Banned Books Week: The PC Brigade

I’m relaxing my view that books that we call ‘banned’ should legally be banned, partly because I’ve always thought this was a good story, and partly because the accused really did run into legal trouble because of a book he was reading. Also, the other posts were about how hardline conservatives banned books because of content that threatened their regime. Here, we have a story about a book that was banned because of liberal impulses. The effect was still the same, though, and the agency attempting to ban it was just as rigid and unbending as any religious government moral watchdog could be.

The story, linked below, is about a 54 year old janitor, a white male, at Notre Dame, who was also a communications major at the same school. On his break, he decided to read, and someone reported him for racial harassment, a charge the Dean  held to be valid. You see, the book he was reading had pictures of Klansmen in hoods flanking a burning cross that was planted on Notre Dame grounds. Now, at first glance, this indeed looks like an obvious case of someone perhaps trying to harass people, or maybe intimidate them, until you look at the man’s defense. The book itself, Notre Dame Vs The Clan, is about how Notre Dame, students and faculty, clashed with Klansmen in the 1920s. (An aside… As someone who grew up in the Midwest and now lives in the south, I can definitely affirm that the Klan, and Klan-like attitudes, are more prevalent in the alleged ‘free north’ than in the south, but that is a subject for another post.) Additionally, the alleged racial harasser had found the book in Notre Dame’s own library. And it wasn’t like he was going around telling people that he wished the Klan hadn’t lost. He was simply reading a university book about university history in a university break room. Yet, until FIRE (that wonderful organization that fights for free speech in educational institutions) came along, the administration refused to budge from their finding that, since he was reading a book about an abhorrent period of US History, he was guilty of racially harassing his colleagues. 

That line of thinking is what really bothers me. Our society depends on the free flow of information, as does the science of history. Indiana and Michigan and other Midwest states did indeed have a history with the KKK, and it’s important for 21st century students to know about this and study it. If people think that something never happened, they’ll be surprised when it happens again, rather than being prepared and doing what they can to prevent it. Blocking uncomfortable truths, whether to protect the majority or to protect a minority, is never the answer, and is its own form of discrimination. 

Further reading

 

 

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