Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of the freedom to read, will be held September 18–24 this year. During this week, authors, booksellers, librarians, publishers, and readers come together to advocate for the right to read without censorship. The theme for 2022 is “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.”
Free and open access to ideas and information is a critical element of our democracy. The observation of Banned Books Week pushes back against censors: people who try to remove or restrict access to books that they find threatening in some way.
Book challenges often come from parents who want to restrict access to materials they find offensive. They want to control what their children, and their neighbors’ children, can read in school classrooms and public libraries. Targets are often books by or about Black or LGBTQ people. Censors label these books as “obscene” or “harmful to minors” or even as tools for “grooming” children for exploitation. For example, the Proud Boys protesting at Drag Queen storytimes claim to be protecting children from the corrupting influence of fairy tales and glitter.
Another disturbing trend is that more states are passing legislation to ban books and to restrict what librarians and K-12 teachers can add to their reading lists and book collections. In states where these new laws are in effect, educators who attempt to share banned materials or even talk about bans are being harassed and threatened. Banned Books Week 2022 is an opportunity to applaud those who stand up for our freedom to read, even at a cost to themselves.
For more information on book banning and censorship:
The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 729 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2021. Of the 1597 books that were targeted, here are the most challenged, along with the reasons cited for censoring the books:
Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, and because it was considered to have sexually explicit images
Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was considered to be sexually explicit
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, profanity, and because it was considered to be sexually explicit
Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted for depictions of abuse and because it was considered to be sexually explicit
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, violence, and because it was thought to promote an anti-police message and indoctrination of a social agenda
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references and use of a derogatory term
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and degrading to women
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison Reasons: Banned and challenged because it depicts child sexual abuse and was considered sexually explicit
This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson Reasons: Banned, challenged, relocated, and restricted for providing sexual education and LGBTQIA+ content.
Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was considered to be sexually explicit
If you want to read a banned or challenged book (including some of the ones listed above) and see what all the controversy is about, check out our display in the front area of the library!
This post was co-authored by Rachel Jones and Nora Almeida
Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day. We pause to remember those lost. May their memory be a blessing.
In October-November 2023 “Americans and the Holocaust,” a traveling exhibit sponsored by the American Library Association and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, will be coming to New York City College of Technology. Please check this space for further details and news about events.
Curious about jazz or love it already? The library has streaming music (you’ll find additional information about ways to listen on the Internet too) and films. We also have DVDs and CDs as well as lots of ebooks and print books. Under organizations and museums, you will find spaces that offer live jazz and and also have resources for listeners and musicians. If you are new to jazz, you’ll find that jazz is amazingly diverse; you’ll want to explore current and historical styles as you begin to develop your own tastes and preferences. Jazz is alive and well and we are very privileged to be in New York City where live performances regularly occur in clubs and outdoors. All About Jazz is a good website (and print publication) to find interviews, record reviews, and listings of local live performances.
May 28 is the last day to register to vote in the June 22 primary election. The race for mayor is just one of several offices that hold primaries, which will determine who is on the ballot in November for the general election. New York has a ‘closed primary’ system which means, to vote in the primary election, you must register with a political party to vote in that party’s primary. In a city where 70% of registered voters are Democrats, is the race for Mayor decided by the Democratic primary? A lot of experts think so.
Too many New Yorkers don’t vote in local elections but they should, especially for down ballot races! Local politicians make policies and write and enact legislation that impact: housing and land use, education access, climate change, transportation, policing, funding for social services, and more. Aside from mayor, other offices on the primary ballot in June are City Council, Borough President, Public Advocate, Comptroller, and Manhattan District Attorney. Check out who is on the ballot and read some of the resources below to learn where the candidates stand on the issues that matter to you.
More resources about how to vote and information about how you can get involved are available on the NYC Votes website. Wonder about ID requirements, translation services, or think you or a family member might need assistance at your polling place? The New York Public Research Interest Group (NYPIRG), which works directly with CUNY and has an office at City Tech with student interns, has a voters bill of rights.
Why this Race is Important
All local elections have a real impact on our lives but right now we have a lot on the table: many NYC families are struggling after the pandemic to keep up with medical bills, pay their rent, or find a new job; a lot of voters want to change our policing system, which disproportionately targets people of color; and people have vastly different ideas on how we should go about creating safe streets, resolving the homeless crisis, ensuring low-income residents have access to technology, and more.
This year is especially important because a majority of current City Council representatives are term-limited, meaning we have the chance to elect a lot of new people who represent small districts, usually comprising a couple of neighborhoods. Not sure what a City Council representative does? A lot more than you might think!
