Why Spotsylvania Va., Banned Two Toni Morrison Books From School Libraries

Conservative groups are targeting books about the Black experience for censorship, library officials say.

Two acclaimed novels by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison once again made a hit list – this time at a Virginia school district that directed libraries to remove the novels from bookshelves.

Morrison’s novels have consistently appeared on book banning hit lists in recent years. In 2021, the American Library Association (ALA) condemned what it described as a widespread attempt by a few organizations to censor books about the Black experience and LGBTQ issues.

“Falsely claiming that these works are subversive, immoral, or worse, these groups induce elected and non-elected officials to abandon constitutional principles, ignore the rule of law, and disregard individual rights to promote government censorship of library collections,” an ALA statement said at that time.

In the latest attempt to silence Morrison and other authors, Virginia’s Spotsylvania County Public Schools Superintendent Mark Taylor sent a March 28 memo directing the county’s director and assistant director of teaching and leaning to remove 14 titles from school libraries and deliver them to his office by the end of the week, The Washington Post reported.

Morrison’s Beloved and The Bluest Eye appeared on the list.

According to The Post, Taylor’s directive came after a parent complained that the 14 books contained sexually explicit content. A committee of parents and teachers defended the books as appropriate for high school libraries, but the parent appealed the committee’s decision.

In his memo, Taylor stated that the books violate a state law that GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed in 2022, which requires school districts to establish parental notification policies for instructional materials with sexually explicit materials.

“Each of the 14 books includes sexually explicit content as it is defined in the law,” Taylor wrote.

What happened in Spotsylvania County is far from unique. This scenario is increasingly playing out at school districts across the nation.

According to The New York Times, “a rapidly growing and increasingly influential constellation of conservative groups” is behind the wave of book challenges.

These groups are working at multiple levels – from school districts to state capitals and in Congress – to ban certain books. They justify the book banning as an attempt to defend parental rights. The organizations are increasingly interconnected, well funded and politically influential.

Beloved, which was released in 1987 and later made into a 1998 film starring Oprah Winfrey, is about a post-civil war Black family haunted by a spirit. The book has explicit themes and depicts sexual violence.

But Morrison’s The Bluest Eye is No. 8 on ALA’s list of the top 10 most challenged books, which has been banned because it depicts child sexual abuse and considered sexually explicit.

The Bluest Eye, published in 1970, was Morrison’s first novel. It tells the story of an 11-year-old Black girl named Pecola Breedlove who yearns for lighter skin and blue eyes, believing that her dark complexion isn’t beautiful. In the novel, she’s raped by her father.

Va. School Board Member Who Runs “Wokeness Checker” Site Wants Toni Morrison and Books on Race Banned

Shekema Silveri, an Atlanta educator, explained to PBS’s American Experience why she has taught The Bluest Eye to students.

“For me, as an African American teacher, and having taught The Bluest Eye in predominantly Black schools, the discussions about race are discussions about why Shirley Temple was an icon for the children in the book. And why did we grow up all having dolls with blonde hair and blue eyes? Why weren’t there any black dolls when we grew up?” she said.

“For the vast majority of my life I thought that straight hair or lighter eyes or lighter skin was what beauty was. It’s not just themes of incest and sexuality that are present in the novel. That theme of beauty being tied to whiteness — that’s something that we’ve been able to challenge inside the classroom.”

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