ImagineIF Trustees Are Trying To Censor A Children’s Book About Racism

As the American Library Association celebrates reading freedom with Banned Book Week, an annual campaign to raise awareness of the growing catalog of books suffering from attempts to remove them from schools and public libraries, ImagineIF’s Board of Trustees met Thursday to discuss a request to remove another book from its collection – The third challenge the Flathead County Library system has faced in the past year.

The latest complaint centers on “It’s Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness” by Anastasia Higginbotham, submitted by a Flathead County resident who wrote that the text was “biased and hostile to people of different races.”

“This book creates shame and condemnation in children, while burdening them with the problem of racism,” the written complaint states. “Honestly, these statements made me feel uncomfortable as an adult.”

The complainant did not defend her allegations at the board meeting.

Not My Idea is a children’s picture book that examines racism, racial justice, and “how power and privilege affect the lives of white children,” according to a review. It was critically acclaimed, and is part of a children’s series in which Higginbotham tackles difficult issues such as divorce, death, sex and racism. The book also sparked a backlash and was challenged in bookstores nationwide, and Texas lawmakers singled out it as a reason to support a bill that would restrict how schools could teach controversial topics.

Cover of “It’s Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness” by Anastasia Higginbotham

During public comment at Thursday’s board meeting, several community members spoke out against restricting or removing material from the library’s collection, stating that they deserve the right to make their own reading decisions.

It’s very simple, said Valerie McGarvey, “if you don’t like the book, don’t check it out.” “I am not afraid for my children and grandchildren to learn about racism.”

Only one person, Trish Bandina, spoke out in favor of removing a book that she felt was “teaching kids to hate.”

The council’s discussion of the title began with a proposal from the new custodian, Carmen Cuthbertson, to remove the book from the collection.

This is the second time the board has made suggestions to remove a book from the library’s collection. In January, the Trustees voted to challenge two books, “Lawn Boy” and “Gender Queer,” voting unanimously to retain the former, while voting against retaining the latter. Final voting to remove “Gender Queer” has been indefinitely put on hold Changes to library collection policy.

Cuthbertson brought the initial challenge to “Gender Queer” prior to her appointment to the Library Board, making this the second title she was in favor of removing.

“It’s not my idea,” Cuthbertson said of “It’s not my idea.” “Contemporary children’s realist material that asserts a racist view based on skin color, does not belong in the section of the 21st Century Library.”

“In my definition of book bans, removing a book from a public library that makes you have to go buy it is not a taboo,” Cuthbertson said. “My definition of ban is what a totalitarian government does.”

Carmen Cuthbertson at the ImagineIF Board of Trustees meeting in Kalispell on December 2, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Bacon

The Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University defines book bans as “individuals, government officials, or organizations removing books from libraries, school reading lists, or library shelves because they object to their content, ideas, or topics” and adds that “to counter accusations of censorship, opponents of publications use Sometimes the tactic of restricting access rather than advocating the physical removal of books.”

Guardian Dave Ingram made a modified proposal to limit access to the book, rather than remove it entirely, saying he felt it was not appropriate for the intended audience.

“Children in this age group are not ready to critically analyze concepts like this,” Ingram said.

His suggestion was to sequester the address in the library counselor’s office, under video surveillance, while allowing free access to it upon request.

“I believe this material poses a potential threat to the safety and tranquility of our parents, patrons, and staff due to the volatile nature of the subjects,” Ingram said. “These include shame, condemnation, collective intergenerational guilt, fostering fear and mistrust in law enforcement, instilling doubt as to family validity and racism.”

ImagineIF director Ashley Cummins disputed his proposal.

“If we’re going to retire items that someone finds inappropriate, we don’t have a big enough shelf or desk,” Cummins said. “It’s very personal, and I get multiple complaints every day.”

Cummins and Assistant Principal Sean Anderson noted that the board recently approved policies that explicitly state that it is parents’ responsibility to monitor what their children check and read.

“I feel like our library assumes [the role of parents] Cuthbertson said. “The library should not impose extremist material on children.”

“When it comes to adult material, I understand that the library is asking for books I don’t care, books I don’t agree with, books on controversial topics, and books with extreme views,” Cuthbertson added. “This is how we broaden our horizons, by showing us material that shows us a new idea, an opinion, or a different experience. But I feel very powerful when it comes to other people’s children. This thought process does not apply.”

At times, an angry Anderson turned his chair to turn his back on the board members.

“I think this is an inappropriate decision that you’re discussing at this point,” Anderson said. “It’s distasteful.”

ImagineIF Board Member Doug Adams speaks at the ImagineIF Library Board of Trustees meeting in Kalispell on December 2, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Bacon

At one point in the discussion, Chairman Doug Adams interfered with his experiences growing up in the South, including what he described as his own biases. He spoke of his refusal to go to a swimming meet against another school that is mostly black competitors, adding, “I’ve never been more proud of that fact.” He also spoke of being in Charlotte, North Carolina, when he began taking black students into public schools during desegregation, and watching race riots erupt in front of him.

“I’ve dealt with fear of race all my life,” Adams said, adding that in the years since he’s had good black friends and ex-girlfriends. “I choose to deal with my racism because it’s the right thing to do.”

He added, “The thing that offends me about this particular book is that she thinks people should feel a false sense of guilt because of the color God made for them.” “So, is this book appropriate? Is it good for children? I don’t think so. But is it dangerous? I don’t feel it is.”

Adams stated that he would not vote to remove the book, and instead requested the creation of a private collection of “Mother Resources,” which would include “Not My Idea,” and other books where parents could choose to screen them for their children.

“While I appreciate this attempt to find a compromise, my concern is that it is very similar to the justification of other comments made by the Trustees,” Anderson responded. “This movement comes from fear, mistrust and contempt for these materials, believing that they are dangerous and harmful to children. This is completely against the policies of this library.”

ImagineIF Senior Librarian Sean Anderson attends a ImagineIF Board of Trustees meeting in Kalispell on December 2, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Bacon

A recently revised Collection Development Policy states that “selection decisions are not affected by the possibility that materials may be accessible to minors…classification should in no way represent a judgment of the value of an article…nor to identify certain philosophies subjectively.”

When Anderson pressed Adams about board members making suggestions that went against board policy, Adams replied that they were entitled to their own opinions.

A new section for “It’s not my idea” was unanimously implemented.

The fourth challenge to Why Kids Matter by Douglas Wilson is still in the early stages of the review process and will be discussed at the October board meeting.

“I don’t think that reflects well on the library,” Director Cummins said after the meeting. “I’m glad the book was kept without any strings attached, but I think there are other potential problematic implications. I think problems may arise with what follows this book in that collection.”

Cummins said details of the new group, including where it will be located, what additional titles it will include and who will make those decisions, will be discussed by the group’s development team in October.

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