I am working on a book that deals in part with race and, as a liberal centrist, I anticipate a critical reception from both right and left. Ideological censorship in the form of avoidance, hateful mailings and cancellations came to pervade both poles of American social policy, but I had in some ways floated above this melee in which I have now been enlisted.
Matt Krause represents a neighborhood in Fort Worth, where my 14 year old daughter lives with her mother. Our family has a wonderful circle of friends there and our unorthodox arrangements were greeted with unwavering civility. I’m tired of standing up for my life in Texas against the progressives in New York who vilify the entire state. Yet, as my daughter reaches an age where adolescents begin to explore sexuality and gender, my writing on these topics has been blacklisted in her backyard. I feel more intensely than since the day I married my husband how personal politics is and vice versa.
When I was president of PEN America, the organization for free speech, I lobbied on behalf of foreign writers who were banned, tortured and sometimes threatened with execution. Many of these courageous voices are galvanized by the need to speak the truth in places where the truth has become suspect, to defend against senseless surrender – to avoid becoming rhinos. Many know that their arrest is not a matter of if, but of when, and enter prison with their heads held high. It seemed admirable but exotic ten years ago; now it looks alarmingly close.
In October, Wyoming prosecutors announced they were considering bringing criminal charges against state librarians who had LGBTQ positive books on their shelves. The Dallas Morning News reported that parents in Texas “have successfully campaigned against several books and questioned the program which addresses difficult topics, including those dealing with social justice and LGBTQ issues.” An all-white school board in Pennsylvania has banned books and articles on a list of “racial justice resources,” almost all of which are written by people of color. (After high school-led protests, the ban was temporarily lifted.) Toni Morrison’s work was attacked in Virginia, and a Florida school board member filed a criminal complaint against a book about the experience queer black whom she considered obscene.
I don’t want to over-dramatize; I’m on a proud list that includes Isabel Wilkerson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jeffrey Eugenides, Michael Crichton, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and William Styron. None of us rot in prison; no one was forcibly silenced. The Texas document constitutes a cynical electoral ploy of a fanatical politician in a besieged state. But that same state just passed the country’s most misogynistic abortion law – and after choosing women, they typically attack blacks, gays, the disabled, and Jews.
I believe that writing the truth as I see it is a constitutionally protected right and that whether or not my books are in school libraries, they will reach their audiences. But my daughter, if her peers are interested in reading my work, may have to explain why it is not accessible to them; she will have to negotiate the proposition that the love of our family is a poison from which they need to be protected.