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WAR: WRITERS AGAINST RACISM! by Dr. George Edward Stanley

An open letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. holder WAR: WRITERS AGAINST RACISM!  by Dr. George Edward Stanley

August 11, 2009

 

Attorney General Eric Holder

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20530-0001

 

Dear Attorney General Holder,

 

I want to start a WAR: WRITERS AGAINST RACISM!

    
      When you spoke at the Department of Justice in February in honor of Black History Month, you said that Americans simply do not talk enough with each other about things racial. I agree. 

     So I wish the Department of Justice and the Department of Education would call a conference in Washington, D.C., to bring together writers who have written children and young adult novels that deal with racism. We can start talking. I would certainly attend – and I have other writer friends who I think would also attend.

     This past June, Simon & Schuster published my NIGHT FIRES, set in 1923 Lawton, Oklahoma. It’s about a young boy who, while looking for a father-figure, is pulled into the Ku Klux Klan by his neighbor, a member of the Oklahoma legislature and the Imperial Wizard of the Oklahoma Ku Klux Klan. I’m enclosing a copy.

     I’m also enclosing a copy of recent comments from Amy Bowllan’s School Library Journal Blog in which we discussed the subject of racism and how novels can be used in America’s classroom. (Amy also teaches at the Hewitt School on Manhattan’s Upper Eastside.)

     I agree with Amy that teachers should be challenged to incorporate truthful, historical accounts through their fiction selections to get students talking about race: about how it has divided us as a nation for centuries and about how young people can solve the racial problems that their parents and grandparents haven’t been able to solve. At the conference, we could start talking strategy.   
 

    

Sincerely,

 

  

(Dr.) George Edward Stanley, Professor of African and Middle-Eastern Languages and Linguistics

Cameron University,

Lawton, Oklahoma 73506

If we don’t start talking about race, in the classroom, racism will persist. -Amy Bowllan

(photo comes via USDOJ)

Comments

  1. George Edward Stanley says:

    Amy, thank you for your incredible support. I really hope this will happen and become a national movement. We cannot afford to wait.

  2. Amy Bowllan says:

    It will happen because it’s supposed to. imho :) Thank you for the letter!

  3. B. Herrera says:

    Sometimes the best way to solve a difficult problem is by talking about it. We are taught not to say anything which might hurt another’s feelings or which might make us look bad. Marriages break up because we don’t want to talk about what is bother us. Men fight because it is easier than discussion. Nations go to war to solve disputes. No wonder so many of our young people are picking up guns and shooting their way out of their problems. Without communication the world becomes a lonely, frightening place. It’s past time to allow young people to talk freely about the serious issues, including race, and to allow teachers to present historically accurate material which might not be pleasant to read, but which will teach the need for tolerance and understanding better than any politically correct lecture ever could.

  4. Mary ann rodman says:

    Way to go, George and Amy! I’m right(write?) in there with you.

  5. Amy Bowllan says:

    Thanks, B and Mary ann! It’s the RIGHT thing to do, so glad you’re on board! There are far too many great books being left on a library shelf when they should be in the hands of students. All of the research that goes into these great works, NO teacher has time to even research. There must be a partnership developed between teachers and authors.

  6. Neesha Meminger says:

    Wonderful letter, and wonderful post.

  7. Paula Chase says:

    And the first shot is fired!

  8. George Edward Stanley says:

    These responses have been so incredibly heartening! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  9. Mayra Lazara Dole says:

    As a YA author of books with diversity against homophobia and racism I join you in fighting the war against racism! Looking forward to reading NIGTH FIRES.

  10. Amy Bowllan says:

    Let’s galvanize more authors and teachers! The movement has officially begun. We’ll need banners for our march to Washington! Yes!

  11. Zetta says:

    This is a great first step! What I have found from the school visits I’ve done is that many educators aren’t entirely comfortable broaching taboo topics in their classrooms…and let’s face it: they’re overworked and underpaid, regardless of whether or not their politics are on the left. I find adding study guides to my books helps a bit, but I’m where I am in my consciousness b/c of the *training* I received in graduate school. So what do you think ~ do we start writing the curriculum and then lobby city and state school boards to adopt it?

  12. Amy Bowllan says:

    Zetta,

    I believe that we need to make this a national movement, that begins in Washington. Schools in general, need an overhaul when it comes to how subjects are taught. Not just librarians, but teachers, too, should have required reading about books that could enhance their curriculum. There’s a great book out there for every subject – not to mention the online resources. I find that the same old classics are taught, year after year, after year. They should be taught but so should new novels, like Night Fires.

