What it feels like for a girl in this world with invisible book bans in classrooms
There has been so much fabulous TV to binge in the new year. Are we all watching the same shows? Probably not. But one of the biggest splashes on a streaming service in the past few weeks is Ginny & Georgia on Netflix. This unique series features Ginny, a biracial teenager played by Antonia Gentry who’s troubled by the actions of her beautifully dangerous White mother, Georgia, played by Brianne Howey, who tends to murder people.
The first episode of the second season, which dropped on Netflix on Jan. 5, shows bibliophile Ginny reading Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower when Georgia walks into her bedroom. (The late Black science fiction author is having a moment on TV right now with the addition of her debut novel Kindred being turned into a FX on Hulu series.) Back to Ginny. Clutching her paperback, she’s having a nightmare, yet the real nightmare has yet to come.
She’s asked by her microaggressive White male AP English teacher to pick a book by a Black author for the class to read. In failed diversity politics in the classroom, the teacher wants Ginny to educate the class about Black literature since she’s the only Black student in the class and she’s the one who wants more inclusivity in the curriculum. After mulling the decision with her Black father Zion, played by Nathan Mitchell, in his jaw-dropping loft apartment in Boston, Ginny decides she will pick a literary masterpiece by a Black author to let her class know that not all masterpieces are written by William Shakespeare, Ernest Hemingway, or Mark Twain.
Ginny selects Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider, a collection of essays and speeches by the late Black lesbian feminist author about not being understood in a society that ties skin color and gender to humanity. Once introverted Ginny gives a presentation to the class about why she’s choosing Sister Outsider, the teacher then asks her to lead the class discussions on the book. Also known as do his damn job for him — for free. He has zero interest in reading or teaching the book, letting Ginny know she’s still not supported.
This pushes Ginny to the edge, and without giving too much of a spoiler, it opens up the conversation on how teens are not getting a healthy dose of diverse literature in a country still subsisting on book bans and limited curricula in schools.
More middle and high school students are creating their own book clubs to make up for the lost intellectual value. They’re dealing with books being publicly banned from their school libraries, public libraries, and in even some cases, their local bookstores, including chains such as Barnes & Noble.
What about the books that are not actually banned but will never come up on your English syllabus? What about the issue that most people stop reading after they finish schooling because homework isn’t assigned in the real world? What about teachers and professors who are conditioned to the subtractions in their literary knowledge that they don’t evolve to diversify their reading lists?
With conversations swirling around book bans, there needs to be more attention to the invisible book bans like how a book by Audre Lorde is less likely to be read in high school. Personally, I never heard of Audre Lorde until I attended a historically Black college, and I didn’t read Sister Outsider until a few years ago. A lot of us are still making up for the years and years of almost exclusively reading books by White male authors that were assigned to us in school.
Books keep multiplying every year. Our to-be-read lists are drowning with our selections. But there are a thousand books I wish I read in high school instead of so much Shakespeare, Hemingway, and Twain. The catch-up game is real. Most kids who love reading are balancing the school-assigned books with the pleasure books that they see themselves in.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most kids are struggling to recover their social skills again. So reading for fun may not be a top pastime for them. There will be people like Ginny’s teacher who refuse to value literature by authors who are not straight White men and will try to humiliate others for valuing literature from different perspectives.