Sunday, September 22, 2013


There will be a Randolph County, North Carolina rabies clinic on Tuesday, and for $10 you can find out if your dog or cat has rabies.
It might cost a bit more for tests to find out what bit 5 of the 7 members of the county School Board last Monday, but their rabid attack on Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel The Invisible Man seems headed for a rollback. 

At least the Board has scheduled a meeting for Wednesday, PBS Newshour reported Friday, “to discuss” the decision to ban from school libraries one of Time Magazine’s  100 Best Novels ever written in the English language.

The Board had voted 5 to 2 to remove the book after a complaint from a self-described “parent of an eleventh-grader,” who was quoted Thursday by UPI: “This novel is not so innocent; instead, this book is filthier, too much for teenagers,”  The Board’s decision overrode recommendations from representatives of the complainant’s school and district.
The vote also followed attempts by members of the School Board to read the book.  “It was a hard read,” Board Chair Tommy McDonald reported, while Board member Gary Mason said he “didn’t find any literary value” in it. Mason also objected to the language in the book.

I sympathize with Mr. McDonald; when I was in the summer between my 11th and 12th grade, I found The Invisible Man, “hard,” too.  It is a complex, angry book, difficult to stay with emotionally and demanding intellectually.  It is also one of the best books I have ever read, but has stuck with me for 55 years, shaping me every day since I read it.

I was blessed to have grown up, from age 5 to 11, with an African-American family as my back-fence neighbors, and best after-school friends.  Because Virginia’s schools were still segregated then, we couldn’t be school friends, but after I’d walked the 2 blocks to my home, and they’d been bused an hour to theirs, we were best buds, playing softball and basketball in their spacious side yard.  Thus, we averted any issues that might have attended our using the public school fields and courts down the hill from my house.  Even after we moved into Richmond, I would take the city bus out to my old neighborhood and walk to the Lamberts’ for a visit.  When we moved north to White Plains, NY, the year before I read Ellison’s masterpiece, I thought, between all my conversations with Benjamin, Elisabeth, Leonard, Albert and Johnnie Lambert, and with my very “progressive” parents, that I had a feel for Black life in the still all-too-racist USA.  Then I read The Invisible Man and a got a slap in the face.  As the old Mennen commercial put it, “Thanks, I needed that!”

The sensitivity-close-to-terror “The Man” felt on the NYC subway abraded me, even as I sat reading my folded back paperback edition on the subway back to my Grandparents’ apartment.  Was race-hatred so close, so intrusive, so constant for African-American people in 1952, or 6 years later when I was reading it?

Yes, Ellison convinced me, it was, and with my eyes now opened, I re-drew the same conclusion on my own.

My Father had always said, “If bigots ever run out of Black people to abuse, we Jews will be next.”  I’d always nodded in assent, but not until The Invisible Man did I really feel what that would mean.

Growing up with the Lamberts next door did a great thing for me.  It made me comfortable with Black people, any one of whom were likely to be as nice, generous and fair-minded as the Lamberts.  That almost invisible membrane of separation too many American Whites of my generation (and later) felt between them and people of color was dissolved for me, and, years later, when I went to work as a television reporter in the city of New York, I found to my delight (and immeasurable professional betterment) that Black and Latinos I interviewed felt it: that I wasn’t wary of them, and, according to the “Q ratings” of the 1970s, embraced me.

Thank you, Lord; thank you, Lamberts, thank you, Ralph Ellison.

The Randolph County School Board voted last Monday.  The next day, a story about their book-banning ran in the local Asheboro Courier-Tribune.  By Wednesday, it had been picked up regionally by North Carolina’s two leading newspapers, the Charlotte Observer and the Raleigh News-Observer, both using reportage from the Associated Press, which like UPI, ran the story on their national wires.  This, in turn, led to global coverage on Russia’s satellite television news channel RT.

By the end of the week, PBS reported, the Board was ready “to reconsider.”
Thank you, global mass media for helping raise the voices of an outraged global village.  We may still be trying to get a fix, and a handle on global media and their impacts, but, just as they and the response they got from people around the world, undoubtedly helped stop an American military attack on Syria, they appear to have helped avert an epic outbreak of auto-lobotomy in North Carolina.


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