Toni Morrison‘s The Bluest Eye—an award-winning novel about a Black girl who grew up after the Great Depression, and part of a body of work that won Morrison the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993—has been pulled from high school libraries in a Florida county. One parent complained about the book’s contents and said it was inappropriate for high schoolers. The district decided to “err on the side of caution” and remove the novel so no students would be able to learn from it.
And I guess we’re all supposed to pretend this isn’t a direct result of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state’s board of education waging war against what they define as “wokeness,” which is really just a racist war against all things that hurt white conservative feelings.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Pinellas County school district officials made the announcement Tuesday that The Bluest Eye—a book the New Yorker described in 2020 as one that “cut a new path through the American literary landscape by placing young Black girls at the center of the story”—would be pulled after a parent of a student at Palm Harbor University High complained about it, prompting a review.
From the Times:
“We are erring on the side of caution, per the language of (new state) training,” chief academic officer Dan Evans told school board members during a discussion on policies related to library book selection and controversial material challenges.
The training, approved by the State Board of Education last week as part of a new state law, calls on schools to vet all library books, including in classrooms, for topics “harmful to minors.” It encouraged officials to “err on the side of caution,” further recommending that they consider what other districts are doing and to look at crowd-sourced materials along with peer reviews.
Pinellas school officials looked at “The Bluest Eye” after one parent, Michelle Stille, objected to it as a reading in her child’s advanced literature course at Palm Harbor.
In a video posted on YouTube, Stille, who teaches at a private Christian school, said she was “shocked any adult would expose 15-year-olds to such explicit descriptions of illegal activities.” In emails to board members, she sent pages that included descriptions of sexual activities including pedophilia.
She said in the video she intended to pull out any of her seven children who remain in public schools, calling them “Marxist indoctrination camps.”
Let’s be real about one thing: As soon as white conservatives start tossing the word “Marxist” around in regard to things that literally have nothing to do with Karl Marx’s political and economic philosophy, we know this is about right-wing ideology vs. any content white conservatives deem un-American. In other words: The district is erring on the side of white fragility, not just caution.
Conservatives have framed their war against critical race theory (which they prove time and time again they don’t know anything about) and other material they consider to be “woke” as an effort to protect parental rights. They have claimed it’s not an attempt to whitewash history and erase Black oppression from America’s legacy. And yet, we see how quickly it devolved into Florida rejecting what appears to be a pretty basic African American studies course. In Texas, the propaganda-inspired campaign against CRT resulted in a law being passed that dropped requirements to give lessons about the Ku Klux Klan and the teachings of martin Luther King Jr., which is odd considering the way white conservatives constantly weaponize their sanitized version of MLK against Black people.
If this was truly about protecting parental rights, Republicans wouldn’t be ignoring the Black parents when it’s only white conservative parents whose feelings are being catered to. What about those who want their children to be able to access these books and receive lessons on them? Why does the complaint of one parent, or even a multitude of parents, automatically take precedence over everyone else?
More from the Times:
“Another parent should not be able to step on my parental rights,” parent Barbara Mellen told the board. “Please stop the removal of materials from schools.”
As they discussed the policies on books and controversial materials, which were approved, some board members signaled their discomfort, saying the state had placed them in a difficult position. Board member Caprice Edmond lamented that the concepts the state put forth for judging materials are vague and subject to interpretation, creating troubles for educators.
Until the state changes the law, board chairperson Lisa Cane said, “we’re going to continue to struggle with these types of decisions.”
And that’s exactly what happens when so-called educators bow down to white conservative fragility.
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