On Book Bans

In the last several weeks, there’s been a lot of attention on the fact that some schools and school districts are banning books that they think are inappropriate for one reason or another. Proponents of banning certain books are arguing that by not allowing certain books in, their kids are somehow being “protected.” And then, on the other hand, opponents of the banned books are arguing that the banning of some of them in certain schools and school districts is shameful.

However, what gets lost in the whole discussion on book bans is the fact that the sense of protection that comes from book bans (among those in favor of the bans) is a false one.

But why would I say that?

Let’s think about the sorts of book bans that give some groups of parents a sense of protection: ones that focus on books with certain profanities, with certain takes on racial issues, or with characters who are openly LGBTQ+ (or with certain takes on LGBTQ+ issues), to name a few.[1] Some may think that by banning such books, access is being restricted on the topics the books address. In reality, information on all these things—the profanities, the takes on racial issues that result in certain books getting banned, and LGBTQ+ stuff—is just a Google search away. All one is doing by banning books is simply changing the medium through which many people gain access to the sort of information they might acquire through the banned book. This is one reason I say that book bans provide a false sense of protection for those in favor of the bans.

But there is another reason I argue this: one can get a book through means other than reading it at school. A book as popular as To Kill a Mockingbird is one that a curious kid could buy with some allowance money (depending on how much money it is) at the bookstore closest to school or home. Some of these books can be easily checked out at local libraries for no money at all. Many of them are available on places like Amazon, provided the parents are willing to use their credit card to purchase the book for their kid. All that banning a book does, in some cases, is allow book retailers to make money off of selling the banned book to interested and curious minds.

However, even if one didn’t seek out information on transgender people through a Google search or check To Kill a Mockingbird out of the local library, there is one inescapable fact: the issues covered in some, even many, of these banned books are issues that many of us are likely to face at some point in our lives. You can ban a book with a gay couple in it, but when a friend of yours comes out to you as gay,[2] there is no escaping LGBTQ+ issues. You can ban a book perceived as having a message that is too anti-police, but at some point, someone is likely to run into someone else who believes wholeheartedly in the message of the Black Lives Matter movement. Because of the aforementioned inescapable fact, I’m of the mind that while one’s exposure to the information in many of these banned books may sometimes be delayed, it cannot be escaped forever. It’s simply not possible in this world, short of living in an extraordinarily tight bubble (and even then, there is information that can seep in through that bubble).

The previous paragraph brings me to the real injustice with regard to book bans that needs to be talked about, which is the fact that it leaves some people unaware about certain major topics and issues in our society until confronted with those topics or issues. To me, that is a real injustice because, quite frankly, it does not seem healthy to leave people unaware until that critical point, because that is a point when decisions can be (and often are) made from a place of insecurity, ignorance, and stress—a place that can lead to bad decision-making with regard to how they treat their friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family members.

[1] I’m not making this stuff up. Those are three of the things that come up the most frequently on the American Library Association’s list of most banned and challenged books over the past few years: https://www.businessinsider.com/guides/learning/banned-books-2021#george-by-alex-gino-1

[2] Yes, I have a good friend who came out to me as gay relatively early in his coming out process. True story.

Regarding the Derek Chauvin Murder Trial

The George Floyd Mural in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Like with many people in the United States, and across the world, my heart was beating at a mile a minute as the judge in the Derek Chauvin Murder Trial read the verdict on all three counts:




After I heard the verdict, I was personally relieved. I know many others who feel relieved with the verdict as well, for it meant that George Floyd’s life mattered enough that the police officer who killed him went to prison.

However, in my own humble opinion (humble because I do not have to worry about police on a daily basis like my friends of color do), what we saw today was not justice for George Floyd. Justice would’ve been if George Floyd didn’t get killed at the hands of Derek Chauvin.

Instead, what we got was accountability. Namely, accountability for a chokehold that lasted nearly 10 minutes. Derek Chauvin, the person who killed George Floyd, was held accountable for that chokehold.

That accountability often does not happen. Look at Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Sean Bell, and many others. All of these individuals were killed by police officers, and yet the police officers who killed them didn’t go to jail. In all these cases, we got neither justice nor accountability.

The ultimate goal should be justice, period. Justice means that Blacks are treated the same by law enforcement as others–something that is far from being the case. Justice means that Blacks aren’t so disproportionately subject to everything from marijuana use to being shot at in spite of being unarmed.[1] Justice means that my friends of color and my brother’s friends of color are given the same treatment by law enforcement that I receive.[2] But justice goes beyond policing–it means the elimination of racial inequality in everything from our schools to our economic systems. Reaching this goal of justice will not be easy, and it may take a long time to achieve this goal (especially as long as too many people keep electing politicians who do everything in their power to keep us from marching towards justice), but that should be our goal.

However, we can hope that the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin Murder Trial will at least be a first step towards accountability. Namely, accountability in terms of how Blacks are policed. With accountability, we can get a step closer to making sure that Black lives truly matter.

Please note that I wrote this piece on the fly, so I apologize in advance for any mistakes I made here.

