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

Meredith Farkas meredith.farkas at pcc.edu
Wed Feb 5 11:13:31 PST 2020

Tony, I completely agree that freedom of expression can be quashed and
people silenced by more than a government body. In fact, that is *exactly*
what has happened (and continues to happen) to authors of color by a racist
publishing industry. It's not just that they are not promoted enough; it's
that they are FAR less likely to ever be published!

Given the depth of your commitment to free expression, I'm sure in your
earlier years in our profession you fought against the silencing of authors
of color by the publishing industry, right Tony? Or did you just assume
that white people are better writers and that's why they were being
published? In a vastly unequal society where the voices of people of color
are given less weight than those of white people, the neutrality that you
practice ensures the continued silencing of people from marginalized groups
by systems of power like publishing. The neutrality that you practice is
the same neutrality that had librarians upholding segregation in the 1950s
and 60s. If that's your vision of upholding freedom of expression, it seems
weak and passive. A *real* commitment to freedom of expression would
involve actively ensuring that marginalized voices are heard and given
equal weight in the "marketplace of ideas." I have not seen you express any
concern for that, even after many people wrote about that very thing. Or
did you not bother to read their posts?

And I'll bet that every library worker who has disagreed with you here
would absolutely defend *American Dirt *in the face of someone trying to
have it banned from their library.


Meredith Farkas, Faculty Librarian, Library SAC Chair
Pronouns: she/her
Portland Community College Library, Sylvania Campus
meredith.farkas at pcc.edu

On Tue, Feb 4, 2020 at 11:13 PM Tony Greiner <tony_greiner at hotmail.com>

> * 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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