Sunday, March 25, 2012

Silencing the written word

It is actually stunning how much censorship is going on in this country now - articles and essays that can't get published, books banned from schools and libraries, plays that can't be performed because they violate someone's deeply entrenched world view.

It's another indication of the growing assertion of right-wing, white evangelical Christianity over the US culture, something really finding expression in the GOP presidential contest this year. Deeply rooted in our history of Puritan-style evangelicalism, this version of white superiority has come to dominate airwaves, local school boards, and Tea Party politics across the country.

We see along with this (and sometimes as expression of it) growing portions of a white society that feels incredibly threatened by their looming loss of majority status, disoriented by the variety of cultures, colors, languages, and lifestyles that now surround them, that are woven into the larger fabric of a melting pot that never really melted very well.

This phenomenon is now bankrolled by wealthy corporate investors and shareholders who are using these fears and insecurities to drive democracy out of our politics, to shred our Constitution, to silence voices and movements that represent a considerable portion of the population, especially the young, who do not want their lives dominated in every aspect of them by corporations, by commodities and markets.

But the effort to stifle democracy continues.When it hits writers, I take it personally, I feel the offense.

Our writers are necessary, as are all artists. It is easy to oppress, dominate, and rule over a culture that silences its artists and culture workers, for they are the ones who reveal us to ourselves, often in ways we do not want to see. They put the picture up in front of us that begs a critical view of who we are, how we're living, what others are experiencing in the world beyond our own small narrow views. If we listen to 'the other,' really pay attention, it might broaden those views, even alter them.

These other voices might change how we perceive the world, and therefore, the world - which is very uncomfortable if you need your world to be stable, secure, and privileged.

Tucson AZ has become the beacon of cultural silencing and oppression. If you're reading this, you probably know the story: the Tucson Unified School District has banned Mexican American Studies.

Let's type that again: the Tucson Unified School District has banned Mexican American Studies. And when they did this, they made a crushing statement to all students who are not white, students who could find in this program a history and identity that made them unique and beautiful to themselves - but which also cast that dominant white society in a critical light. And now that dominant white society has proved the point of that criticism. (And, for god's sake, AZ is historically part of Mexico, part of a long history of other indigenous cultures long before those European missionaries ever showed up. The nerve of the moral descendents of the conquerors to take their culture away from them!!)

They are so incredibly afraid! And if you are so fearful that you must attempt to ban the knowledge, ban the view, ban the critique, ban the search for cultural identity and diversity, ban access to a different view of our history beyond the glorious one in which smart white people show how wonderful they are and why they should rule the world - if you have to ban access to that enormous body of life experience - you must be standing on fragile ground indeed.

The Progressive Magazine contacted some of the banned writers - who also happen to be some of our finest writers and culture workers - and asked them to respond. I recommend reading their comments. They are deeply moving and ought to strengthen our resolve to defend fiercely the right to speech, culture, knowledge, diversity, and vibrant thought and debate.  Banned in Tucson

Our democracy is already gone on so many levels and reclaiming it, building it anew, may take more than a generation. That requires the passion of the young, and they must be armed with truth and beauty, dignity and inspiration. So my hope is that all of these banned writers become more read, more famous, than ever before. I hope that the students, who had these books literally taken from their hands when the censorship cops showed up, will sit with these same books on the steps of the very schools where they are being banned and have vigorous conversations about them - while protesting a culture of censorship that is threatening the very nature of a constitutional democracy.

Scary image of non-white person
One of the banned books, Rethinking Columbus, includes work by many Native Americans. Among them:

Suzan Shown Harjo's "We Have No Reason to Celebrate"
Buffy Sainte-Marie's "My Country, 'Tis of Thy People You're Dying"
Joseph Bruchac's "A Friend of the Indians"
Cornel Pewewardy's "A Barbie-Doll Pocahontas"
N. Scott Momaday's "The Delight Song of Tsoai-Talee"
Michael Dorris's "Why I'm Not Thankful for Thanksgiving"
Leslie Marmon's "Ceremony"
Wendy Rose's "Three Thousand Dollar Death Song"
Winona LaDuke's "To the Women of the World: Our Future, Our Responsibility"

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