[1] https://blindinjusticeblog.com/2020/06/01/on-the-policing-of-people-of-color-and-the-death-of-george-floyd/

[2] Ibid.

What Is…White Guilt?

Some terms are criticized as social justice jargon. However, many of these terms are important to know about and understand. One such term is white guilt.

Dictionary.com offers a concise definition of white guilt: it is “the feelings of shame and remorse some white people experience when they recognize the legacy of racism and racial injustice and perceive the ways they have benefited from it.”[1] While it sounds well-intended in certain ways—after all, it recognizes racism and injustice and ways white people like me have benefited from it—white guilt can also be extremely problematic in certain ways.

But why can white guilt be problematic?

The problem is that in many cases, feelings of shame and remorse can be so great that they prevent one from doing anything about the racism and racial injustice that’s so upsetting to begin with. While it is important to recognize racism and racial injustice around you, especially if you recognize some of the ways it benefits you, it’s counterproductive to be so upset about those systems of injustice that you feel unworthy of playing your part as an ally in the larger effort to ensure that Black lives matter. After all, the goal is not to wallow in guilt, but to turn the recognition of injustice into anti-racist action.

It’s also worth noting that one of the criticisms I often hear of white guilt is that white guilt doesn’t turn into white action.[2] That’s something to be conscious of, if you, like me, are white. It’s important to be conscious of the fact that it’s not enough to simply recognize how racial injustice benefits you, nor is it enough to feel guilty about how racial injustice benefits you. Instead of simply recognizing how racial injustice benefits you (or even feeling guilty about that), donate to and/or volunteer for racial justice organizations, attend Black Lives Matter marches (while practicing mask-wearing and social distancing, of course), vote for candidates who have an extensive platform on racial justice, and educate your own friends about the systems of racial injustice you’ve noticed yourself, among other things. In doing these activities, however, please note that it’s not about you or about erasing your guilt, but about racial inequality (because for too many people attending a protest march, for example, is about making them look like the “good people”).

In addition to the volunteering, marching, voting, etc., however, I also recommend that people struggling with white guilt should process those feelings with other people who have struggled with white guilt themselves and managed to turn that guilt into racial justice action. While it may be tempting to talk about your white guilt with anyone and everyone to show how “woke” you are, the most productive and healthy way of processing and overcoming white guilt is probably by talking with people who have that shared experience with you.

So, for those who are still struggling with white guilt, I know how you feel. I was there, and I can sometimes still be there. I just hope that you will be able to turn guilt into action, for guilt without action does nothing.

[1] https://www.dictionary.com/browse/white-guilt

[2] Some, such as Ciarra Jones, the author of a widely-read Medium piece on white guilt, argue that white guilt can even impede upon white action: https://medium.com/@ciarrajones/the-violence-of-white-and-non-black-poc-apologies-d1321c0ccb8e

Addressing Silence on Black Lives

I am not the sort of person who likes to write blog posts, or anything, at the last minute. However, the recent death and burial of Richard Collins III, an African American student at Bowie State University in Maryland, moved me to write this blog post. I decided that it would be wrong for me or others to ignore this tragedy and be silent on it, even if it means writing a blog post which may be slightly disorganized this week.

It is especially wrong for me to ignore this tragedy because it exposes an injustice that needs to be addressed—the fact that, in even the best-case scenario, many of us are silent or say “thoughts and prayers” about these tragedies against African Americans.

This statement may come across to some as an overly emotional response to a recent tragedy that in some ways hits close to home for me; since I have friends who are in Army ROTC or have been commissioned in the last couple of years, they may’ve served with Collins III if he lived. However, if people look at the pattern of reactions after the killings of African Americans, maybe all of you will understand my thoughts.

With many shootings against African Americans, such as Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, and many others, the reaction from numerous people (especially when law enforcement or neighborhood watchmen are involved, like in these three cases) tends to be one of pointing out the wrongdoings of the victims and celebrating “justice” when the people who took away these lives are declared “innocent.” I put innocent and justice in quotes because there is nothing innocent about killing someone, and because there is no justice in declaring the “innocence” of someone who took away a life that should still exist.

That being said, what is especially troubling is that, even when the lives of outstanding African Americans are taken away, there are a few prayers and condolences at best, and silence at worst. There were prayers and condolences after the tragic shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, but other than a short period of prayers and condolences, most attention was turned to other issues. The police officer killing of high school student Jordan Edwards in Texas last month got relatively little attention, even though Edwards was an excellent student and athlete. And the case of Richard Collins III, an outstanding student and recently commissioned Second Lieutenant in the United States Army who was killed by an alt-right nationalist, was also met with relative silence.

Admittedly, I was one of the silent ones, as I didn’t make a post on social media about Edwards or Collins III. But silence on the killings of people like these does not end violence against innocent African Americans, or even violence against African Americans who did not commit offenses that were deserving of death. However, the killings of African Americans, and the relative lack of outrage over these killings, gives life to Black Lives Matter’s rallying cry of “white silence is violence,” whether we realize it or not.