Incest. Rape. Drugs. Alcohol. Physical violence. Emotional abuse. Hip hop. Rap music. People of color. Misogyny. Feminism. Native Hawaiian oppression. Molokai. Real issues and place that some people in Virginia want to erase out of existence.
A vocal group of parents and concerned citizens in Loudoun County are trying to remove Rani Patel In Full Effect, among other young adult books, from a diverse classroom library collections established this year in their public school system (https://twitter.com/ReadingDanger/status/1182899701491916800). They’re concerned “that the new collection uses the concept of diversity as a Trojan horse to slip in titles that contain age-inappropriate, sexually explicit content (https://www.loudountimes.com/news/diverse-classroom-libraries-spark-debate-in-loudoun-county/article_62e8671c-eaa6-11e9-ac15-4f7856694f30.html).” The diverse book collection was created by the school system’s Division of Teaching and Learning so that “classroom and school libraries reflect our values and contribute to developing student identities; therefore, our collections must reflect and honor our student population and those around them. Access to books in the home, school, and classroom has a strong correlation with reading proficiency. Students who read more also have stronger vocabulary, background knowledge, and empathy (https://www.lcps.org/Page/221803).” Diverse race, culture, language, religion, disabilities/abilities, and LGBTQ were included in the collection.
As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I’ve spent over sixteen years listening to and treating youth from all walks of life. Many of these youth are marginalized and have suffered horrific trauma. And this trauma actually harms their brain development at a biological level, resulting in long term difficulties with negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. These youth are hard pressed to find themselves represented in celebrated, best-selling young adult books. That’s why diverse books are crucial—both for them and for youth who may not be exposed to those types of hardships. Diverse books offer youth a chance to contemplate the human condition, learn about people, ideas, and experiences different from their own, build empathy, compassion, and understanding, find mirroring of their own experiences, and/or help them figure themselves out.
Though banning books is nothing new, removing or restricting books based on the objections of a group of people continues to be a threat to freedom of speech and choice. Censorship reinforces narrow-mindedness, racism, white privilege, and misogyny. But more than that, it’s akin to wiping out the existence of entire populations, ideas, and experiences.
Rani Patel In Full Effect is set on Molokai and based in part on my experiences growing up there and the experiences of girls and women I’ve treated from there, Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island. To ban Rani means to erase all of us women of color who’ve endured some or all of: rape, covert incest, overt incest, emotional abuse, and misogyny. To ban Rani means to erase how drugs and alcohol can impact a rural community. To ban Rani means to erase Native Hawaiian issues. To ban Rani means to erase Molokai.