This book is an autobiography-the first in a series. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is about Maya Angelou's childhood in Stamps, Arkansas, where her grandmother ran a general store during the Depression, in the heyday of Ol' Jim Crow.
Maya Angelou tells about a segregation so complete, that as a child she never really believed that white people were real.
Angelou's parents' divorce leads them to send the little girl and her brother to Stamps to live with her father's mother. She later goes to live with her mother up North and encounters indoor plumbing among other marvels. She is also sexually assaulted by her mother's boyfriend. Besides recounting the terrible rape, the book also depicts an unplanned pregnancy, drug use and runaways, all behaviors which, apparently, freshmen high schoolers will immediately imitate.
American teens aren't being taught to think for themselves. If reading an account of a teen pregnancy or rape makes them go out & get pregnant then they have been failed in so many ways that keeping one book from them is pointless.
The point of reading literature in school is to learn to identify & evaluate the ideas within a book.
What censors are essentially saying is that their 15 years can't do that.
The most infuriating challenge on this book was from the Alabama State Textbook Committee, which claimed that the book encourages "bitterness and hatred toward white people." This is the same Alabama State Textbook Committee that also struck The Diary of Anne Frank from their curriculum saying that it was "a real downer". Because, apparently, Nazis should be cheerful!
Maya Angelou's book does not encourage hatred toward whites. It does, however, tell the story of racial discrimination.
Maybe in Alabama, you're supposed to pretend that for the most part, slavery was fun and the Jim Crow signs were merely kind suggestions (No Niggers Allowed- Have a nice day!).
We're supposed to pretend that Nazis and Klan members are admirable members of society who were misjudged and the victims of their actions should be silent so we can maintain that pretense.
The historical record as penned and photographed by Southerners themselves shows exactly how Southern society dealt with African Americans, Italian Americans, Jews (like Leo Frank who was lynched in Georgia) and Native Americans.
No, all Southern whites certainly weren't like that, but if you grew up in a segregated society, those were often the only whites you ever knew- that's what it meant to be segregated.
Angelou's autobiography tells her real life story as it is. People who challenge it are denying the mistakes of history. And such people will be the first to repeat them.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Banned Book: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings