September 4, 2013

Alabama state senator calls for a ban on The Bluest Eye


Toni Morrison is not amused.

Bill Holtzclaw, a state senator in Alabama, is seeking to have Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye banned from high schools and school libraries throughout the state. Challen Stephens reports for the website All Alabama that this comes shortly after a disagreement between Holtzclaw and his fellow Republicans regarding Common Core standards.

The previous dustup between Holtzclaw and Alabama’s GOP happened earlier this year when he decided not to support a bill that would repeal Common Core standards for the state. Two weeks ago, state school board member Mary Scott Hunter was censured by the Madison County Republican Executive Committee for not fighting the Common Core requirements; the committee planned a similar censure for Holtzclaw, but ran out of time. His position has been that it’s not for lawmakers to dictate curricula to educators, and that Alabama doesn’t have to adhere with all aspects of the Common Core guidelines.

So, naturally, when a constituent called his attention to Nobel Prize winner Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, he agreed that it was “completely objectionable” and should not be included on any high school reading lists in the state. The novel is frequently a target of attempts to ban it from schools and libraries, since it deals with topics such as racism and incest. Not pleasant subjects, to be sure, but Morrison’s approach is hardly tawdry; it’s unlikely that anybody’s confusing her books with Flowers in the Attic. And discussing troubling themes in literature certainly isn’t problematic in itself, nor is it beyond the grasp of high school students.

It’s worth noting that the words “race,” “racism,” and “racist” don’t appear anywhere in Stephens’s article or his description of Holtzclaw’s objections, and neither does “white” or “black” (the latter only appears when the Oprah’s Book Club description of the novel is quoted). The senator has gone to the trouble of demanding that the book be banned from schools across the state and voice his support for removing it from libraries, on the ground that the content is “objectionable,” noting the instances of incest and child molestation. But if he ever brought up the novel’s most central theme—the ingrained and persistent racism to which the titles refers, and which drives one of the main characters to madness—as unpalatable, it’s been omitted from the article on All Alabama.

It just seems…utterly weird to talk about The Bluest Eye without even a solitary mention of the way it handles race and beauty, and to omit some of the racist behavior and attitudes from a list of things from which schools should be protecting their students, were a person inclined to compile such a list. It would seem to suggest that those issues are maaaaaybe not quite all-the-way solved yet, and that it might be a mistake to go around banning books that address them.


Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.