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Episode 28: Banned Books Week, the First Amendment, and Learning for Yourself

Episode 28: Banned Books Week, the First Amendment, and Learning for Yourself

This week is Banned Books Week.  Allow me to share more from the website of the American Library Association:

“Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community – librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types – in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”-ala.com

So, Banned Books Week draws attention to the harms of censorship; which brings me to the First Amendment. As a writer and business professional, I have a range of thoughts about First Amendment rights. My goal at the end of the episode is to motivate you to research and educate yourself on current events and our history by sharing how I’m learning a bit more on these topics too. One of the most powerful weapon we have is an educated mind. Allow me to challenge you today on the View 112 Podcast.

Hi! I’ve been mentioning Banned Books Week here and there in podcast for a couple of months now. I’m glad it is here. When I first learned that about banned or challenged books, I learned I’ve read a few: 

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Beloved by Toni Morrison

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Adventures of of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Native Son by Richard Wright

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

You may be wondering why books are banned or challenged in the first place. Well, books are challenged by people based on content like political viewpoints, sexually explicit material, LGBT content, dangerous authors, racial overtones, content mentioning excessive police force, gender roles, abortion, rape, or anything else that is considered “scary to minors”

I know the aforementioned books shaped me and many others during our formative years. Hard to imagine that kids do not have access to some of the great literary works of our time. A new book was just released this year, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It is a NY Times Best Seller and I think going to be made into a movie. The book is about a 16 year old black girl who is the sole witness to her unarmed black male friend being shot and killed by police. Story sounds familiar right? I am donating copies of The Hate U Give to Rx for Reading Detroit. This non profit also helps you organize a book drive and I’ve really wanted to sponsor a book drive for my birthday. I think I’ve landed on my hosting a book drive for some of the banned classics I’ve mentioned above. Currently I am researching organizations in Houston, Florida, and the Caribbean that will be in need of book donations in their rebuilding phase. 

I mentioned in the open that Banned Books Week draws attention to the harms of censorship. Every organization affiliated with Banned Books Week has some sort of comment about First Amendment rights. Last week, I attended a work eventthat kicked off Congressional Black Caucus weekend here in DC at the Newseum. The Newseum, according to their website “promotes, explains, and defends free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. The location of the Newseum is steps away from the US Capital.  On the front of the building is etched the words of the First Amendment as well:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” 

There in that building, at the CBC event, I attended a the DC premiere of the movie Marshall set to come out next month in theaters. This movie was about a case tried by young Thurgood Marshall when he was a lawyer for the NAACP. The movie was excellent. As I sat there I couldn't help but get down on myself for not knowing more about Thurgood Marshall, the life he lived or the cases he tried. A small part of the movie showed young Thurgood hanging out with Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. All super stars I studied in college and had forgotten about sadly. I know their work, but not about the life they lived and not about the things they faced as young, thriving creatives. When they were my age, they were faced with using their platform to cast down racial and social injustices. Thurgood Marshall traveled all over using the law to protect and defend innocent people who had been wrongly accused. After the movie screening, there was a panel with the actor, Chadwick Boseman,  activist DeRay Mckesson, and others. They discussed how skillfully Thurgood Marshall exercised his First Amendment rights and the press, even when they hated what he was saying. They also talked about many of the cases Marshall tried are relevant today. Senator Kamala Harris was there and she gave remarks about the work of Thurgood Marshall and about the work we all must continue to do to fight injustice. 

I left the event first proud I work for a company that organizes such incredible experiences. I also left the event with a strong sense of responsibility to educate myself.  I want to learn more about Thurgood Marshall and the work he did. I’m not a history buff but I need to know more about these great people in history, their contribution, and how the things they did impact my civil liberties today. Some of these very people who’s contribution is on the Banned Books List I mentioned earlier. As I sat in that room with other co workers and business professionals I wanted to learn more on how I could contribute in spreading the word and doing the right work. I want to stop simply listening to these conversations and actually become apart of them. Finally based on the panel discussion, I was thinking about using my social media, the View 112 site, and this podcast to do some of this work, exercising my First Amendment rights if you will. I was pumped!

Then just 2 days later, our (yes, OUR) first amendment rights were challenged by the President of the United States when he attacked players who kneel during the National Anthem in protest for injustice plaguing people of color. Now, my blog and podcast are primarily about business and books. I really want to stick to those topics. I am an avid reader, writer, and business woman.  However, I am also a black American woman and I feel like time and time again the President’s statements and actions directly attack my experience as an American. I cannot allow that to happen. Allow me to be clear, I understand there are people who do not like the method in which the players of the NFL have been protesting racial and social injustice.  I would also like to point out that this is still their First Amendment right regardless of how we feel about it. It angers me that the President can condone white supremacists violently protesting (a person was killed remember?) and calling them "good people", protecting their First Amendment rights but when black NFL players are peacefully protesting in a manner that he doesn’t agree, with he calls them SOBs and for them to be fired by the NFL. Which brings me to finally, as a business owner, I know the President doesn’t like when people tell him how to run his company. So don’t tell the NFL or ESPN or anyone else how to run theirs. You cannot revoke the rights of a group of people to protest peacefully just because you don’t like how they are choosing to protest or choose to be ignorant regarding the topic of their protest.  If we make the choice to support the removal of rights from one group of people, it jeopardizes all of us.  I’ve said this before, it may not be your group or cause today but it sets the precedent for how all of us could be treated.  

So I’m educating myself on the law now too. We cannot allow others to interpret the law on our behalf. We have to know our rights. All of us. You have to know for yourself. Not from what you see on CNN or read on Facebook (which is sadly how many Americans are getting the bulk of their information these days without so much as a fact check.)  This brings me back to what it always is about for me.  Reading.  I spent several hours each day this week reading up, studying civics, learning more about our history and people like Thurgood Marshall and Langston Hughes.  Unfortunately when it comes to certain things in this country, there is nothing new under the sun.  We can learn from people who’ve come before us. We can use the power that we have afforded to us written in the law.  

I feel a lot and I know I’ve shared a lot at this point.  So here are just a few things I want you to know:

  1. Banned Books Week. I wanted you to be aware and encourage me to start a book drive. Will you donate books?
  2. This Monday October 2nd: Thurgood Marshall Day.  The day he was sworn into the Supreme Court.  
  3. Keep reading.  Here are some of the books I’m into (classics and new books):

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcom X and Alex Haley

Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B.DuBois

Selected Letters of Langston Hughes edited by Arnold Rampersad and David Roessei with Christa Fratantoro

I am Not Your Negro by James Balwin and Raoul Peck

My Soul Looks Back by Jessica B. Harris

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Thanks for listening. I’d love to know your thoughts so email me: jeanitamorris@view112.com.  Also! There has been an update to iOS 11 which impacted Apple Podcasts. I think this fixed the glitch that impacted some people trying to rate or leave a comment on Apple Podcasts. It is fixed!  Rate and holla at ya girl on Apple Podcasts.  Thank you!

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