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The Creeping Edge of Censorship
Connecting the dots from bigoted legislation to corporate entities
Through her website, Maggie Tokuda-Hall chose to share her response to Scholastic after they offered her a licensing contract. The gist of the story (which I highly recommend ya’ll go read, and also buy a copy of her book from a local bookseller if you can) is they were willing to license her book on the condition that she remove all mention of racism from it.1
As of this writing thirty-seven States in the U.S. have implemented some kind of book ban. Fifteen have successfully passed legislation signing a ban into law and fifteen have proposed bills on the docket. The books Conservative target with these bans range in genre and age group. What they have in common is they name the reality of white supremacist violence, and the existence of genders beyond cis men and cis women.
As Tokuda-Hall shares in her protest post, any attention from Scholastic for a children’s book author is a boon. They are a multinational company based in the U.S. with a significant reach around the planet. They hold publishing rights to the most successful children’s books of all time, from Clifford the Big Red Dog to the Hunger Games, to series like Goosebumps and The Baby-Sitter’s Club. They distribute their catalogue globally, in more than fifty countries.
And they are bowing to the bigoted legislation of right wing politicians in the United States.
This looks a lot like a corporation with the biggest market and global influence taking the path of least resistance for the sake of the bottom line. It looks like putting authors in the position where they must compromise their ethics and morals if they want to be picked up by the greatest children’s publisher of our current day and age. It looks like the creeping edge of censorship when turning down this kind of contract could be the difference between an author being able to afford healthcare and support their families or not.
Scholastic also holds the licensing to Harry Potter.
J.K. Rowling has firmly established herself as a bigoted transmisogynist. Folks had been critiquing and flagging things about her work for years already, but her villainy really took off in 2018. The way she’s weaponises her platform against the trans community is genuinely damaging.2 She has fully embraced a warped way of thinking that masquerades as feminism when it is anything but. She is a gender essentialist buying into a binary that has never existed3. She paints trans women as sexual predators and trans men as confused and easily manipulated. Some of her biggest fans these days are Nazis and right wing media broadcasters. It is abundantly clear that J.K. Rowling hates trans people.
When Nazis applaud your views, you are on the wrong side of history.
It should also be noted that a U.S. politican has been quoted her. A Republican Senator who is fine with violating the human right to bodily autonomy. A member of the political party working to pass legislation to censor books that include trans and queer characters or any mention of racism.
After I finished reading Tokuda-Hall’s piece these dots instantly connected for me. Scholastic makes bank off of Harry Potter. J.K Rowling’s work is likely their largest asset. The U.S. market is potentially one of their largest markets, likely close to their U.K. market. Both the U.S. and the U.K. are socially and politically hostile towards trans folk right now.
So if it looks like the U.S is sliding into fascism, then yeah, Scholastic is going to slide right along with it.4
Scholastic has a statement of Corporate Responsibility up on their site. As one would expect, a lot of it reads like a bloviated speech by a politician, flowery language that doesn’t necessarily say very much. The gist of the statement is that they are committed to ensuring children have access to books on the basis that books are an aspect of education and a strong part of community building.
The last line of their overall commitment statement reads:
“Engaging with impact and integrity is a meaningful reflection of Scholastic both as a global corporate citizen and a good neighbor in the many communities we serve.”
I could write a whole other piece unpacking the weirdness of treating corporations like “citizens” and “individuals” but this piece isn’t for that. Instead I simply want to consider the opening of that line: Engaging with impact and integrity.
Offering writers contracts on the condition that they let Scholastic censor their work certainly has an impact. One that most certainly doesn’t match any form of integrity I can think of.
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Scholastic has since issued an apology, but Tokuda-Hall’s worries are not unfounded. I do not think for one second this will be the end of this.
I can’t say this enough: Do not buy Harry Potter products. I you genuinely want the trans community, Jewish people, and fat people to consider you an ally, do not give J.K. Rowling your money. She is a hateful person who uses her immense wealth to turn that hate into policy. Don’t buy the video game. Get the books used if you feel the need to have them. Get them from a library. Go find some other fabulous children’s series to engage with.
I don’t think she realises that Intersex people exist and she has the most bath faith, reductive takes on sex and gender. Apparently women produce eggs. That’s it. So when you stop producing eggs you become…I dunno, a nebulous non-gender but also not because in her worldview there are just men and wobunds.
Capitalism and fascism make for terrifying bedfellows.