Tuesday July 18, 2006
Bill’s recent comment on the ‘Vamos a Cuba’ post offers an interestingperspective. He compares the book to Little Black Sambo, and claims that both books must remain available, not despite their inaccuracies, but because of them, as they are part of our history.
While the argument is powerful, and works very well for LBS, applying it to VaC is problematic. First of all, the alleged sins of VaC are sins of omission, not sins of commission. Whereas Sambo is wrong because it encourages thinking in terms of racial stereotypes, the most we can accuse Vamos of is of overlooking unpleseant truths.
Little Black Sambo does have a place in Americas history and, as such, should be presented for what it was/is therby assuring a thourghly educated populace. I would not want the book to come up in discusion, only to have my child ignorant of its meaning and its history.
LBS has a place in the history of racist portrayals of people of color, and it needs to be perserved for that reason. But the word “history” is carrying serious weight there: the book was published originally in 1899. The same does not apply to VaC, though, which dates back to 2000 – it’s not “historical” in a real sense. It is, rather, a product of the present. That is to say, LBS’s place in history is decided not so much by its publication, but by its acceptance for most of the 20th century. We have the opportunity to deny that acceptance to ‘Vamos a Cuba.’
In some sense, that’s what this fight is about – does our society tolerate accounts of totalitarian regimes that are incomplete in this fashion? Or do we hold them on par with racial stereotypes?
It’s interesting to note that VaC is not being condemned for expressing an undesirable perspective – it’s being condemned for not expressing a sufficiently negative perspective — of Communist Cuba. One could make a comparison to a textbook banned in Saudi Arabia for not expressing a sufficiently negative perspective of life in the United States. Or something. It’s also worth noting that ‘Vamos a Cuba’ is not nearly the sunny portrait of life in Cuba some believe. While the text omits mention of politics, its depiction of poverty is unmistakable.
What’s interesting about the VaC situation is that there is no reasonable compromise. Val groped around for it when he tounge-in-cheek (?) suggested placing the book in the fiction section. A more ‘reasonable’ compromise is the warning label approach (“This book presents a view of life in Communist Cuba which many find inaccurate and disagreeable . . .”), which is also so patently absurd that nobody I know of seriously advocates it. We are left with a simple leave it/remove it choice.
Blinded by passion, some folks have advocated the removal of this book. I understand their frustration. Were it up to me, I’d leave the book, but in fact it’s not up to anyone – the Schoolboard has made the decision to pull it. From a legal perspective at least, it seems pretty obvious that they fucked up royally.
Had ‘Vamos a Cuba’ stayed in our libraries, we, as a society, would have had the opportunity to condemn it as propaganda and distortion. We could have continued to discuss its failings, and let those discussions be the history of this book, not the acceptance that ‘Little Black Sambo’ enjoyed.
But there’s the rub: we still can. And we will. Despite the Schoolboard’s boneheaded move, the book is still widely availabe. And it seems pretty clear that the ACLU action will have ‘Vamos a Cuba’ back on the shelves sooner or later. Unlike the Nazis, we’re not actually burning books, and we’re not about to start.comments powered by Disqus