When Identity Politics Replaces Stories with Mirrors

Mar 14, 2016 by

Tom Jay –

Marley Dias is the new media darling. She is an articulate 11-year-old in sixth grade in Orange, NJ. Miss Dias has gained attention because of a book drive she launched, #1000blackgirlbooks, by which she hoped to collect 1000 kids’ books with a black girl as the protagonist. Miss Dias was annoyed that her teacher never asked her what she would like to read and she says she was frustrated by books about white boys and their dogs. Thanks to media exposure, she has surpassed her goal collecting 4000 books which she plans to distribute to school libraries. But, that’s not all. Miss Dias now plans to launch a black girl book club and she wants to pressure school boards to change the books they assign to their students.

Marley Dias is everything the media love: young, black, cause-driven. Her stated intention of taking on school boards presents a classic David and Goliath motif which the media pant over because, in the age of political correctness, David can never lose. Miss Dias will either be the just victor or the vanquished victim of injustice. She has appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and she was recently interviewed on NPR’s Morning Edition. Along with their story on Miss Dias, NPR predictably trotted out the data demonstrating, of course, how racist children’s literature is. “Fewer than 10 percent of children’s books released in 2015 had a black person as the main character, according to a yearly analysis by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison,” NPR soberly reported. The audience is expected to conclude with NPR that institutional racism is alive and well in our schools and black children are being victimized by it.

#1000blackgirlbooks is a specious cause. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) and Miss Dias are not interested in literature, but propaganda. Consider the following statement from Harold Bloom, a giant of American literary criticism who has taught at Yale for over 60 years: “To read in the service of any ideology is not, in my judgment, to read at all.” Reading in the service of an ideology is precisely what Miss Dias is promoting. And, it is what organizations like the CCBC are promulgating when they compile and publish such meaningless data. Couple these agendas with the world of screens most children are now growing up in and the withering damage done to the burgeoning imaginations of young people is incalculable. We have not even begun to see the consequences of the world we have created for children in the twenty-first century.

The Purpose of Literature
What is the purpose of literature? For the sake of limited space, I will hazard a dreadfully inadequate answer here. The purpose of literature is to reveal “man’s actual existential condition,” to borrow a phrase from Josef Pieper. Miss Dias’ complaint is that she cannot relate to any of the characters in the books on her school’s reading list. She says this is because the characters are not black girls. Miss Dias is looking into books as in a mirror. This is the wrong approach. One does not read to see oneself, but rather to transcend oneself. If skin color and sex are the only criteria for books read in schools, most of the Western Canon is thereby rendered anathema. If shared experience is the sole criterion for a good story, couldn’t practically every child make the same complaint as Miss Dias about any number of books? Why is it only skin color and sex that make a character “relatable?”

Source: When Identity Politics Replaces Stories with Mirrors – Crisis Magazine

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