To Laura Murphy, the mother fighting to allow parents to opt their children out of reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved, due to its graphic content:
I’m glad Beloved gave your son nightmares.
You’re waging a campaign against Beloved’s “scenes of bestiality, gang rape and an infant’s gruesome murder”, content you believe is too intense for teenagers, after your son Blake reported having night terrors after reading the book. You wrote into theWashington Post todayto defend your efforts. You’re not a crazy book-burner, you say. You just want parents to have choices over whether their children are exposed to graphic content at school. Your son Blake is now a 19-year-old college freshman and he’s still disturbed about reading Beloved.
“It was disgusting and gross,” he says. “It was hard for me to handle. I gave up on it.”
Here’s the problem, Laura and Blake. Beloved is not disgusting and gross—it’s a beautifully-written novel. The content in Beloved is disgusting and gross, because slavery is disgusting and gross. Slavery is horrific, and Blake, I’m glad that having to spend a few hours in a book and imagining the horrors of slavery was such a visceral experience, it gave you nightmares.
That’s exactly why you should be reading this book.
I hope all the little white children of America have nightmares after reading Beloved. I hope they’re sickened when they imagine the treatment of slaves. I hope they’re disgusted when they think about the legacy of slavery in this country, how people are still suffering from it, how they benefit from all the bloodshed. I hope Blake Murphy remembers those nightmares when someone puts a gun in his hand and calls him officer, when someone puts a briefcase in his hand and calls him boss, when someone puts a gavel in his hand and calls him judge. I hope Blake Murphy will always be disturbed byBeloved. He should be.
The least your child can do, before growing up into his privileged white manhood, is spend a few hours between the covers of a book, imagining himself in the shoes of people struggling to recover from one of the most traumatic, violent, disturbing, and horrific eras of human history.
Because Laura, all the little black children of America have to learn to live with the legacy of slavery and its effects on their lives. We understand that slavery is disgusting and gross, hard for us to handle. But it’s not a book that we can put down and walk away from.
Happy birthday author Toni Morrison (February 18)
This isn’t even little kids. This is for a Senior year A.P. Lit class. Not only are Seniors who take advanced placement classes more than capable of reading such challenging literature, but they’re (Or fucking well should be) emotionally mature enough to handle complex and disturbing literature and should be able to participate in discussions around why such disturbing or jarring narratives are important, necessary, and relevant.
Beloved is an important part of the literary cannon, beautifully written, and it is arguably the greatest American novel. It is written by a Black woman and has Black main characters, both things that the general curriculum in most English classes are sorely lacking. It would be a disservice not to include it.
There’s a larger problem at work here, and I see it a lot in parental complaints in general about school curriculum, what they feel they’re required to be notified about, etc.
It’s an unwillingness to see their children in any sort of discomfort or exposed to anything that could challenge the worlds they currently occupy. It seems the mother’s objection has more to do with the bestiality than the violence and the result thereof of systematic violence delivered upon Beloved’s protagonist and an entire race in the U.S.
I read Beloved in A.P. Lit a dozen years ago. I also read Joyce, Dostoevsky, Camus — all highly disturbing books philosophically and in terms of violent content. Part of learning is having your assumptions challenged, your view of the world expanded.
At 17 years old, you should be ready to learn about the horrors people can inflict upon one another — no matter whether or not they give you nightmares. If my child told me that, I’d say, “OK, so why don’t we sit down and talk about the context and why that disturbs you. Because it should.”
You can’t shelter your children forever.