Happy Banned Book Week 2023!

Happy #BannedBooksWeek. You may remember that this past spring, I tested AI on #BlackHistoryMonth using ChatGPT: AI in Favor of Racist?

Now, 8 months later, I wanted to see what another AI resource, Google's Bard, would do with the prompt: Create a speech from a black woman's perspective on how book bans suppress the speech and freedoms of black people. include specific examples from the last 10 years. Here's the essay in its entirety, unaltered. Or you can just watch this video below:

Below are further details on the analysis/feedback that I've thought about since making the video. It's a view "behind the veil" for librarians of color:

I've endured more hatefulness as a librarian than I ever endured as an English teacher. One job cut my position "for budget reasons," during the pandemic, because I taught the book, The Hate U Give (Thomas, 2017), which that campus thought promoted anti-police behavior. Even when I moved to a new city, that hatefulness for a multi-degreed leader just couldn't be overcome. It seems as though some folks in society just can't take directives, advice, presentations or suggestions from a Black person in leadership. My third day on one campus, I was literally almost run over by a Caucasian woman pushing a cart, who never met me, and as I introduced myself, she kept pushing a cart furiously towards me. Had I not stopped the cart she pushed with my hands, looked her dead in her eyes and asked her "are you literally trying to run the new librarian over," she would have hurt me. Keeping my composure, I asked her name. Oh, then it was a whole different ball game because I immediately went to administration to inquire about this person. She went from "psycho to sweetie" in a blink of an eye, stating she didn't know I was the "new librarian," thinking I was a substitute (like that excused her ugliness). By the time it was all said and done, I knew then, even though I relocated from a diversely-rich city (hey, Houston), I was back in central Texas...what we (Black folks here) used to call it in college--I went to Baylor University in Waco, TX for undergraduate school--"klan territory," where racism is as apparent as tan lines. Research sundown towns in Texas, if you don't believe me.

What does that have to do with book bans? Only in America, will the "predominant race" turn around after centuries of oppression, violence, lynching and hangings, sexual assault and terrorism, THEN have the audacity to utter words like "don't make my child feel guilty that they're white," or "we should add a preemptive note saying that this book contains sexual assault [or other sensitivities]," and finally that Black folks "benefited from slavery." The entitlement. The privilege. The spoiled mindset that my child's innocence must be protected, when kids of color suffer the trauma of reading about our enslaved Ancestors then and NOW. As the assigned curriculum, mind you. To this day, I hate To Kill a Mockingbird, Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer because it gave unofficial permission to white kids to hurl racist insults at the only Black girl in class. No one protected me or those like me, in the 19th/20th century then, and no one protects me against racist treatment now in 2023...but I do have a white chair handy, just in case. 😉

To bring us back to the idea of banning (because enslavement was a banning of citizenship and rights), slavery morphed after 1865 into other extensions of systemic hatred (gerrymandering, voter suppression, not honoring Black GI Bills for veterans, red-lining communities, denying us leadership roles/promotions). No one cared to shield our (Black kids) innocence because it plays into their manipulation of the minds via oppression, even at a young age. It's their kids that called me and millions of other Black kids, the n-word. I was 7 years old when it happened to me the 1st time. Black folks know this. Even though our "freedom" was a tactical maneuver by then President Lincoln to win the American Civil War, unexpectedly, our equality rose so quickly after Reconstruction, that Jim Crow, segregation and the repeal of Black Rights took place, enslaving us all over again.

"How dare those folks think they're equal to us?" New century, same old song. Dare I mention the Tulsa Massacre (1921) that most folks just learned about in the last few years nationally where an entire, successful Black community was burnt to the ground, without consequence and with threat of death upon mentioning it? Seneca Falls, NY (1863)? Rosewood, FL (1923)? Philadelphia, PA (1985)? Here's a map:

Fast forward to 2023, Black folks are again getting screwed: appealing affirmative action, censoring Black voices, appealing abortion and lynching Black Americans in the streets. Whether we look forward or backwards, hatefulness surrounds us. There's consistently a showing of cruelty towards us at the hands of the same old enemy: unchecked, empowered, white racists...who are presidents, doctors, CEOs, governors and colleagues. Whether we're doing our jobs, selling lemonade, sleeping in our homes, or trying to check out a book (Iowa School District Uses AI to Ban Books), there is ALWAYS some white person trying to "police" us. There's a reason why police and policy have the same root word. It's no different than these governors trying to ban books written by and for marginalized communities.

Even now, with the explosion of AI (artifical intelligence), Black folks are being erased and denied inclusion via AI, fired for speaking up about the embedded racism in AI, and denied the freedom to read about themselves in a book from the library. Want my further thoughts on the inequities for Black Americans regarding AI, then please read: The Obvious Miss, Straight-up Diss and Maleficent Missteps of AI Integration. The title is in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Hip-hop! 🤩

Yes, this is an unsual reflection on banned books week from me. Usually, I'm giving resources, encouraging participation and planning events. But this year, I had to get down to the core of banned books week as it relates to me. This blog holds me and my followers accountable. I'm sick and tired of being banned. It's a condition I've spent my entire life enduring in some shape, fashion or form. I don't need lessons of yesterday or centuries ago. I just need to keep trying to excel in this life in America. Inevitably, someone hateful, prejudiced and racist will cross my path. It's a matter of waiting for the other shoe to drop or as simple as apple pie, especially here in central Texas, where Austin simply IS NOT as progressive as Houston. It might get there one day, but it sure isn't today. So, I'll continue to teach what's its like to be banned: by book or by color. I've 45 years experience in both fields.

P.S. If you're looking for resources, then please look here: ALA, United Against Book Bans, PEN America, Everyday Library, Austin Public Library, School of Library Journal, Harris County Public Library (HCPL).


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