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

Tony Greiner tony_greiner at hotmail.com
Fri Feb 7 21:14:38 PST 2020

Meredith, since I became a librarian I have tried to defend freedom of expression. Making cheap shots about what I have done or failed to do in my career by saying I assumed that white people are better writers is replacing reasoned argument with name-calling and personal attacks.
  We all have to choose our battles.

You're better than that.
We come from different places.  My viewpoint is that rights belong to the individual. Many of those who oppose Cummin's book, and me, seem to come from the idea that rights belong to a group.  To me, that's dangerous territory, but others see it differently.

But really, do you think of me as "weak and passive?"  Abusive responses to unpopular arguments have become the norm, and I knew I would receive some of those from my post.  I, and I think you, also know that librarians who voice opinions out of the PC mainstream are risking never getting another job in the field. That's not healthy, for the profession

**tony_greiner at hotmail.com**

From: Meredith Farkas <meredith.farkas at pcc.edu>
Sent: Wednesday, February 5, 2020 11:13 AM
To: Tony Greiner <tony_greiner at hotmail.com>
Cc: libs-or at listsmart.osl.state.or.us <libs-or at listsmart.osl.state.or.us>
Subject: Re: [Libs-Or] A response to critics of my post about "American Dirt"

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<mailto:meredith.farkas at pcc.edu>

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

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<mailto:tony_greiner at hotmail.com>**


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