I used to like North Carolina. Then they started freaking out over the presence of a black man in the White House and started passing all sorts of laws that make Lester Maddox look like Bobby Seale . My favorite is their recent voter suppression law that, in practice, effectively bans black students from voting.
I refuse to rank atrocities, but longtime readers know I have a thing about censorship and metaphorical book burning of all types. So here’s what’s got my goat today. It’s been a while since I’ve been this pissed.
The goose-stepping Neanderthals on Randolph County, North Carolina’s Board of Education last week banned Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel The Invisible Man and removed all copies of the book from their school libraries.
Why? According to school board member Gary Mason, “I didn’t find any literary value.” Therefore, Gary thinks everybody should be as stupid as he is. Or, to be more charitable, perhaps he was afraid the book would rile up the black folk. Mason was joined by Tommy McDonald, Tracy Boyles, Gary Cook and Matthew Lambeth in the five-to-two vote.
OK. Perhaps not all books have “literary value,” although I tend to doubt that. So who thinks Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man actually has literary value?
Well, The Invisible Man won the National Book Award for fiction in 1953. Twelve years later, a national poll of book critics called The Invisible Man the greatest American novel written since World War II. In 1969 Ellison received the Presidential Medal of Freedom – from Richard M. Nixon. In 1970, Ellison was made a Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (that’s French, Gary). In 2010, Time Magazine named The Invisible Man one of the top 100 English-language novels of the 20th century.
Ellison received the New York City College’s Langston Hughes Medal in 1984, and the following year he earned the National Medal of Arts. He taught at Rutgers, Yale, and was a permanent member of the faculty at New York University as the Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities.
Say, Gary, what have you done lately?
The Invisible Man was on Randolph County’s reading list for high school juniors. Amusingly, the North Carolina bigots said the novel, which is about a black person’s alienation and disenfranchisement from 1930s New York City social structures, was banned not for its racial content but for its so-called sexual language. This is hypocritical at best. Sexual themes of the time are noted, but The Invisible Man is most certainly not a stroke book. There’s more sex in the bible.
When the book was published, America was so sexually uptight that Lucy and Ricky Riccardo had to sleep in separate beds. When The Invisible Man was deemed the most important book in 20 years, Rob and Laura Petrie still were obliged to maintain separate beds. If two people were sitting on a bed in any American movie of the time, at least one of the four legs had to remain on the floor. Yet none of the bestowals found the sexual content in this book to be dissuasive, even in those highly regressive times.
Perhaps Ralph Ellison is paying for Miley Cyrus’ sins.
There’s no accounting for taste or intelligence, and I’ve never been able to understand where this kind of racism comes from. People have a right to dislike whatever artistic work they dislike, but they do not have the right to censor books, to impose their mindless paranoia and despotic philosophies down the throats of others… including students. Particularly students. Let kids learn their bigotry in the time honored American way, at home, from their parents.
The next cross they burn in North Carolina should carry the legend “Save The Children.”
A somewhat irrelevant aside: I was listening to WXRT when I started writing this piece. The first song up after I typed Bobby Seale’s name (above) was Graham Nash’s “Chicago,” which starts with the couplet: “So your brother’s bound and gagged / And they’ve chained him to a chair.” That, my younger friends, was about Bobby Seale. I know. I was there.
Mike Gold performs the weekly two-hour Weird Sounds Inside The Gold Mind ass-kicking rock, blues and blather radio show on The Point, www.getthepointradio.com, every Sunday at 7:00 PM Eastern, rebroadcast three times during the week – check the website above for times and on-demand streaming information. Gold also joins MDW’s Marc Alan Fishman, Martha Thomases and Michael Davis as a weekly columnist at www.comicmix.com where he pontificates on matters of four-color.