The new white flight

Once again, Texas is throwing its weight around like an overgrown and intimidating bully. As the nation’s biggest purchaser, Texas has long dominated decisions about what is included in social studies textbooks. Now a Texas lawmaker is targeting 850 books — the source of ideas and images that open the mind and stir empathy and intellect.
The books being challenged include Pulitzer Prize-winning books and plays by authors now part of the canon of great American literature. Toni Morrison. Margaret Atwood. Sherman Alexie. August Wilson.

Notably, many of these books address issues faced by people of color and people who identify as LGBTQ. The Dallas Morning News found that “of the first 100 titles listed, 97 were written by women, people of color or LGBTQ authors.”

As usually happens with bullies, Texas has a cohort of wannabes rushing to follow suit, admirers who want to emulate the silencing of dissent and discussion by passing their own lists of banned books. Banning books is not new. One hundred years ago and in the 1950s it was an active part of U.S. popular culture.

And it is back with a vengeance.

In Goddard, assistant superintendent for academic affairs Julie Cannizzo sent an email to principals and librarians telling them to remove 29 books from the shelves and not allow them to be checked out, KMUW reported. Her directive violated the district’s policy for challenging and removing books: “Challenged materials shall not be removed from use during the review period.”

Time Magazine had a story by Olivia Waxman earlier this month about a school board meeting in Spotsylvania, Virginia, in which the County Public School Board unanimously ordered its school libraries to begin removing “sexually explicit” books.

Like most book challenges, these began with a single parent.

The 1776 Project PAC, a political action committee using the smokescreen of promoting “patriotism” in schools, funded school board candidates across the nation this year who would fight critical race theory. That was code for the books and teachers who include embarrassing parts of the United States’ past.

Ten Kansas school board candidates were supported by the PAC, in Olathe, Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley, and Lansing races. Seven of them won.

If you visit the PAC’s website, you are encouraged by a persistent pop-up box to “Report a School Promoting Critical Race Theory.” It asks for the school’s name and your email.

White flight in the 20th century meant European-ancestry Americans fleeing urban neighborhoods rather than sharing them with people of color. In the 21st century, white flight means flight from bookshelves — and from the difficult facts of history. The new public enemy, according to this new book-banning crowd, is writing that challenges tired prejudices and stir empathy for those formerly silenced and excluded.

But saner voices can reverse decisions to ban books. That happened in Goddard, when the school board eventually sent out this letter to its staff and families:

“In September, a parent had questions about language and graphics from a specific book in one of our school libraries that their child had checked out. The parent then followed up with the list of the same 28 books (which the district then ordered removed from its shelves). … Today, after the review, the recommendation from principals and librarians is to leave all books active and to encourage parents to contact them directly if they have questions about the books being challenged nationally.”

By the way, the school district doesn’t even own some of the books on the complaining parent’s nationally generated list.

Don’t remain silent when freedoms — including the freedom to access books that tell the truth about our nation and its people — are challenged. Silence implies agreement. Let’s stop this flight from books and ideas.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

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Glenn Youngkin beats Terry McAuliffe to claim Virginia governorship: reports

Glenn Youngkin defeated Terry McAuliffe in a tight skirmish seen as the first major test of President Joe Biden's political brand, according to several news agencies.

A harbinger of the parties' prospects in next year's midterm elections, the race between Democratic former governor Terry McAuliffe and Republican tycoon Glenn Youngkin narrowed in recent weeks.

"At this point, the outcome of this race will all depend on voter turnout," McAuliffe said in an 11th hour mailout to voters late Monday.

"Republicans are fired up to elect their guy, and now, with Donald Trump rallying up his base of right-wing extremists on the eve of election day, Glenn Youngkin is sure to have a strong showing tomorrow."

As he tried to mount a return to an office he held four years ago, McAuliffe had to negotiate significant headwinds, with the majority party in Washington usually incurring losses during a president's first term.

Youngkin has been performing his own high-wire act, as the vast majority of Republicans believe Trump's false claims that the presidency was stolen in a fraudulent election, making acknowledging the truth politically risky.

The wealthy former investment banker, 54, managed to distance himself from Trump at the business end of the campaign, focusing on local "culture war" issues like abortion, mask mandates and the teaching of America's racial history.

"This is a moment for Virginians to push back on this left, liberal, progressive agenda and take our commonwealth back," Youngkin told a rally in state capital Richmond on Monday.

Trump did not show up to campaign in person, and angrily denied a rift with Youngkin and released an incendiary statement on Monday smearing McAuliffe as a "low-life politician who lies, cheats, and steals."

In contrast, a number of other big-name Democrats have wooed Virginians in recent days, including former president Barack Obama, First Lady Jill Biden and the party's rising star Stacey Abrams.

'Soccer dad'

McAuliffe took an early lead in the race but his seven-point cushion had been tightening since summer.

Leaning into his image as the establishment candidate, McAuliffe sold himself as a former incumbent who brought back jobs after the worldwide financial crisis of 2008, and pledged to repeat the trick for the pandemic.

The 64-year-old sought to nationalize the race -- voicing irritation over deadlock in Washington and making the vote a referendum on Trump and Trumpism.

Biden joined McAuliffe in Arlington last week, blasting Youngkin as "an acolyte of Donald Trump" and warning that extremism "can come in a smile and a fleece vest."

Mark Bayer, a congressional aide for two decades and a former chief of staff to Senator Ed Markey, warned that convincing Virginians that Youngkin is nothing more than a Trump mini-me would prove a tall order.

"Despite being endorsed by Trump and making strongly positive statements about him, Youngkin -- at least stylistically, if not politically -- doesn't appear to be a Trump clone," Bayer told AFP.

"Youngkin's 'soccer dad' persona is appealing to swing voters, even as his conservative politics are firmly Republican."

(with additional reporting from AFP)

Happy Holidays!