Ellison’s “Invisible Man” Banned in NC County

Via the Courier-TribuneCounty board bans ‘Invisible Man’ from school libraries

By a 5-2 margin, the Randolph County Board of Education voted Monday night, at its regular meeting held at Eastern Randolph High School, to remove all copies of the book from school libraries.

The action stems from a Randleman High School parent’s complaint about the book. Committees at both the school and district levels recommended it not be removed.

[…]

There was little discussion after the board was presented with the Central Services Committee recommendation concerning the parent’s complaint about the book. All board members had been supplied with copies of the book last month to read.

McDonald asked if everyone had read the book, stating, “It was a hard read.”

Mason said, “I didn’t find any literary value.” He also objected to the language in the book. “I’m for not allowing it to be available.”

Because, of course, literary value is determined by vote.

I will admit that, while I am passingly familiar with the novel in question, I have never read it.  However, I am fairly confident in speculating that the language contained therein cannot be radically different than that which a typical 11th grader in 2013 is exposed to with some regularity from their peers and other cultural sources (even students whose parents shelter them at home from such things).

I certainly support the notion that if a parent truly objects to a particular piece of literature being read by their child that they have the right to request alternate material.  However, this book was part of a list of options in an assignment.  That one complaint could lead to a book being removed from an assignment is bad, and that it could lead to it being removed from a library is anti-education.

Update:  If one is truly unfamiliar with the text, note that it is about race relations in the early-to-mid 20th century.  See more on the book here.  I should have included this in the original post–I assumed that the basic topic of the book was well known, even if it wasn’t necessarily a book that most folks had read.

FILED UNDER: Education, Quick Takes, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Mark says:

    North Carolina: The Next Best Thing to 1958!

  2. bill says:

    ironic, there’s a school district not far from me where there’s some harsh discussion of how a history book has reworded the constitutions amendments- particularly the 2nd one;

    . “The people have a right to keep and bear arms in a state militia.”

    kind of changes the perspective a little- depending on your views!

    @Mark: you realize that nc is filling up with northerners looking for a chance at success?

  3. @bill: This would be directly comparable to book banning in what way?

  4. (And note: it would take a bit more information than what you provided to assess what is going on.)

  5. (and of the things the comparison may raise, irony is not one of them.)

  6. bill says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: it’s not banning- there’s some calls for the book to be replaced by something more “word for word” accurate rather than some company’s interpretation of it. the ironic part is that the school district is in Texas (and not anywhere near Austin)- not what most of the country would call “anti-gun”.
    i can’t really see how dropping the invisible man is forging the way for banning books all that much- it’s one book (that i never read- watched the movie).
    not like we’re getting all “Fahrenheit 451” here!

  7. Tony W says:

    Anti Education?

    From the state that wants to ban science?

    I am beginning to understand the thinking that made Charlotte such a desirable place for the large banks.

  8. al-Ameda says:

    Is it just a coincidence that OTB just posted a story about how NC was almost nuked in 1961?

    I certainly support the notion that if a parent truly objects to a particular piece of literature being read by their child that they have the right to request alternate material. However, this book was part of a list of options in an assignment. That one complaint could lead to a book being removed from an assignment is bad, and that it could lead to it being removed from a library is anti-education.

    I can’t think of any books that a teacher might assign that would have caused me go to the teacher and ask for alternate material.

  9. cporet says:

    At least they didn’t remove the book from the library and then burn it.

  10. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    You can find a summary of what Bill’s talking about here:
    http://www.theatlanticwire.com/entertainment/2013/09/history-textbook-that-has-gun-rights-advocates-up-in-arms/69546/

    Personally, I don’t like it one bit — not because of the phrasing (which I do think is off), but because it continues the ridiculous History textbook trend of summarizing original texts that need absolutely no summaries in the first place.

    Frankly, people should be far more pissed off about that than the wording itself.

  11. @bill: I didn’t say that this was the vanguard of a wave of boo banning. It is, however, a specific incident of the book being banned from the library. That’s book banning.

    In regards to your second amendment example: I have little doubt that a book exists that tries to explain the amendment with that language. The issue becomes: 1) is it being represented as the actual text of the 2nd amendment? (I doubt it), 2) are all other copies of the constitution being so edited? (I know that this is not the case), and 3) what is the general context of the text in question.