This election is the first in which voters will be able to support multiple candidates by ranking them in order of preference. Why does this new provision exist? Because we voted for it on a ballot measure in 2019–a lot of people supported ranked choice voting because it might make politics more civil and give a platform to outsider candidates who people might not otherwise vote for because they are worried about wasting their vote.
Important things to know about ranked choice voting are it’s OK to rank fewer than 5 candidates, and it is not OK to give two or more candidates the same rank. Ranking candidates does not affect your first choice. Want to learn more? Check out the NYC Board of Elections website for information and frequently asked questions about ranked choice.
Of course, the largest focus this year has been the (Democratic) Mayoral race candidates. And City Tech students might have a particular interest in their plans about public higher education. So far, all of the candidates’ official websites mention CUNY as essential in workforce development and a valued partner in creating more teachers, nurses, entrepreneurs, engineers, etc. No candidates specifically address the needs of the CUNY system after years of economic austerity and post-pandemic cuts that have left a lot of campuses under-resourced. Below, we’ve aggregated some information about the candidates so you can learn more about their stance on CUNY and other civic issues.
June Jordan was a powerhouse poet, activist, journalist, and educator. One of the most widely-published and highly-acclaimed writers of her time, Jordan was active in the civil rights, feminist, antiwar, and gay and lesbian rights movements. Through her poetry, essays, plays, and children’s literature, she spoke passionately about race, class, sexuality, and political struggles around the world.
Jordan was born in Harlem in 1936, the child of Jamaican immigrants who raised her in Bedford-Stuyvesant. A gifted student, she began writing poetry in elementary school. She attended boarding school in New England, where her teachers encouraged her writing but never shared the work of any Black writers with her. After earning a BA from Barnard College, Jordan began teaching at the City College of New York in 1966. She published her first book of poetry, Who Look at Me, in 1969. She went on to teach at Yale University, Sarah Lawrence College, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook, before becoming Professor of African-American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where she founded Poetry For the People.
Jordan’s essays were published in magazines and newspapers around the world. She also published more than twenty-five major works of poetry, fiction, and children’s books before her death in 2002. In an interview shortly before her death, Jordan said that “the task of a poet of color, a black poet, as a people hated and despised, is to rally the spirit of your folks…I have to get myself together and figure out an angle, a perspective, that is an offering, that other folks can use to pick themselves up, to rally and to continue or, even better, to jump higher, to reach more extensively in solidarity with even more varieties of people to accomplish something. I feel that it’s a spirit task.”
Jordan’s books of poetry include the collections Kissing God Goodbye: Poems, 1991-1997, Haruko/Love Poems, Naming Our Destiny, Living Room: New Poems 1980-1984, and Things That I Do in the Dark. Her essay collections include Affirmative Acts: Political Essays, June Jordan’s Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint, Technical Difficulties, and Civil Wars: Selected Essays 1963-1980.
You can access several online, full text works by Jordan in the City Tech Collection, including:
April is national poetry month and if our campus library was open, I’d pick out some of my favorite books from our collection and some of new poetry books that I haven’t had a chance to read yet. I’d put them on a little tiered shelf in the front of the library with a sign that says:
Yes, you can borrow these books!
And I hope you would.
A lot of people think that poetry isn’t their thing but I usually think they probably just haven’t found a poem they really like yet.
Some of the poems that have meant the most to me have been poems that I’ve come across when I needed them, or that have helped me understand something about myself or the world. There are a few poems that I return to often. There’s a poem that I read when I’m sad and a poem for when I am nervous. There’s one I read when I can’t fall asleep. There’s this poem, by one of my former poetry teachers at Brooklyn College, which reminds me of my hometown. There’s this poem that I’ve read a million times that I love and still don’t fully understand.
There’s this video of the poet L.S. Asekoff (another former teacher of mine) reading a poem called Sparrow at a bar in Brooklyn that no longer exists that makes me think of all of the other places in New York that don’t exist.
And I usually read the Preface to Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855 edition) on my birthday.
This is my favorite part:
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body. . . .
This year instead of a display in the library, I thought I’d highlight a few online spaces where you can read and listen to poems (and watch videos of people reading). Here is also a link to a database of small presses that publish work by new and emerging writers and a link to Small Press Distribution where you can buy affordable books that support these presses.
It’s March, which means it is Women’s History Month, a commemoration of “the specific achievements women have made over the course of American history in a variety of fields”…with one notable exception: the field of domestic labor.
