[Libs-Or] A response to critics of my post about "American Dirt"

Tony Greiner tony_greiner at hotmail.com
Tue Feb 4 23:13:28 PST 2020

The range of responses on my post about how libraries can protect themselves from the censors of American Dirt makes me think that the writers of some of these posts didn’t bother to read mine, just as I doubt that all the people who signed the letter to Oprah read American Dirt in the week between its publication and the sending of the letter. But I will respond to the main statements in opposition to my idea that we should defend American Dirt should the censors come to our library doors,  and to stand up for Cummins or any author from being mobbed by those who seek political gain at her expense.

First, some respondents made of point of saying that their library had bought copies, of the book, and that no library had burned or banned it.  That's true- but I never said that those things occurred.   I do anticipate that there may be those that call for libraries to remove or not buy the book.  If that happens, I offered an argument that libraries can use in defense of having books where an author of one race writes about another. That is a defense of libraries, and I do not understand why some librarians reject that idea.

Nick Schiller put forth the idea that censorship can only be done by a government. That is a common idea, but it is incorrect.  For years, including my childhood, the Catholic Church published a List of Prohibited Books, commonly called “The Index.” Practicing Catholics were told they needed to get permission before they could read them- and I remember my mother consulting the list one day after mass. My understanding is that this list had a chilling effect on publishers, who tended to avoid publishing books that would be avoided by members of the largest denomination in the country. That’s censorship.

The “Motion Picture Production Code” also known as the “Hays Code” was a voluntary creation of Hollywood Studios that prevented directors from making films that had vulgar words, passionate kissing, cursing, homosexuality, miscegenation, and other things.  This code lasted until 1968, when the present ratings system was adopted. The “Comics Code Authority” served a similar function. Censorship can be practiced by non-governmental bodies.

In this case, the attacks on author Jeanine Cummins have the clear intent of chilling future authors who want try writing a book with characters from another culture, and publishers who are willing to distribute their work. To say this is not a form of censorship is disingenuous.

If some people are unhappy with how books by Latin writers are promoted, then they have the option of working with publishers, or starting their own company. Dragging down an author who has had success in the business end of publishing doesn’t elevate anyone else.

As for the “Cultural Appropriation” claim, that is a Potemkin Village. (Is it cultural appropriation that I used a Russian term?)   I shared the list of distinguished writers who wrote about another race and culture. Where are the cries of cultural appropriation against those writers? An writer has the right to telling the story they want to tell.  Publishers have the right to promote and sell the titles they choose. We don't need another Index.  If someone doesn’t like a book, they can criticize it on its literary merits, but to attack the author, claiming that she does not have the right to tell a story of her choosing because her skin is of the wrong color, or she was born in a different country, or speaks a different language is wrong. The name-calling and threats to disrupt a book signing is immoral, perhaps criminal. Librarians should oppose efforts to silence anyone’s voice.

Lastly, my concerns about these attacks have nothing to do with “White Privilege.”  They have to do with protecting any writers who are attacked by the mob because they dared to stretch themselves and write a story of another culture, or gender, or race. The color of my skin has nothing to do with it.  My commitment to the core library value of supporting Freedom of Expression has everything to do with it. I am sorry that there are librarians who have abandoned that principal.

**tony_greiner at hotmail.com**


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