A student comes into the library and requests a novel that features a portrayal of Native Americans as “savages”. The novel was written by a white woman and published several decades ago. The student was referred to this title by her current English teacher.
This continues to happen.
Over and over and over again.
It’s a pattern that plays out in hundreds of variations in school curricula, library selections, in homes. The demand for racist literature sustains itself over decades. But is it a demand specifically for racist literature?
Oh, of course not!
Rather, what it is and stays is a well trod ignorance; a pair of heavy blinders that prevent the clear perception of any racist baggage or intent. Not racist, maybe outdated, some might say.
Well, racist literature exists in all eras and is published with remarkable frequency although it is seldom seen that way.
Here’s how I think this happens: we are accustomed to whitewashed history, a penchant for happy endings, and the separation of multiple, concurrent forms of oppression; as a result we compartmentalize, dissemble, and prepare our escape routes from uncomfortable truths.
The US is built on slavery, genocide, theft and cruelty.
We decide it’s time to do something about our ignorance of Black history, so we read some books and forget that the genocide of native people played a role in that same history of how the United States came to be. We learn to finally acknowledge white privilege as an actual thing but can’t quite grasp what folks mean when they claim that American society is definitely White Supremacist. We keep our biases contained, or so we believe.
Instead, it’s true that our ignorance walks. It talks, travels and welcomes comfort. It asks for neat packages, clear story lines, uncomplicated histories. Not surprisingly, we have whole industries dedicated to satisfying these specific demands.
So it was that a child could make a request for a firmly racist story at the recommendation of a well meaning teacher and some of us see a cycle repeating itself, while others see nothing at all.