Domestic labor—cooking, cleaning, childcare, and other activities related to household maintenance—remains largely invisible and undervalued. Domestic labor is mostly done by women, and particularly women of color, who keep those around them fed, safe, clean, and cared for. It is essential work, without which no other economic activity could take place, but it is considered unworthy, for example, of being an achievement to celebrate during Women’s History Month.
Silvia Federici, who was one of the organizers of the Wages for Housework movement, has described domestic labor as “a form of gendered economic oppression and an exploitation upon which all of capitalism rests.” Domestic labor enables others to work outside the home, and to enjoy higher status jobs and better wages. It is the invisible work that makes all other work possible.
If women in the United States earned minimum wage for their unpaid domestic labor, they would have made $1.5 trillion last year, according to a recent article in the New York Times. Imagine what would happen if women either refused to do any domestic labor or insisted on being paid for it. Our entire economy would be transformed.
Of course, some people are paid for doing domestic labor. During the past three decades, as more and more women entered the workforce, those with enough income (usually white, college-educated, and middle to upper class) began to pay others to help care for their children or clean their homes or even buy their groceries for them. The majority of domestic workers in the United States are low-waged women of color and immigrants. Women with privilege working outside the home have depended on outsourcing domestic labor to women with less privilege. Even though there have been efforts to organize and protect domestic workers from exploitation, they don’t have much protection, and are often denied formal benefits and time off to care for their own families.
During the last year, with schools and offices closed and an New York State executive order that classified most domestic workers as “inessential”, more people had to perform their own domestic labor rather than outsourcing it. Many women with privilege have been forced to quit their jobs, as they can no longer hire domestic workers to help them. Because of the pandemic, some have become more aware that their careers and comfortable lifestyles depend on the underpaid labor of undervalued domestic workers. It seems like a good moment to reevaluate the low value assigned to life-maintaining labor and to start celebrating women for all of the kinds of work they do.
Want to learn more about women and work? Check out these ebooks from the City Tech Library!
[This post was co-authored with City Tech Librarians Nora Almeida and Wanett Clyde.]
The African American Studies (AFR) Department at CityTech presents a virtual exhibit to celebrate Black History Month, entitled Black Lives Lead: We, Too, Sing America! See the exhibit below. (Transcript forthcoming).
Dr. Yelena Bailey, AFR Adjunct, is the author of the newly published How the Streets Were Made (UNC Press). Join Dr. Bailey as she uses historical and contemporary photographs to examine the creation of “the streets” not just as a physical, racialized space produced by segregationist policies, but also as a sociocultural entity that continues to shape our understanding of Blackness in America.
2021 Black History Month Virtual Exhibit, Black Lives Lead: We, Too, Sing America! Transcribed by College Assistant Yu Lau
My name is Dr. Yelena Bailey and I am so grateful to have this opportunity to share a little bit with you about my book project How the Streets Were Made: Housing Segregation and Black Life in America. I want to thank the Department of African American Studies for making this possible and extending the invitation. I also want to thank the City Tech library for cosponsoring this event. You’re going to hear me, um, do a voice over and show you some images of kind of Black urban space in my hometown of Minneapolis-Saint Paul area.
Many of you will be familiar, um, with the Twin Cities that were in the news this past year with the murder of George Floyd and I think that, um, those events are closely tied to my book and the main ideas there. So I am going to walk through some of that and then I am also going to share with you the ways in which one of the authors I talk about in the book, Ann Petry, shows us that these places can also be spaces of liberation and empowerment.
Soon after musician Nipsey Hussle was murdered on March 31, 2019, social media was flooded with the reactions of Black artists, authors, and activists mourning his death. In the wake of this loss, writer and creative strategist Duanecia Evans tweeted, “The hood is a construct. The deepest underbelly of survival and poverty. The science project of classism and elitism. If you get out you have survivors’ guilt forever, if you stay in… man. Ain’t no middle.” This description of the hood or the streets is something more than physical geography is the heart of this book.
How the Streets Were Made examines the streets as a sociocultural construct that stems from the U.S. geographic segregation and continues to define the contours of Blackness and belonging in the U.S. today. This notion of the streets resonates with me on a personal level. Although I did not grow up in the streets, I was raised by a mother whose parenting was in no small way shaped by her determination to keep me from them.
