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Philistine Politician Calls Beloved ‘Moral Sewage’ in Email to AP English Teacher

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Toni Morrison’s Beloved is one of the greatest American novels. It is difficult and harrowing and beautiful and horrible and complicated all at the same time. I read it in AP English class when I was in high school, and I need to go back and read it again because in my youth I missed a lot of what makes that novel so important. If one Virginia politician had his way, even more high school kids would miss out on Beloved, which he called “moral sewage” in an email to a Virginia AP English teacher.

At this point anyone who has ever read a book is probably making this face:

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(Via Giphy)

 According to Gawker, Virginia AP English teacher Jessica Berg wrote to State Senator Richard Black to ask him not to support a bill that was on the table in Virginia, which would have required teachers to send permission slips home to parents before teaching books with “sexually explicit” material in class. If the law had passed, parents would have been able to opt their kids out of books like Beloved and make the teachers give their kids alternate assignments instead.

It sounds like Beloved was a particular target of the bill, and lawmakers rallying in support of the measure picked out the more violent or sexual passages to read out loud to the legislature in an attempt to demonstrate how wild and inappropriate the books is. When Berg wrote to the State Senator to express her support for the book and ask him not to support the bill, he eventually wrote back:

“I was surprised by your personal advocacy of the book “Beloved.” That book is so vile – – so profoundly filthy – – that when a Senator rose on the Senate Floor and began reading a single passage, several other Senators leapt to their feet to interrupt the reading. Susan Schaar, the Senate Clerk, quickly had embarrassed Senate Officials rush the teenage Senate Pages from the Senate Floor in order to protect them from exposure to this moral sewage.”

Quick, rush the young people who want to work in government someday out of the room! We have to protect them from uncomfortable things.

There’s just something so bizarre about referring to one of the greatest American novels as “moral sewage.” I mean, even if you don’t think the content is completely appropriate for teenagers–even 17-year-olds in AP English–wouldn’t you be like, “This is one of the greatest books ever written, but it is not appropriate for kids of all age levels and parents should have a say in what their kids read”? But no, let’s just go straight to calling Morrison’s masterpiece  “moral sewage” and “smut.”

In another letter, Black allegedly told Berg that not only did he want parents to have veto power over the schools’ curricula, he wanted better teachers than her in schools.

“I want teachers who won’t teach such vile things to our students,” he said of the book that won a Pulitzer by an author who has a Nobel Prize. “Slavery was a terrible stain on this nation but to teach it does not mean you have to expose children to smut. The idea that you would oppose allowing parents the opportunity to be better informed about what their child is reading is appalling and arrogant. You do not know better than the parents.”

Smut? Beloved is explicit, but one would b hard-pressed to call it “smut.” I’m starting to think that maybe Mr. Black has not actually read Beloved  and also that we should assemble a reading list for people who want to be US politicians. Beloved should be on it. Also The Jungle. What else would you put on it? Also Black has unintentionally inspired me. Let’s all go read or re-read Beloved. I think we’ll be better people for it.