    Authors should be in the classroom, too. Could you imagine how enriched a school would be with regular author visits? But again, it has to come from the top. imho

  13. Zetta says:

    You’re right, Amy…but I can hear the drama now! I was in a school in Bed-Stuy this past spring and I mentioned how horrified I was that two 11-year old boys hanged themselves over being called gay at school…and one educator mentioned Rudy Crewe’s plan to teach a “rainbow curriculum,” and how glad she was that it didn’t go through…another educator felt as I did, that anti-homophobia ought to be taught at school, but we were in the minority…we do need a federal mandate that says this MUST be part of how we create caring, compassionate human beings, critical thinkers, AND good citizens! But that mandate in the SCHOOLS would have to be matched with what’s going on in other federal institutions, I think…and the feds still aren’t moving on gay marriage, don’t ask/don’t tell…Obama backs away from any conflagration around race…so maybe starting local is a more viable option. I often forget just how different the rest of the country is compared to NYC, and how conservative many educators can be…

  14. George Edward Stanley says:

    As always, I agree with Amy one hundred percent – and Zetta, you, too! Racism is just one of the layers of hate – and I can’t even begin to tell you how angry it has made me to hear that two 11-year-old boys felt so threatened and so demeaned and… fill in the blanks here… that they hanged themselves. It has to stop! It has to stop!

  15. Zetta says:

    I can’t wait to read your book, George; I reviewed Guardian on my blog a few months ago, and wrote my dissertation on representations of lynching and rape…when I teach my lynching course, college students often express resentment that they weren’t taught this history earlier in their schooling–and they cite their knowledge of the Holocaust or Rwandan genocide. There’s a definite reluctance to teach about traumatic histories that implicate the dominant group in this country…and yet it would be SO useful in our conversations about terrorism…history didn’t start on 9/11…

  16. George Edward Stanley says:

    It is absolutely amazing, isn’t it, what has been left out of history texts and textbooks. I’m still reeling from the story about the 11-year old boys – and the comment that it’s probably better not to deal with subjects such as “being gay” in school classrooms. I want this all to move forward – and so do many, many more people, I’m seeing, and we shouldn’t let it die. Thanks, Zetta!

  17. George Edward Stanley says:

    … and thank you, too, Mayra, and I’m also going to get your books. We have to support each other and this movement. (We’re gearing up for the fall semester here – and yes, I know it’s only the middle of August – and I’m a bit scattered today.) All this hate has gone on too long!

  18. Amy Bowllan says:

    Zetta, send the link to your blog, please. I would love to know more about your work. And as far as the president backing away from issues of race, I agree. I do, however, feel that he needs the “right” person to do that for him. It’s so delicate and he runs the risk of being judged if he leans either way. To whites if he’s too black, and to blacks if he’s too white. What a position to be in!

    George, the fact that students refer to eachother as “you’re so gay” and “retarded” is where we also need to look – language. If you think about it, language is the root of all of these hatreds. I would love for the president to appoint a “Language Secretary of State”. This person would oversee the insitutions (including schools) to ensure that “correct language” is being used and implemented. I’d relish the task.

  19. Amy Bowllan says:

    Zetta, I just realized, you are my FB friend and should be receiving your books. :) Thanks so much.

  20. Zetta says:

    Agh–my message was just deleted b/c I tried to leave some links to my blog…well, you can get to it by visiting my website http://www.zettaelliott.com and/or try zettaelliott.wordpress.com

    Maybe I’ll try sending the other links on Facebook.

  21. George Edward Stanley says:

    Amy, I read your email and sent you a long answer praising the suggestion before I saw your comments. YES! When language in schools “kills” it needs to be examined closely. As I said, hate words are the equivalent of bullets when they’re shot at an individual – and anyone who thinks this is nonsense has never been the recipient of one of those hate bullets! I also mentioned how, as a nation, we need to examine our attitude toward languages other than English We need to cherish each other’s languages. We need to keep languages from dying (such as our Native American languages). We need to learn the language of other nations. I truly believe if we can speak to other people in their languages we probably won’t be fighting them. There are so many things a Secretary of Language could do!! Great idea, Amy! And Zetta, thanks for the link!

  22. the inside says:

    Dr. Stanley, why stop with AG Holder? I do hope you consider reaching out to members of Congress and perhaps President Obama. Obviously this is a prime opportunity that shouldn’t be missed. Furthermore, why not plan out the specifics of the conference to prove the call is not empty in gesture. I believe meeting the USG half way with a structured proposal tends to garner more attention.

    Never quit. Energize the masses. Press on.

  23. George Edward Stanley says:

    Thanks for this great comment! Actually, in my head, I’ve already gone through two days of meetings – seeing what works and what doesn’t work. Seriously! I tend to do that. But I do need to write all this down, as though it were already scheduled. If we get the green light, I’ll (we’ll) have something ready to present. You’re right about solid suggestions on paper as opposed to mental generalities.

  24. Amy Bowllan says:

    If there are authors who would like to send me a brief synopsis as to how their book(s) can be used in the classrom, PLEASE, e-mail me. My hope is to keep this going, so we have more AMMO to win the War. I will have individual posts, dedicated to “authors on the frontlines.”

    amy.bowllan@reedbusiness.com

  25. George Edward Stanley says:

    Amy, I hope you’re absolutely inundated with emails! What a good thing that would be! I’m going to start thinking about subjects for different focus groups and breakout sessions to talk about implementing this – and I’m truly hoping that Arne Duncan, in his role as Secretary of Education, will join with Attorney General Holder. If we have JUSTICE and EDUCATION on our side, then we writers can supply the AMMO to win the WAR!