    It strikes me that such a representation of the 2nd amendment would have the effect of stimulating conversation about the words, their meaning, and the historical context–you know, the kinds of things one should be doing in school.

  12. @Tony W: It all gets rather depressing.

    @al-Ameda: Pure coincidence–it just happened to coincide with my reading pattern this morning.

    @mattbernius: Thanks–I will give the story a look.

  13. mattbernius says:

    @bill:

    i can’t really see how dropping the invisible man is forging the way for banning books all that much- it’s one book (that i never read- watched the movie).

    Right… first of all, you’ve mixed up (intentionally or not) H.G. Well’s Invisible Man with Emmerson’s text.

    Secondly the fact that *Emmerson’s* book is a frank and critical acclaimed (and award winning) book on race relations makes this all a bit more problematic. I’d be interested to see if they have also banned Richard Wright’s “Native Son” for similar reasons (as it’s content is far more extreme). Plus the fact that this sounds like a largely *white* board removing a classic of Black Literature also seems a bit problematic.

    BTW here was the complaint about the book (from the original article):

    She stated, in part, “The narrator writes in the first person, emphasizing his individual experiences and his feelings about the events portrayed in his life. This novel is not so innocent; instead, this book is filthier, too much for teenagers. You must respect all religions and point of views when it comes to the parents and what they feel is age appropriate for their young children to read, without their knowledge. This book is freely in your library for them to read.”

  14. Dave W. says:

    @bill: Have you not read Fahrenheit 451? Guy Montag’s world came to be in circumstances similar to this story. A small group of people had books banned because they take offense to them. It doesn’t take long for other small groups to realize they, too, can have their targeted books banned. Which lead eventually to the banning of all books.

    So, in a way, we are “getting all ‘Fahrenheit 451’ here!” Only this would be the prequel novel and the people upset about this would be the eventually-defeated protagonists. And those who blithely sit by and let it happen would be the predecessors to Mildred Montag.

    Okay, so that may be a little overdramatic, as the banning of all books would never happen, nor will there be a wave of book banning in America. But the point is that even allowing one book in one library to be banned because a small group of people object to its contents is never acceptable. Letting it happen would only open the door for more people to get more books taken out of libraries.

  15. Todd says:

    @mattbernius:

    After learning a bit more about the book (which I haven’t read), and the county in NC, I was just about to make a similar observation.

    You have an overwhelmingly white,Republican, and probably very religious population. Any book that contains (any) sexual content is probably going to get their attention … but the fact that it’s interracial black male/white female … well, it’s probably not too much of a stretch to imagine that the “no literary value” comment was most likely a euphemism for “no way in hell is my 16 year old daughter reading this!”

  16. @mattbernius: I think “Ralph” led you down the “Waldo Emerson” mental pathway….

    But indeed. I tried to look up the racial breakdown of the Board, but there are no pictures on the Randolph County school system’s page and these folks are too obscure for an easy Google search to bear fruit.

  17. rudderpedals says:

    Same crowd that banned Black Like Me, probly.

    @mattbernius:
    Pre-Heller the summary wasn’t that bad. Point taken about the desirability of studying the original.

  18. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I think “Ralph” led you down the “Waldo Emerson” mental pathway….

    Crud… entirely correct and not one I’m going to abuse my author privileges to correct. It should have been *Ellison*.

    I tried to look up the racial breakdown of the Board, but there are no pictures on the Randolph County school system’s page and these folks are too obscure for an easy Google search to bear fruit.

    Given a number of factors (not the least of which are their names AND the fact that it’s this specific book), I tend to think the majority of the immediate actors are, well, let’s say “Melaninly-challenged.”

  19. @mattbernius:

    Given a number of factors (not the least of which are their names AND the fact that it’s this specific book), I tend to think the majority of the immediate actors are, well, let’s say “Melaninly-challenged.”

    I concur that the probabilities are quite high that this is the case–I just couldn’t definitively confirm it.

  20. al-Ameda says:

    @cporet:

    At least they didn’t remove the book from the library and then burn it.

    Not to be picky, but … “it” being the book, or the library?

