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Protecting Us from Knowing Things We Shouldn’t Know

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I remember Frances Parkinson Keyes as a popular novelist during my boyhood days in the middle of the last century. She wrote historical novels, and my mother had quite a few of them. I never got around to reading them because I thought they’d probably be full of lady stuff.

But this year I finally read one: “The Chess Players,” a fictionalized biography of America’s first international celebrity, Paul Morphy, the world’s greatest chess player. I was impressed enough to want to read more, so I went to Wikipedia to learn about her other books. And this is the quote that jumped out at me.

“Modern readers will—” do we have a choice in the matter?—”find her depictions of African-American characters generally regressive or simplistic… many libraries have unfortunately banned her books from their shelves.”

What? Mrs. Keyes was writing about the Civil War and the Antebellum South. The African-American characters in her books were slaves. They weren’t brought up to be college professors, senators, or brain surgeons. They were slaves, raised to be ignorant and powerless. To depict them otherwise would have been ridiculous.

Along the way, I learned that Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim,” an all-time classic story of an orphan boy’s adventures in India when it was a British colony, has also been widely purged from libraries. Maybe they reckon that anyone who reads it will be incited to go out and set up a colonial empire somewhere. Plus you’ve got all that nasty Kipling stuff about “the white man’s burden,” etc. Really, how could the man have been so disrespectful and insensitive as to depict India as a colony of Britain?

Uh… because it was?

Just like black people in America’s Southern states, in the 1850s, were slaves.

But it seems libraries don’t want us to know about such things. Indeed, their position makes less and less sense the more you think about it. Simultaneously they wish to sweep slavery under the rug while demanding that people alive today be punished for it. And never mind that there’s hardly a single human being on Earth who doesn’t have a slave somewhere on his family tree. Ancestors of mine, for instance, were enslaved by the Romans. But it’s easier to ban Mrs. Keyes’ books than to explain this position in such a way that a reasonable person might be able to understand it.

Now consider this quote from the American Library Association’s official web site, celebrating “Banned Books Week,” 2014:

The ALA promotes the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those viewpoints to all who wish to read them.

Are you still standing, or did that big a belt of hypocrisy knock you to the floor?

I very much doubt that Mrs. Keyes was interested in re-instituting slavery. But the guardians of our culture have banned her for depicting slavery as a normal feature of a particular society in a historical time and place. Maybe if she had spent a page or two railing against slavery, every time it was necessary for her to show a slave—it would have ruined the book as literature, but might have kept it on the shelves.

Go ahead—walk up to the front desk at your local library and ask for a book debunking Climate Change, or advocating against “gay marriage,” or exposing the current occupier of the White House as an ignoramus and a Castro wannabe. Then again, you might be wiser not to try it. They might call the police.

Oh, they’ll defend “50 Shades of Grey” or “Ted Cruz Is a Nazi and a Werewolf” to the last penny of your tax dollar. They will unflinchingly defend your freedom to read what they think you should read and to believe what they think you should believe. Philosopher-kings can do no less.

And if you can’t find “Kim” or their shelves anymore, be sure to tip your hat to them for protecting you from knowing things you shouldn’t know.

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