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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Opinion | Those in Hillsdale trying to ban my book aren’t intellectually serious

Fifty-five thousand words.

Each one of them carefully composed, selected, revised, and edited for maximum clarity – a task made even more delicate by the fact that kids as young as eight years old had to understand the content.

The book, How to Fight Racism Young Readers Edition, came in at 240 pages. As I worked with my co-author and publisher we kept coming up with new ways to make the book accessible to parents and kids.

Jemar Tisby
Jemar Tisby is a historian, author, and speaker. He wrote the New York Times bestselling book The Color of Compromise and How to Fight Racism Young Readers Edition. He lives in the Mississippi Delta.

We added a glossary and explained vocabulary terms in call out sections throughout the book. We added an appendix to further explain relevant concepts. We also included a "Parents Guide" to help grown folks use the book to help teach the young people in their lives.

And because I wanted the book to be accessible to all kinds of learners, I spent my own money to produce a six-part podcast series and a video series, both available for free, so absolutely anyone could learn about this important topic.

We went to all this trouble and expense only for one person to slap the title on a banned books list.

Joshua Paladino, a board member of the local public library in Hillsdale, Michigan, proposed a list of books that he wanted pulled from the shelves. The books on his list discuss everything from racism to LGBTQ experiences and identities.

In an email obtained by Bridge Michigan, Paladino laid out some of the language of an amendment that would prevent the Hillsdale library's director from purchasing certain books.

Paladino wrote, "The library shall not purchase materials that promote political activism among children aged 18 years and younger. All children’s materials should be non-partisan, with reference to contemporary American and international political parties, and apolitical, with reference to contemporary American and international political ideologies."

Presumably Paladino, who is also a graduate student at the ultra-conservative Hillsdale College, includes my book as one that promotes "political activism."

For the record, How to Fight Racism Young Readers Edition encourages age-appropriate methods for young people to get involved in the struggle against racism.

The book includes suggestions such as interviewing family members about their experiences with race, running for student government to learn what it's like to craft policies for the greater good, and building relationships with people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds to develop an appreciation for diversity.

There is always room for good faith critiques of any argument a book proposes. But that's not what is happening here. The people proposing banned books lists are not being intellectually serious.

They have not taken nearly the amount of time or care in their objections that the authors of these books, most of whom are experts in the study of racism, have taken in writing them.

Paladino, and others who share his viewpoint, are not carefully reading books, proposing counter-arguments, backing up their assertions with evidence, and offering informed opinions about a work.

Instead they simply look for trigger words, evidence of so-called "divisive" concepts such as Critical Race Theory (CRT), or just listen to the opinions of others and then cast negative judgments about books.

Other individuals and organizations have done the same with my work. The Board of Trustees at Grove City College in Pennsylvania officially adopted an anti-CRT report that called it a "mistake" to invite me to preach a chapel message at their school in 2020.

They condemned my presence and my content even though they did not cite a single word from the supposedly problematic chapel message I gave. It's enough simply to smear someone's reputation, without evidence, and leave it at that.

I recently read a quote online that applies to these situations. "When people can't control you, they try to control how people view you."

It seems that judging a book by its cover is still a desirable practice for those who want to ban books about race.

In a time when Black people are targeted for a shooting spree in a grocery store, when anti-Asian racism is increasingly common, and so many still misunderstand the role racism has played in shaping the history of this country, we should not be banning books that teach about racism, we should be promoting them.

At minimum, those who object to books about fighting racism geared toward young people should put forth at least as much effort in offering substantive critique as the authors have in writing the books.

To do any less reeks of an intellectual laziness and moral dismissiveness adults would lament seeing in the kids they claim to care about so much.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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