Today (26th September 2013), North Carolina’s Randolph County Board of Education reversed a ban on Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man. It was a 6-1 vote that overturned a vote about ten days prior that banned the book from school libraries and reading curricula. Back then, they voted 5-2 to remove it. During the first trial of the book, board chair Tommy MacDonald stated that it was a “hard read”, and board member Gary Mason thought it had no literary value.
For those who have not heard of Invisible Man, It is Ralph Ellison’s first-person allegory about the state of the African American man in US society, essentially, that he is invisible to the majority of society. It was published in 1952, and the following year it was awarded The National Book Award for fiction. The US Library of Congress listed Invisible Man on a list of “Books that Shaped America”. It has been on school bookshelves as a required reading for years.
The reason why the book was even put on trial was because a “concerned parent” brought a formal complaint. She objected to the heaviness of the subject and the language and sexual content. Some of what she said:
“The narrator writes in the first person, emphasizing his individual experiences and his feelings about the events portrayed in his life. This novel is not so innocent; instead, this book is filthier, too much for teenagers. You must respect all religions and point of views when it comes to the parents and what they feel is age appropriate for their young children to read, without their knowledge.”
Before I go on a tirade about how you shouldn’t trust the literary criticism of a person who said “point of views” unironically, let us focus on the BS...The book is filthy and “too much for teenagers”? She’s worried about the sexual content and language? Right, because ALL the teenagers I know are virgins and NEVER curse. Teenagers are nothing more than bad-mouthed, hormone-addled sex-monkeys. Granted, they suck at it at that point, but please, If really you want to “protect” teenagers from sex and bad language, you’d have to get rid of your TV, video games, music, and internet. The BEST place to hide such prurient material is in a book. They’ll never read it!
A LOT of people tried to paint this situation as some rekindling of North Carolina’s antebellum racist attitudes toward black and brown, but that is doubtful. Granted, banning a book about a black man’s sense of invisibility proves exactly what Mr. Ellison was trying to say, and Mason’s “no literary value” comment proves it even more. However, the “concerned mother” who attempted to put the book on the chopping block is named Kimiyutta Parson...I hate to assume things, but with a name like Kimiyutta...there is a strong possibility that this woman is black. Her concern after having read some of the book was the language and sexual content, completely missing the base point of the story. I could not find her entire 12-page complaint, but if it has as many grammar gaffes and pseudo-concern as the aforementioned excerpt, and it was taken seriously by the county school board, then this reeks of a lack of a comprehensive education in North Carolina, not racism. This book speaks volumes about the marginalisation of not just blacks, but any minority in the US, be they Asian, South American, Middle Eastern, or poor. If you are so concerned about the way it’s packaged, then I feel sorry for you. If someone runs up to me and says, “THE F***ING BUILDING IS ON FIRE!”, my instinct is to get out of the building, not sit and complain about how the person cursed at me.
No; this whole debacle had little to do with race, and much to do with our poor education system. The proof is in Ms. Parson’s original complaint, and the Board’s apparent ignorance of the existence of the book, and their less educated criticisms. If you really want to talk about administrative racism in North Carolina, you cannot bring up this case. Instead, you’ll have to look at their latest voting laws for that.
There is one nagging question though: who the hell was the a**hole who STILL voted against the book in their second vote about it?