Thursday, September 22, 2022

Imaginary and Dangerous


Alas. Someone is wrong on the internet.

(Well-known cartoon by XKCD

It has come to my attention that there are people in Howard County that don’t believe in Banned Books Week. They think it’s imaginary. 

Now, there are plenty of things that one is not obligated to believe. Religious beliefs. Things which are a matter of opinion. But, for Heaven's sakes, facts which are clearly available and documented are not in that category.

From the website of the American Library Association:

Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read and spotlights current and historical attempts to censor books in libraries and schools. For 40 years, the annual event has brought together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular. The books featured during Banned Books Week have all been targeted for removal or restriction in libraries and schools. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.

Banned Books Week has be around since 1982 and is championed by librarians, publishers, journalists, teachers, and a diverse community of readers. But for the purposes of some local online posters, it’s “imaginary.”

Why do you think that is? 

It may help to know that this line of thinking was used to attack Board of Education candidate Dan Newberger, because he spoke to the issue of banned books in a recent League of Women Voters Candidate Forum. 

Take a listen.

It seems to me that the suggestion that Banned Books Week is “imaginary” is a way of “disappearing” a larger concept. A small faction of our community is trying to “disappear” representation for LGBTQ+ students and families in our schools. Mr. Newberger, championing age-appropriate literature which is welcoming and affirming, stands in their way. It is easier to claim that his words are “imaginary” or “dangerous” than to have an honest discussion of what they truly believe.

There are plenty of things that one is not obligated to believe. Many things are, legitimately, a matter of opinion. But, this widely-circulated statement puts it well:

"Agree to disagree" is reserved for things like "I don't like coffee." Not racism, homophobia, and sexism. Not human rights. Not basic common decency. We do not have a difference of opinion. We have a difference in morality.

Or, from American writer James Baldwin:

We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.  

Here are some things you will need to swallow in order to believe the attack on candidate Newberger:

  • Banned Books Week is imaginary
  • America’s librarians nationwide are unqualified to read and vet books
  • School librarians in Howard County are unqualified to research and choose age-appropriate books
  • People who disagree with this are dangerous
So, essentially, intellectual freedom is at stake in this BOE election. And, intertwined with that is whether we are going to meet the needs of LGBTQ+ students with the same care and acceptance as we do straight, cisgender students.

There are other issues worth addressing in our schools. I hope voters can see this attack on Dan Newberger for what it is: an inflammatory diversionary tactic which is meant to inflame emotions instead of engaging in crucial discussions about what our schools truly need.

The entire League of Women Voters candidate forum is available on YouTube. The BOE portion begins at 4:17:45.  Do your own research. Form your own opinions. But don’t lose sight of the most basic truth at stake here: facts are facts, even if you don’t like them or they make you uncomfortable.

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