I see many headlines in a day. One from Book Riot caught my attention with its linked story on BoingBoing. This particular story is poignant and points to the ridiculous polarization politicians are stoking to play for our votes. (I swear, politicians should be made into their own country so they can ruin their own lives without affecting the rest of us.) This headline deals with the remarkable person George Dawson. The son of a farmer, and descendant of slaves, Dawson made a living as a laborer in Texas. His life was probably no more noteworthy than those of many other working-class individuals, but Dawson had a story to tell. Illiterate, he learned to read at the age of 98—let that sink in. At two years shy of a century he decided to improve his life. He subsequently wrote a memoir, Life Is So Good. So far, so good.
His story was so inspirational that the Carroll Independent School District named a middle school for him. He became a adult “poster child” for literacy. Now, here’s where the headline comes in. The very school that is named after him is trying to ban his book. As part of the reactionary Republican response to race relations, politicians—local and national—are trying to rewrite American history so the white guy is always right. Always good. Always Christian. Always moral. It doesn’t matter how many times he cheats on his wife and his taxes, he is the paragon of virtue and respectability. To suggest that he promoted slavery and treated Black people as property and beat and lynched and left them in poverty, well, that’s just too powerful of a pill to swallow.
Banned Book Week begins this month, on the 18th. Every year I try to read a banned or challenged book in honor of the occasion. Censorship has been on the playlist of fascists from the beginning. Propaganda works. All you need to do is use emotional appeal to short-circuit the rational faculties and then laugh all the way to the bank. Slavery? What’s slavery? Do you mean to suggest that white men used slaves? Poppycock. We have always been as upright with the same moral rectitude as the Donald. And the Ronald. And all white men who stand under the big R. Pay no attention to the Black man who learned to read at an age when most of us are dead. Is that such a big deal? What need do you have to read when Fox News can provide all the (mis)information you need?