A new ad from Virginia’s Republican gubernatorial nominee, Glenn Youngkin, features a white woman who tried to ban Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Beloved,” from her son’s school curriculum because it allegedly gave him nightmares.
With Election Day quickly approaching, the ad is just the latest indicator Youngkin is leaning on white anger over school lesson plans — and some white voters’ desire to ignore history they don’t like — to propel him to office.
In the ad, we meet Laura Murphy, who spoke over somber piano music as she described her unsuccessful effort in 2013 to remove a book she deemed "some of the most explicit material you can imagine."
Murphy left out a number of crucial details from her dramatic retelling.
For one, she didn't mention the book she tried to ban by its name. “Beloved” is Morrison’s harrowing novel that addresses slavery’s impact on Black families. The “explicit material” she appeared to reference are scenes of sexual assault, bestiality and other forms of abuse that occur in the context of humans living in bondage under the threat of racist violence.
Murphy also failed to mention that her son, Blake, was a high school senior taking a college-level English course when the book was assigned in class.
Back when his mother was pushing the local school board to change its curriculum, Blake Murphy told The Washington Post that “Beloved” was “disgusting and gross.”
“It was hard for me to handle,” he said. “I gave up on it.”
But Black and brown children living through racist trauma from the past and present don’t have the ability to turn away from history they don’t like, and white children don’t deserve to be able to, either. The ability to “give up” on grappling with uncomfortable, historically accurate lessons is a distinctly white privilege. And it’s a privilege white parents like Murphy and Youngkin are desperately trying to uphold.
“Teaching our children about racism in our schools is a real challenge,” Youngkin said in his final debate with Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe last month. “I think we recognize that Virginia and America have chapters that are abhorrent. We also have great chapters. We need to teach our children real history.”
It’s ironic that these parents’ mission is undermined by their behavior. The vigor they use in trying to stamp out anti-racist education only demonstrates how necessary such lesson plans truly are.
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