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Leave My Safe Space Alone! by Stefan Kanfer
The history of banned books in the U.S. provides a list of must-reads of American literature. Among those works: The Scarlet Letter (1850), Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), The Great Gatsby (1925), Native Son(1940), A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), The Catcher in the Rye(1951), Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970), Beloved (1987), and many more. The roster of interdicted authors is broad and inclusive, too: women, Native Americans, African-Americans, as well as white men whose putative privilege has failed to obviate the fears of bluestockings and hanky-clutchers. Many of the banned authors wrote with a determination to right the wrongs of the American past, ranging from sexual hypocrisy to racism to mindless self-indulgence. Not that any of this matters to the new censors.
In the past, it was the uptight, upright moralizers who proscribed the offending books. No longer. Today, the job is taken by timorous education officials in the name of sensitivity. Take To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has just been banned from the school curriculum in Biloxi, Mississippi. “There were complaints about it,” explained board vice president Kenny Holloway. “There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable.” Mockingbird tells the story of Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of rape in segregated 1930s Dixie. Neither the town jail nor the efforts of the incorruptible white attorney, Atticus Finch, can protect the victim from a lynch mob bent on murder. Of course there were complaints about the book; of course it made some readers uncomfortable. That’s the point of such books, to get people out of their “comfort zone.”
Read the entire piece here at City Journal, originally appearing on October 20, 2017
Stefan Kanfer is a City Journal contributing editor. His new novel, Hell Money, will be published this fall.