My mother spent most of her childhood in the projects of North Minneapolis. She is intimately familiar with the streets and the threats they pose to Black life. She’s equally familiar with the way such spaces foster community and belonging. Although my mother made it out of the hood, throughout my childhood she was painfully aware of just how little separated us from that life. This awareness created a ferocious determination in her.
Although we did not have much money, she was resolved to keep me from the fate of other poor Black folks. This often meant moving us from place to place, actively fighting against the social, economic, and cultural forces that attempted to corral us back into poor urban neighborhoods. Even we lived in the projects, my mother moved us across town just so we could get into one of the few available suburban public housing projects. We may have been poor; she would be damned if I didn’t get a middle-class education. When those housing and school opportunity ran out, my mother was willing to relocate to another suburb or another area of the city. I say this not to exalt her as an example of exceptional perseverance but rather to highlight the way the streets, even in their strict absence, radically shaped my childhood.
My mother accepted a life of transience just so her daughter could have a shot at a decent education and a childhood free from the violence of the streets. Reflecting on my own experience has helped me to recognize the streets as much more than a physical space.
How the Streets Were Made explains why racialized spaces like the streets exist and why it is that urban and ghetto most often signify Black. The streets have shaped perceptions of Black identity, community, violence, spending habits, and belonging. They produce myths about urban Black pathology, financial irresponsibility, and inherent violence. These myths have fielded the economic and social divestment of Black communities as well as a boarder divestment from Blackness as a part of U.S. identity. How the Streets Were Made explores these topics as well as how we might approach the topic of redress in a practical and robust way.
While How the Streets Were Made explores the history of geographic segregation and how that lead to narratives that negatively impact Black life, often reinforcing economic disparities, it is also a book about how Black people have fought against these forces and how racism takes place. George Lipsitz argues that people who do not control physical places often construct discursive space as sites of agency, affiliation, and imagination. In the case of Black urban inhabitance, literature became one of the primary means through which Black intellectuals constructed these discursive spaces. While government policies, economic rationales, and marketing campaign worked to create a derogatory narrative around urban Blackness, Black authors were simultaneously wrestling with the cultural and ideological impact of living in racialized urban spaces.
In chapter two of my book, I analyze Ann Petry’s The Street, a novel that exemplifies the way the streets have been depicted and theorized in African American literature. Ann Petry published The Street in 1946, just twelve years after the National Housing Act was established. Set in 1944 Harlem, the novel follows the journey of the protagonist, Lutie Johnson, as she attempts to build a life for herself and her son Bub. Lutie migrated to Harlem after her marriage fell apart.
Determined to work her way up the social ladder, Lutie pursues a number of careers all while her son Bub finds himself alone on the streets. The novel is a tragedy that highlights the specific impact the streets have on Black familial relationships and the pursuit of the American dream. More relevant, however, is the way Petry works to narrate the transformation of A street, 116th in Harlem, from the figurative representation of everyday life in Black spaces in a menacing sociocultural entity, The street. Despite the harsh realities of the streets, depicted in the novel, they are also depicted as a safe space where Black people build community and live free from the constricting gaze of White supremacy. There is a moment in the novel when the protagonist, Lutie, is returning to Harlem after working in another part of the city and she expresses the sentiment in a clear nuanced way.
Rather than summarize it, I’ll read a short excerpt because Petry’s skill as an author is highlighted here and is a primary example of what I mean when I say that Black authors were using their writing to claim space. The book narrates that Lutie got off the train, thinking that she never really felt human until she reached Harlem and thus, got away from the hostility in the eyes of the White women who stared at her on the downtown streets and in the subway, escaped from the openly appraising looks of the White men whose eyes seem to go through her clothing to her long brown legs. These other folks felt the same way, she thought, that once they are freed from the contempt in the eyes of the downtown world, they instantly become individuals. Up here, they are no longer creatures labeled simply colored and therefore, alike. She noticed that once the crowd walked the length of the platform and started up the stairs towards the street, it expanded in size. The same people who had made themselves small on the train, even on the platform, suddenly grew so large, they could hardly get up the stairs to the street together. She reached the street at the very end of the crowd and stood watching them as they scattered in all directions, laughing and talking to each other. This is a powerful moment, both within the text and outside of it. In the novel, this realization stands in stark contrast to Lutie’s fears for her son, the dark dank apartment she lives in, and the harassment she receives on a daily basis as a Black woman. Harlem becomes a safe space where she is free to be herself and to feel fully human.
