Opinion: The “Beloved” controversy is so much bigger than a book


The Virginia gubernatorial race between Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin hit a new low when the GOP candidate posted an ad featuring Conservative activist Laura Murphy, who campaigned against it. Teaching Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Beloved,” the grueling description of the history of racial violence gave his son – then a high school student – nightmares.

McAuliffe denounced the move, offering copies of the book at a rally on Tuesday.

“Beloved,” published in 1987, is a brilliant novel about the horrors of racial slavery and the morally compromised choices that brutal system brought about. The protagonist, Sethe, is enslaved and chooses to kill her child rather than subject her to rape and other violence inherent in this system.

In the story, Sethe’s choice is refracted through an examination of the impact of slavery on black communities and the nation as a whole, prompting readers to explore in the process their preconceptions about freedom, democracy and identity – and the role of memory in shaping American society.

Morrison’s canon of fiction, which includes the novels “Jazz,” “Song of Solomon” and “The Bluest Eye,” transformed American literature and won her the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first for a black woman. Her fiction and literary criticism have probed the depths of how American literature fueled the nation’s racial imagination and rewrote historical narratives of slavery by centering the traumas and joys of black women.

Morrison understood that the ghosts of racial slavery continue to haunt the American present, just as the appearance of Sethe’s lost child threatens to consume her in “Beloved.” She has created a body of literature that ensures that future generations have access to this most crucial understanding.

It is not surprising that a reader can have nightmares after finishing a book with the power that “Beloved” possesses.

This controversy over “Beloved” is bigger than a book, even one of such literary importance; it is a chapter in the larger national debate on the teaching of American history in public schools. The GOP’s efforts to quell our nation’s long history of racial injustice have been in dozens of states, including Texas (where a lawmaker is investigating 850 books on race and gender that could cause “embarrassment.” to students), successfully militarized as an assault called “Critical Race Theory”.
The vision of history articulated in anti-CRT rhetoric – which has spread like wildfire through the conservative media ecosystem – echoes the “Lost Cause” mythology that has reinvented the violence of supremacy white after the Civil War as a courageous movement to preserve the Southern honor and tradition. These approaches to history, though products of different eras, share a deliberate contempt – and a desire in some to obscure or deny – the most poignant realities of America’s racial past, and a focus on classroom as a battlefield. The immoral rendering of the “lost cause” of America’s past has become, as the 20th century progressed, mainstreamed into public education, in colleges and universities, and into the way politicians and presidents interpreted race relations.
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The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s did much to break the “lost cause”. Through protests, demonstrations and movements for black citizenship and through new books, stories, films and manifestos, a suppressed history of racial oppression and anti-racism has emerged that has reintroduced many Americans into their country. own buried past.

Morrison’s literary imagination worked to produce what she called a “critical geography” of the most terrifying parts of American history – to heal those wounds that continued to fester in the soul of the nation. . In her exploration of black life in a world marked by slavery, Jim Crow segregation and racist violence, she shed light on the depth and breadth of this story’s impact on white lives and black.

Efforts to erase works like Morrison’s are part of the Republican Party’s attempts to quash the teaching of American history – as are protracted campaigns to ban public school teachers from using Nikole’s 1619 Project. Hannah-Jones.

There is a historic precedent for such a setback – not just in the cold war red baits, but in the racial terror that followed the progress made during Reconstruction. This made possible the proliferation of the lost cause ideology, prompting attempts to further rewrite history with the erection of Confederate monuments, memorials and flags, and films such as “Birth of a Nation” and “Gone with the Wind” which popularized white nostalgia for the lost luxury of pre-war America. These social and cultural efforts further reinforced the racial violence against black Americans that spread like wildfire for much of the 20th century. Telling a whitewashed story of our country is often a prelude to violence.

Banning “Beloved” by Toni Morrison does not bring us any closer to national unity or political consensus around issues of race and democracy than voter suppression laws or any other unfortunate public policy that amplifies poverty and poverty. division – but disguises itself as GOP talking points like something else.

Morrison’s work calls on all Americans, but especially our young people, to question the past to create a better democratic future. Censorship of America’s past does not make white college students less vulnerable to feelings of hopelessness in the face of the challenges of racial inequality, discrimination, and violence that we face as a nation. It is only by examining the bitter and sweet legacy of our national history that we can begin to understand the opportunities of the present.


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