On Censorship and Toni Morrison

I never know if I am left of center or right of center anymore. I cannot claim to feel good about either Donald Trump or AOC being in politics; I personally dislike them both. If Donald Trump represents not so much the past but what is worst about the past, than AOC represents a future in which the past plays little to no role in it. As such I really wish they would both go away. If it were possible to find the right deserted island to leave them both on, in would be a damn fine thing to do to leave them there to duke it out.

With that in mind, I wish the left would not assume it has a wider mandate than it does. I believe in even such “left wing” positions as the ones President Biden has on the importance of climate change and health care.

Yet then some left wing nut has to open their mouth about how Dr. Seuss needs to be censored in such a way that involves books that just a few years back would have been mainstream are not considered unfit for children. It is the sheer harmlessness of Dr. Seuss to most of us that makes it offensive: Who has ever objected to Dr. Seuss? Hasn’t he even been considered liberal? So I figured, “What the heck?” What other “right wing” books have been censored.

First, the Little House on the Prairie series, for its positive portrayal of the pioneers. Now, my own Grandma Williams–deceased as of 1994–grew up on Kansas in the late eighteen hundreds before going to college at Washburn in the 1920’s. Now, because of this I take it a little personally that there is nothing a person can say good about the Pioneers without some jerk claiming that they are a racist bigot. Then there is Charlotte’s Web, because the spider Charlotte dies, and this might be disturbing to children. Yes, and when I was eight or nine, my Great Aunts Verna and Aleen died that year. It was my first brush with death. At what point is it that every person is forced to deal with death? Then there was Peter Pan, whose reference to Indians as “red skins,” has made the book controversial. Of course there is Where the Wild Things Go, a childhood story “too dark” with Max not receiving his supper as punishment and supernatural elements deemed too scary for children. And of course, the book of all books to be banned left and right: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The idea is that racist language harms black children. Again, the point comes up that there are disturbing in life–and that when Huck Finn was written the use of the n-word was common and hardly unique to Mark Twain himself.

Now, with all this in mind, I have read only one Toni Morrison book, and it was not the one that is in the school system: Beloved. I have, however, read The Bluest Eye, and more–I read it in high school. I think I did find it disturbing, but not so much from the point of view of race but in its portrayal of incest. However, I did not really think about it a lot (I did not read it for a class), until a black girl read Song of Solomon for a night class that I was attending. She mentioned that in Song of Solomon there was “adult incest” between a middle class black man and his daughter. The teacher (also black) said, “I know what you mean. I read it and after it was through I remember thinking, ‘And this was on the best seller’s list?'” I remember from The Bluest Eye, I had gotten the impression that Morrison disliked those Middle Class or “successful” black people in her book almost as much as white people. I remember wondering, “Well, yes, but if you never work hard to succeed, you never will succeed. A person can manufacture their own failure if they are not careful.”

I can’t help wondering why if it was necessary to teach African American fiction to kids, it was necessary to teach the book justifying infanticide (Beloved). I know I am risking making these authors sound like Uncle Tom’s by suggesting them: John Weldon Johnson’s God’s Trombones or Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man; Langston Hughes’ Selected Poems; Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God; Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man or Juneteenth; or some of Maya Angelo’s poetry. My friend Jamie says that in school she read Zora Neale Hurston and Ralph Ellison. I didn’t get to, but I picked up the books on my own, with the exception of Angelo. Why teach the most offensive book ever written by a black woman? If white people have to move on eggshells about Peter Pan and Charlotte’s Web, why not admit that perhaps just being white and normal is enough to want to boot Tony Morrison out of the school system.

That being said, I will make a concession to the other side about Morrison which is perhaps only honest: I will reread The Bluest Eye and read Beloved and Song of Solomon for the first time. And then I will sit down, and tell the world–whether it really wanted to know or not–what I actually thought of each book.

Published by hadassahalderson

I am a professional author who lives in Wichita, KS. I went to Friends University and spent one year at Claremont Graduate University. My published work includes: The Bible According to Eve I-IV and Faust in Love.

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