book ban

Missouri School District Bans Toni Morrison's ‘The Bluest Eye'

In a 4-3 vote, the Wentzville School board voted to pull Toni Morrison's first book, "The Bluest Eye" from every district school's library

Photo by Todd Plitt/Getty Images

A Missouri school district joins a growing list of districts across the country to ban books highlighting issues of race, sexuality, and the Holocaust.

In a 4-3 vote, the Wentzville School Board voted to ban the late Toni Morrison's first published book, "The Bluest Eye," which details the experiences of a young Black girl living in the wake of The Great Depression.

"By all means, go buy the book for your child," Wentzville school board member Sandy Garber said during the meeting, according to original reporting from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I would not want this book in the school for anyone else to see."

TODAY Parents reached out to Garber for a request for comment, but did not hear back at the time of publication.

"The Bluest Eye" follows Pecola, who yearns for blue eyes and equates whiteness to beauty while she believes her Blackness automatically makes her ugly. The book touches on many themes, including rape, incest, domestic violence, alcoholism, infant mortality, and racism. It also includes profanity — at one point, a character's mother calls him a "nasty little Black bitch."

Morrison, the award-winning author of the book who died in 2019 at the age of 88, had argued against banning books prior to her passing. In response to past attempts to ban "Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain for its use of the "n-word," Morrison wrote that banning books is the "purist and yet elementary kind of censorship designed to appease adults rather than educate children."

The Wentzville school district is just one of many to recently ban books from being assigned, taught, or available in schools. In an email sent to NBC News, The American Library Association said a reported 273 book were the subject of attempted censorship in 2020, the majority of which centered on issues of race, gender, and sexuality.

On Jan. 10, a Tennessee school district voted unanimously to ban "Maus," the Pulitzer prize-winning graphic memoir detailing the horrors of the Holocaust. The vote came just weeks before National Holocaust Remembrance Day, and was met with swift public backlash.

In Florida, Polk County officials recently removed 16 books from the county's middle and high schools, alleging that the titles "violate state statutes on obscene materials," according to original reporting from "The Ledger." District officials argued that the removed books were not being banned, just “quarantined” until they could conduct a "thorough review."

Many of Morrison's books have been subjected to bans or potential bans, and the late author frequently appeared on the American Library Association’s annual list of the Most Frequently Challenged and Banned Books. 

In the latest 2021 Virginia gubernatorial race, her book "Beloved," which portrays the atrocities of slavery, was targeted — Republican candidate and now Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin featured a parent who was upset that the 1987 novel was being taught to her high school senior. In the ad, the mom attacks Youngkin's Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, for vetoing a bill that would have required the state's board of education to notify parents "if material used in class includes sexually explicit content."

In 2020, the Colton Joint Unified School District, located in Southern California, banned "The Bluest Eye," removing it from the district's core and extended English Language Arts reading list, after parents complained about the novel's "graphic violence." The ban was later lifted and the book was reinstated, following swift backlash and a written request from PEN America, an organization that works to "ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views, and to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others."

Historian Christopher Browning, who is an expert in Holocaust studies and was an expert witness in prominent Holocaust denial trials, told TODAY in a recent interview involving the banning of "Haus" that two issues exist when books are banned from schools.

"First is the precedent set here for banning books in schools for frivolous reasons, which will affect all sorts of issues, including not only the Holocaust but any understanding of American slavery, the fate of Native Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans in WWII in history, but also sensitive non-historical issues as well,” Browning tells TODAY Parents.

“Second, concerning the Holocaust in particular, I am not under any illusion that Holocaust education alone will prevent future genocides, but certainly awareness of the Holocaust will increase the chances of timely public and political reaction," he adds. "An informed rather than intentionally ignorant public is important for the functioning of democracy.”

This story first appeared on TODAY.com. More from TODAY:

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