C’mon now Laura, do we now ban Shakespeare?

“To render enslavement as a personal experience, language   must get out of the way.”  – Toni Morrison

Okay readers, what ate the biggest threats facing vulnerable K-12 school children today?

Bullying? …. No! 

COVID-19? …No! 

School shootings…. No!

Well, if you take Laura Murphy, a Fairfax County, Virginia mother seriously, it’s the book “Beloved,” by Pulitzer Prize winning writer Toni Morrison. 

Now in case you did not know, critics named it the best American novel of the past 25 years. But Laura Murphy wants it banned because her son was “offended” by some of its explicit content.

You see, I was well into developing my next piece on Mrs. Amelia Boynton Robinson, the matriarch of the Civil Rights movement when once again that “CRT” (Critical Race Theory) bogyman interrupted my flow. 

So today I’m forced to do a follow up on an article I penned a while back, a takedown on the bruhaha surrounding CRT since evidence of it, if you take Laura Murphy seriously, continues to get crammed down the throats of little Johnnie, his third-grade classmates and….AP scholars who, Murphy would have us believe, just cannot handle tough subject matter.

C’mon, really Laura? By your definition of “offensive,” should we now ban Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, the works of Walt Wittman, and even William Shakespeare because of “offensive” content? 

And speaking of Pulitzer Prize winners, one such one, Leonard Pitts wrote about Murphy’s attempt to ban “Beloved” thusly:

“It (the book) gave Laura Murphy’s son nightmares. Never mind that Blake Murphy was a high school senior, reading it in an AP literature class. Never mind that “AP” means advanced placement: challenging, college-level course work. 

Since 2013, Murphy, a white woman from Fairfax County, Virginia, has been trying to ban Morrison’s book. Part of her complaint is that it is too sexually explicit. So it seems reasonable to believe that what triggered Murphy and her son was that the malevolent poltergeist and the weight of hate, horror and history it carries.” (For the record, Murphy’s son Blake somehow, eh, “survived” the book given that today he is a practicing attorney with the National Republican Congressional Committee).

Here’s a book briefer:

 “Beloved” is a 1987 novel by Morrison. Set after barricaded themselves, she was attempting to kill her children, and had already killed her two-year-old daughter, to spare them from being returned to slavery. The novel is inspired by an event that actually happened: Margaret Garner, a slave in Kentucky, escaped and fled to the free state of Ohio in 1856. She was subject to capture in accordance with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

“Beloved” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, was a finalist for the 1987 National Book Award and was adapted as a movie, starring Oprah Winfrey. A survey of writers and literary critics compiled by The New York Times ranked it as the best work of American fiction from 1981 to 2006. 

“Having read it, I can confirm that “Beloved” is an intense and frightening book,” said, Christina Emba of the Washington Post. “It’s visceral, haunting and deeply sad. But then again, imagine how enslaved people must have felt to live in it.”

Wrote CNN’s the Peniel Joseph, “Morrison understood that ghosts of racial slavery continue to haunt the American present. The power “Beloved” possesses — it is a testimony to what makes this novel vital, not dangerous, to high school and college students.”

In the end, attempts to ban “Beloved,” and CRT in general, raises a number of uncomfortable and suspect motivations; chief among them a desire not to bear witness to the horrors of history that, writes Christina Emba, “might occasion a bit of guilt, a bit of knowledge that our national mythology is false and a bit of responsibility to address racial inequality.” 

In the end, the mistake we make by banning certain books is shortchanging students by not allowing them to read and think for themselves, to deny them the truth of actual history, ones like “Beloved” wipe out the myth of the “passive, happy go lucky, master-loving slave.”

“I think I teach history about as honest as any teacher in America,” wrote a California educator. “And when kids learn the truth about this country they’re shocked and pissed off that they’ve been lied to. Not uncomfortable. They want to know why nobody ever told them that before.”

Now although it may not have been her intent, I suppose that we should be grateful that Murphy’s relentless campaign has sparked some huge interest in “Beloved.” In fact, I bought my copy this week and added it to the top of my reading list. 

Hey, maybe I’ll see a need to revisit this issue, or the next CRT bogyman flareup, in a future article. 

Back now to Mrs. Boynton.

© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller, a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The Douglas County Sentinel, The BlackMarket.com, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award.

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