  21. gVOR08 says:

    @mattbernius:

    Thanks for the link. This thing with the second amendment issue isn’t exactly a textbook. It’s a cramming guide for AP history. It’s published by somebody called Amsco School Publications. It covers a lot of ground. It may have been written and edited in haste, or it may have cut and pasted wording that wasn’t particularly controversial ten or twenty years ago. So I doubt it’s the cutting edge of some plot to rewrite the Constitution.

    As a summary of the second amendment, it’s flawed, but at least arguably more accurate than modern conservative stuff that simply omits the “well regulated militia” clause.

    I can’t imagine any major text book publisher slipping up on something the Texas School Board might find offensive. Sadly.

  22. Scott says:

    Incidents like this make me proud of my daughter’s school (all girls Catholic School) which during Banned Books Week puts all the banned books they have and invites the students to read them.

  23. Gustopher says:

    It would be nice if the dissenters in the 5-2 decision then tried to get he rest to ban Farenheit 451, because it’s about arson.

  24. Grewgills says:

    @bill:

    … it isn’t even the main textbook in use at the school. According to a district statement, U.S. History is merely a “supplementary” text and teachers “are teaching the amendments from the classroom textbook, American Pageant,” where the real amendment appears.

    It appears that the complaint you cite is a bit overblown. It is a supplemental text that is not required reading, as such I would be willing to bet that before this ginned up controversy very few of the students read it.

  25. Grewgills says:

    @mattbernius:

    Plus the fact that this sounds like a largely *white* board removing a classic of Black Literature also seems a bit problematic.

    As of last census this rural North Carolina county was 89% Caucasian (5.6% African American) and is represented by a Tea Party Candidate, so I would hazard a guess that the school board is majority white and conservative.

  26. Grewgills says:

    and more controversy at Randleman High

  27. Grewgills says:

    The mother, Kimiytta Parson, doesn’t seem upset about the racial nature of the book, rather it is the portrayals of rape and incest that she finds objectionable.
    The full complaint and excerpts here

  28. @Grewgills: This does not surprise me, and really I assumed that her objection was based on content. Still, it would seem that the book’s place in the history of literature on race would have some salience to the Board.

  29. Dave D says:

    I read this book in my 10th grade lit class as part of required reading. Although my memories of the book aren’t that clear, I do not recall whether it is more explicit than many other books of it’s kind. In mind would be To Kill A Mockingbird, The Color Purple or even The Catcher in the Rye. What I do recall from reading this book is how dense it is and how full of symbolism it is and was a pretty hard read for me at the time to pick up on all of the nuance and themes Ellison was trying to portray.

  30. Grumpy Realist says:

    @Grewgills: Um,then she’s against her daughter reading the Old Testament, then ?(daughters of Lot)(story of Tamar)

  31. Grewgills says:

    @Grumpy Realist:
    That would logically follow, but somehow I doubt she would pursue that.

  32. bill says:

    @mattbernius: i guess i’ll wait for that movie to come out….and then not see it?!
    @Dave W.: yes i did, hence the reference (and that movie really disappointed) . once again, dropping a book from the school library does not equate with anything near the bradbury book. why they chose this book is for them to decide, if enough people think it’s worthy of a slot on the shelf then so be it. i wonder if there’s any hunter thompson books on their shelves?
    @Steven L. Taylor: i believe they tried to explain the amendments for general clarity, it wasn’t just the 2nd that was smoothed over. if you have been in here the past week i think you’d notice that anything related to guns will stimulate conversation, to the power of 10 – with vigor! there were some people upset with the loose interpretation and thought that “maybe” someone was trying to water it down for political purposes- which don’t go over too well these days.
    @Grewgills: i have no complaint about it, just a reference to the original article. kids can read and figure our what is what as far as i’m concerned. anyone who can read the original amendments should be able to see what it means vs. the readers digest version.

  33. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    What I am curious about is that since the complaint is that the book is “filthy,” have they also banned The Catcher in the Rye, which for my take on it (and I have taught literature at both public and private schools) is mostly an experiment to see how many times one can use “fwck” in a novel.

    But I forget, every literature teacher that I have met (other than myself) claims to be the reincarnation of Holden Caulfield. Not as many feel the connection to either Wright or Ellison.