including the most local.
In the words of the scholar Hillel, “if not you then who? If not now, then when?”
I’m not exaggerating to say I was shaking as I wrote these words.
Thanks for reading I’m Walking Here. I’m so grateful for your time. If you’re not yet a subscriber, it’s free — sign up here to receive new posts and help support my work.
If you’ve ever followed the history of book bans and censorship you’re also probably fearful of these attempts to erase history, curtail truth, restrict diverse perspectives, and keep our kids ignorant, uninformed, or (more likely) deliberately misinformed.
Or as Nikole Hannah Jones succinctly puts it, “A free society does not ban books.”
Cover of March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. The first in the trilogy of, award-winning graphic novel memoirs from the late Congressman and civil rights leader. And now, another banned book.
Worse: this rot is spreading. The ACLU is reporting that more than 30 state legislatures are introducing bills targeting the discussion of race through American history. That’s on top of whatever extremist fringe activists on local school boards and city council members across the country are trying to do.
(Let me add here, this is preeeety much the agenda of one political party. One. The next time I hear someone say “both parties are the same” or “my vote doesn’t matter” or “protest vote blah blah” we’re going to have problems. But we’ll save that for another time.)
We are only two days into Black History Month and the news is filled with stories like shocking challenges to the new AP African-American History (though do read the details about it because the College Board’s response is a bit more nuanced than I originally understood); the Supreme Court clearing the way for racial gerrymandering and Black voter disenfranchisement; and of course the tragic murder of Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis police officers, and the painful discussions around the internalized racism that enabled it.
It’s clear we have a lot of work to do.
And by “we,” I mean those of who strive to be decent, to be moral, to be anti-racist. Those of who knows we have a lot to learn, but we can still be a little better than we were yesterday and still a little better tomorrow.
Especially those of us white people who understand our essential role in creating a more equitable world, as members of the dominant American caste.
What can we do about this? Here are a few starters.
Because I know that when I’m scared or frustrated or overwhelmed by issues that are out of my control, I feel better when I do control the things I can.
- Buy, borrow, gift the children’s books that are being targeted. It not only enables more people to be able to read them, it supports their creators and lets publishers know there is a market for their work.
- Follow and support We Need Diverse Books, a terrific and impactful non-profit.
-Call your elected leaders and let them know what you think. Especially if they’re the ones spearheading censorship. It’s not always some ideological principal, it’s often a craven attempt to garner political capital and voters’ voices matter.
- Support their opponents with everything you’ve got.
- Reach out to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom for resources if you’re challenging a library book ban or other unconstitutional restriction of information. You can also use this form to file a report about related issues.
- Read up on what Critical Race Theory actually is. You may be shocked, shocked to learn that extremists politicians who wield the phrase to inflame so-called culture wars and uh, exploit dark money fundraising, are using it incorrectly.
(TLDR; it’s a second-year law school course and not being taught in some multi-billion dollar kindergarten curriculum, Marge.)
- Read the daily series on MSNBC’s The Reidout Blog called Black History, Uncensored, which is focusing on those Black writers and creators impacted by the erasure of their work.
- Read and amplify more Black and brown voices over all. Take a look at your social media feeds — who do you follow? Whose posts are you sharing? If you have a majority white following, who would you like your friends and followers to know?
- Be the person who helps make better rules! Run for your local school board, city council, or library board. The non-profit Run for Something can help.
- Read Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste (link to my review), which I will never stop recommending. It absolutely changed the lens through which I see our entire country and all its systems, and it will help you understand exactly why this is all happening right now. (The audio book is also fantastic, by the way.)
- Listen to the thought leaders below. They all have a lot better things to say than I do.
Finally, don’t turn away from uncomfortable truths — about our country’s present, our past, and how it impacts our future. Let’s be open to learning new perspectives from voices that haven’t traditionally been handed the mic first.
If Black history has taught me anything, it’s that I will always have a whole lot to learn about Black history.
Thanks for sharing action items and resources in addition to resources...we all should do what we can do. Start wherever.