Outside of the novel, Petry uses Lutie’s realization to reclaim Black space, even space that was initially created through anti-Black policies. She writes these spaces as fostering community and freedom. This passage in Petry’s novel reminds me of the chant “Whose street, Our street.’’ When Black protesters make this statement, it’s a bold reclaiming of power over the space we live in.
In her book Demonic Grounds, Catherine McKittrick says that Black matters are spatial matters in that we produce space, reproduce its meanings, and we work very hard to make geography what it is. When we look at Black organizers today and the protests that take place in the streets, this is a prime example of giving space meaning, of turning the streets into a space of liberation.
The themes of food justice and activism have been in the forefront of public consciousness as we live through a pandemic. Our recent virtual exhibit, Sustainability & Self Determined Food Systems, examined the intersection of food justice and Black Power, and featured people rebuilding relationships to the land and reimagining food systems.
This Black History Month, our African American Studies department hosted a virtual event with similar themes. Environmental and food justice activist, Tanya Denise Fields’ conversation with City Tech’s Dr. Emilie Boone called to mind the library’s collection of texts related to Black foodways. We have been steady in our intention to acquire newly published works by Black authors as well as those about to Black culture. We are also fortunate to have many important out-of-print or difficult to find texts in our collection.
Though we are currently away from campus, please enjoy this selection of titles.
“A white ally acknowledges the limits of her/his/their knowledge about other people’s experiences but doesn’t use that as a reason not to think and/or act. A white ally does not remain silent but confronts racism as it comes up daily, but also seeks to deconstruct it institutionally and live in a way that challenges systemic oppression, at the risk of experiencing some of that oppression. Being a white ally entails building relationships with both people of color, and also with white people in order to challenge them in their thinking about race. White allies don’t have it all figured out, but are deeply committed to non-complacency.” White Allyship 101 by the Dismantle Collective
February is Black History Month in the United States. As 2020 demonstrated, the situation of Black people in the US is still challenging, often unfair and discriminatory. One way we can honor the historical struggles of Black Americans is to invest in the ongoing work to make our society and ourselves (if we are not Black) less racist. For nonBlack people, February 2021 is a good opportunity to educate ourselves on how to be better allies to our Black family, friends, and neighbors. There are many excellent educational online materials on Anti-Racism free and open to all:
The PBS website offers several films about racism in America, adding historical context to racial issues. PBS’ programs include profiles of police departments, documentaries that cover the treatment of African Americans since slavery, and films about both past and current civil rights activism.
1619 An audio series on how slavery has transformed America, connecting past and present through the oldest form of storytelling.
Code Switch: “fearless conversations about race…hosted by journalists of color, our podcast tackles the subject of race head-on. We explore how it impacts every part of society — from politics and pop culture to history, sports and everything in between.”
Seeing White: “Just what is going on with white people? Police shootings of unarmed African Americans. Acts of domestic terrorism by white supremacists. The renewed embrace of raw, undisguised white-identity politics. Unending racial inequity in schools, housing, criminal justice, and hiring. Why? Where did the notion of ‘whiteness’ come from? What does it mean? What is whiteness for?”
Uncivil: “Uncivil brings you stories that were left out of the official history of the Civil War, ransacks America’s past, and takes on the history you grew up with. We bring you untold stories about resistance, covert operations, corruption, mutiny, counterfeiting, antebellum drones, and so much more. And we connect these forgotten struggles to the political battlefield we’re living on right now. The story of the Civil War — the story of slavery, confederate monuments, racism — is the story of America.”
Other Online Resources
The Color Line: “A lesson on the countless colonial laws enacted to create division and inequality based on race.” from the Zinn Education Project
Facing History and Ourselves: “Facing our collective history and how it informs our attitudes and behaviors allows us to choose a world of equity and justice. Facing History’s resources address racism, antisemitism, and prejudice at pivotal moments in history; we help students connect choices made in the past to those they will confront in their own lives.”
Talking About Race is a comprehensive, multimedia site produced by the National Museum of African American History & Culture, with rich offerings.
Weeksville Heritage Center is an historic site in Central Brooklyn that preserves the history of Weeksville, one of the largest free Black communities in pre-Civil War America.
The OpenLab at City Tech:A place to learn, work, and share
The OpenLab is an open-source, digital platform designed to support teaching and learning at City Tech (New York City College of Technology), and to promote student and faculty engagement in the intellectual and social life of the college community.
The OpenLab at City Tech:A place to learn, work, and share
The OpenLab is an open-source, digital platform designed to support teaching and learning at City Tech (New York City College of Technology), and to promote student and faculty engagement in the intellectual and social life of the college community.