Retroactive Censure

img_5574.jpgIn June the American Library Association (ALA) renamed the Laura Ingalls Wilder Children’s Book Series Award. This honor was taken away from Mrs. Wilder because her memoirs honestly and accurately depict the fear and distrust between the Western Pioneers and the Indigenous People — from the settler’s point of view. I don’t want this issue to fade from view after its 15 minutes of fame! This retroactive censorship strips the praise and esteem given to an author with little formal education who suffered through extreme deprivation and yet still managed to publish a well written, popular children’s book series.

We cannot change our history — we have to study it, understand it and change our evil ways because of it. Hiding and burying the accurate retelling of history prevents this necessary process.

Are we really taking away the LAURA INGALLS WILDER AWARD because she speaks in the vernacular and within the culture of her time?

It is just a short next step to ban her books from the shelves of the American Library Association libraries — we don’t want to have people read books that go against our “current values”.

Supporters of this ‘renaming’ of the award, American Librarians Defend Renaming. . .and critics of Mrs. Wilder’s books cite the few specific sentences which show the racist thinking prevelent among settlers in the 1870s.  In On the Banks of Plum Creek older sister Mary tells Laura: “You’ll be brown as an Indian, and what will the town girls think of us?” Is this really more offensive than the liberal use of sexual innuendo in tween and young adult books, or the use of the “f-word” in a deplorable percentage of contemporary works?  Is this not an opportunity to highlight this regrettable thinking and explain the causes? Is this not an opportunity to tell children how suspicion and mistrust lead to catastrophic situations?

Is it appropriate to take a few sentences which are historically accurate out of the context from an entire series of books and use them to impugn the entire work?

critical acclaim

Praise for the twentieth printing of ‘Little House’ series from the Library Journal

Haven’t these librarians read Orwell’s 1984? This ‘renaming’ reads like the scene in the (at the time of publication) futuristic novel, when the protagonist holds in his hand written evidence of a history which no longer suits the propaganda of the current regime (Big Brother) and he is forced to destroy it. Don’t these librarians and academics know this ‘renaming’ sets a precedent for their words to be expunged whenever the current thinking changes?

In defending this ‘renaming’, an academic is quoted “. . .this type of stereotyping was not seen to be wrong. But of course African-Americans and Native peoples knew them to be wrong.” Broad generalizations like this statement just perpetuate stereotyping. Only those people knew it to be wrong? The ALA is claiming higher moral ground. “[Our] values of diversity and inclusion were not consistent with the ‘complex legacy’ of Wilder”. There is no room for inclusion of an author who was basically self taught and a product of the prejudices of her time? Apparently ‘inclusion and diversity’ are the only virtues valued by the ALA. What about the values of hard work, thrift, frugality, love for family and independence that the series espouse? What about the inclusion of all historical points of view? Is this ‘higher ground’ justification for overlooking the many other virtues and values prized in the Little House series and limiting the series’ value to some statements accurately representing the culture it depicted? Is this lack of ability to see a people the author was taught to fear as a child through our current lens justification  for taking the accolades from the series?

One spokesperson of the ALA offers this as a valid reason to change the name: ‘what if a Native American author won the award? Wouldn’t it then be embarrassing for that person to accept it?’ Could it be that the award would provide an excellent forum for highlighting how far we have come? The author would have a wonderful teaching opportunity in addition to elevation in stature, claiming a place with the other Laura Ingalls Wilder Award winning authors, each a product of his or her times, prized for their great contributions to literature.

I am currently completing an historic fiction about this time period. It was a horrible time,with fear and distrust igniting many atrocities on both sides. It is difficult to craft accurate dialogue for either the settlers or the Native Americans without using terminology that is unacceptable today. Because of the type of retroactive censure which is occurring with this ‘renaming’, I have to fear my book will be panned if I use authentic language.

The ALA is already taking the next step toward greater censorship, already edging us closer to banning books. Now Dr. Seuss and all his works are being scrutinized. Some critics claim his drawings of imaginary creatures are racist. The Geisel Children’s Book Award, named in Dr. Seuss’s honor is the next one to be ‘renamed’.

© Jane F. Collen November 30, 2018                                                            espousing critical reading and thinking

One thought on “Retroactive Censure

  1. She says it well. Censorship may be legitimate in cases of national security but I can think of no other valid reason. Even then I am a bit skeptical? Certainly abhor censorship of published works. comment posted at Virgie’s request


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