By: guest blogger Andrea Jamison
The banning of Angie Thomas’ New York Times bestselling book, The Hate U Give, is another stark reminder that the message behind the Black Lives Matter movement has indeed fallen on deaf ears.
Although officials from the Katy Independent School District in Texas affirm that the book is not technically banned but is under a “standard” procedural review, it is clear that the district circumvented its policies by removing copies of the book during this “review” process. Katy ISD policy states that “access to a challenged resource shall not be restricted during the reconsideration process, except the District may deny access to a child if requested by the child’s parent, allowing the books to remain on the shelves during the review process.” However, in this scenario, Thomas’ book was apparently subjected to an unwritten policy, which necessitated the immediate removal of all copies from its library shelves.
The district removed the books in response to an objection from a parent, who strongly believes that the book’s use of foul language is in excess and thereby inappropriate, not only for his child but for every single child in the district.
Suffice it to say, the material in question does contain a certain amount of language that many may deem offensive and excessive. The author was not timorous when she created dialogue for the characters in this eerily realistic portrayal of life, which left the final product raw and uncensored. However, profane language is not atypical in teen novels. Just peruse any teen booklist. Most popular books are either peppered with profane language or laden with edgy content. Thus, books like The Hate U Give are not anomalies.
According to an article published by the School Library Journal online, based on a study by professor Sarah Coyne, high instances of profanity in teen literature appeared years ago. Coyne’s research revealed that “Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars (HarperTeen), has an above-average amount of profanity, with 80 curse words in the 298-page book.” The Gossip Girls, Book 1, The Carlyles published in 2008 contained 175 instances of swearing. Fast forward to present day, and you will find that instances of profanity in teen books have become widespread and socially tolerated, as the language and content of these books often mirror real-world behaviors.
However, on a much grander scale, the modern-day issues of profanity in books seem rather trivial in comparison to the racist stereotypes that have permeated children’s books for decades and was accepted as classic literature. Racially insensitive content has propelled us into a new era where the need to expose youth to books that counter these types of messages have become paramount. So to think that a district would act with such reckless regard toward a book that acclimates children to a much larger social issue is beyond offensive. It also contradicts (again) its policy for acquiring resources that “present various sides of controversial issues so that students have an opportunity to develop, under guidance, skills in critical analysis in making informed judgments in their daily lives.” In that regard, Angie Thomas’ book has been groundbreaking. It uses fiction to expose the realities of police brutality. Whether or not a single district or a group of parents agree with it, everyone’s right to choose should never be revoked.
Despite community outcry, the Katy District has not provided any indication as to how long this review process will take. However, what’s understood doesn’t need to be explained. Those who have experienced any form of injustice understand the hidden innuendos behind political jargon. Standard procedure is rhetoric for “going through the motions.” Due process doesn’t mean fair outcomes. All too often, statements like those uttered by Katy ISD only points to a benign process intended to create an appearance of justice but somehow manages to leave the status quo untempered. Sadly, the district’s initial removal of The Hate U Give was probably a tale-tell sign that it had already reached a final verdict on the “real issue” here: guilty of promoting Black lives. So I don’t expect to see that book back on the shelves anytime soon.
Andrea Q. Jamison is a professional librarian, writer, and current Ph.D. student whose research involves examining the pervasive lack of diversity in literature. She has over 17 years of experience working in schools and libraries, and she is the author of two books: Against the Waterfalls and Super Sonja.
In addition to her full-time duties in librarianship, she is a mom, board member for ALA’s Ethnic & Multicultural Information Exchange Roundtable, chair for the EMIERT Multicultural Awards, reviewer for the School Library Journal, reviewer for Indieview, freelance writer, avid blogger, and social justice advocate.
She also works with the Illinois School Library Media Association as a member of their advocacy and
conference planning committees. Andrea thoroughly enjoys working with children and speaks nationally on issues related to creating diverse and inclusive learning spaces for youth. Find her on Twitter @achitownj.