  26. Doret says:

    I am so glad Zetta, linked to this. I love the post and comments.

  27. George Edward Stanley says:

    When it comes to television, I mostly watch “the news.” I spend time at all of the news channels we get, and we get most of them on our service, because I want to see who’s covering what. (Yes, there are cuts in my tongue from where I have bitten it!) Until Zetta’s post and until Amy called it to my attention, I had not heard about Walter Currie, Jr. That in itself is a crime. Now I may have missed it, but I don’t think so. This should have been HEADLINE news!! Do Americans not see this as the modern day equivalent of a LYNCHING? This is EXACTLY why WRITERS AGAINST RACISM has to move forward. There is no time to lose. Thank you, Zetta! Thank you, Amy! I’d like to think that if the young man who threw the lighter fluid at Walter Currie, Jr., had read books about young people who commit such horrific acts and had been required to discuss THOROUGHLY AND UNFLINCHINGLY AND WITHOUT REGARD TO POLITICAL CORRECTNESS (the “we can’t subject young minds to this kind of thing” nonsense) in his classrooms the genesis of hate acts and the physical and mental destruction brought about by hate acts, then perhaps this wouldn’t have happened. But what are we doing? We’re arguing whether of not this young man should be tried as an adult. He knew exactly what he was doing! I have no doubt whatsoever that he knows the difference between right and wrong. HE WANTED TO DO THIS! AND WALTER CURRIE, JR., WAS BLACK, SO THAT MADE IT ACCEPTABLE IN HIS EYES!

  28. Zetta says:

    I share your outrage, George, and I wouldn’t have known about this case but for Amy…and I’m pretty on top of racial violence cases…the problem is that black people are STILL being represented as subhuman–look at the references to President and Mrs. Obama as chimps or apes–the latest made by a Republican politician in South Carolina…the legacy of that era is still alive and well, and when you think of someone as less than human, then anything goes…look at the screaming matches going on over health care reform–there’s a LOT of hatred and fear in this country, and it’s coming from a particular group of people…I, too, thought of that white teen and wondered what his life had been like to make such an act (a *premeditated* act–he WALKS with lighter fluid) viable in his mind. One of the issues around teaching the history of lynching is the fear that such graphic images will excite rather than repulse viewers; I’m sure you know about the Without Sanctuary website with its slideshow of lynching photographs and postcards…in some Southern galleries, the exhibit was turned away for fear of local whites SEEING THEMSELVES in the historic images. That legacy is not so far behind us…and sadly, the desire to enact violence against black bodies is still alive and well. I teach Rosewood in my lynching course b/c it shows a young white boy who rejects his father’s training on how to become a bigot and lyncher. But *that* is an amazing act of courage for anyone to make, let alone a child…

  29. George Edward Stanley says:

    Amazing, Zetta! I had just told my wife (she teaches German and Russian at one of the high schools here in the city) about my comments, and she said almost the same thing, that young people today who are filled with hate are that way because of their parents’ hate. I told my wife that I didn’t have much hope for the parents but that perhaps we could reach the young people in time. We may all be Don Quixotes – but I know we all believe that if we don’t at least try we’ll be guilty of an even greater crime.

  30. George Edward Stanley says:

    Amy, over the years, I’ve heard teachers say, “I’d love to teach that book, but I don’t think I could get it past the principal.” That always means the administration thinks parents would be upset. It’s a vicious cycle. The very things young people should be reading, the very TOUGH things, are ignored. I’m wondering if there are teachers around the country reading your blogs who could send you the titles of books dealing with racial issues that they would really like to use in their classes if “they could get them past their principals.” We could then start looking at these books and seeing what kinds of lessons plans could be written from them. If certain books were used (and known to be used) in multiple school districts around the country, then teachers who heretofore have felt isolated in sugguesting them for their individual classrooms might feel more comfortable in broaching the matter with their principals.

  31. Amy Bowllan says:

    The greatest crime, George, is indifference.

    Teachers may or may not read my blog. I do, however, KNOW that EASE of access is paramount. There’s soooo much out there on the Diary of Anne Frank, that who wouldn’t want to use that in class?

    I think it would work better if WE, send the teachers, suggestions/books and lessons, that WE feel would work in their curriculums. Relying on teachers to do may be a waiting game.

  32. George Edward Stanley says:

    You point out the obvious – which I missed! Why do I use the Arabic, Persian, and Swahili texts I use? All the ancillary materials available! There are only so many hours in a day in which to prepare!! I would like at the conference (which I hope with all my heart does come about) to gather authors whose books we think should be used in American classrooms – so their students can learn about the horrors of racism and how best to make sure that what happened to Walter Currie, Jr., and many, many more individuals before him never happens again – and then to send teachers lesson plans to use with these books. But I guess I was also thinking that someone might give us the names of titles we might have missed.