Why We Need To Have Hard Conversations About Book Bans And … – Forbes

American poet Amanda Gorman reads a poem during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. … [+] Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)
Last week, I joined a group of neighborhood moms on a day trip from suburban Washington, D.C. to New York City. We were on our way to see a new Broadway satire about four white educators planning a “politically correct” First Thanksgiving play during Native American History month.
The four-hour drive was filled with snacks and carpool karaoke, interspersed with chatter ranging from the mundane (swim team practice and college move-in logistics) to the serious (the ongoing war in Ukraine). And then, at once, our smart phones dinged with breaking news: Amanda Gorman’s poem, “The Hill We Climb,” had been banned in a Miami-Dade public elementary school.
I expected an immediate consensus along the lines of “Wow, that’s nuts! What can possibly be offensive about that poem?” Instead, the back-and-forth conversation brought up everything from process questions (Did the content meet the current standards for this district’s elementary schools?) to an assessment of the media coverage (with some assertions on journalistic standards) to a literary analysis of the poem’s messages.
The feelings were big and real. A senior Capitol Hill staffer, who was at work on January 6th and present when the poem was later read on Inauguration Day, shared that the poem hangs framed in her home and on a bookshelf in her office. This is a piece of work that matters to her deeply.
But it got me thinking: How are we ever going to have hard conversations if we don’t start at the beginning? I’m fortunate to have safe spaces for these discussions, but what about others? Why is it so important to have these hard discussions?
The irony of such a discussion among close friends in route to a show that poked fun at politics in schools was not lost on me. And in the case of the Thanksgiving Play, is it okay to laugh about it?
I turned to my trusted ICF ICF colleague and friend, Kary James, a diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility expert who enables the delivery of equity-centered design solutions for federal agencies. I wanted to know how she felt about this recent ban and if it was the topic of conversation among her friends and colleagues. I also wanted to ask her why, even among close friends and colleagues, it was so hard to broach sensitive topics.
Kary understood the situation, and echoed just how hard it was to have these- well, hard- conversations. “They are not comfortable, but they are necessary,” said Kary. “Making progress towards a more equitable world requires vulnerability, trust, discussion, and all of that starts with difficult conversations about sensitive topics.”
And Kary’s reaction to the ban? “I wasn’t surprised at all,” she said. “Everything around the topic of race and gender and equality is uncomfortable. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the hard conversations.”
Other than the obvious uncomfortableness and vulnerability, what is it about these conversations that make them so charged, so difficult? Kary pointed to her own consulting work helping clients identify, evaluate, and resolve structural inequities. “There’s a lot of internalized shame and guilt when it comes to these difficult conversations, from what’s culturally appropriate to why certain books are banned,” said James.
Still wondering how to approach these difficult topics in a way that could lead to understanding and change, I asked Kary where to begin. “Start with a position of trust and identify space spaces to hold these discussions,” she said.
For me, it started with that discussion in the minivan heading north on I-95, but expanded when some of us did our own follow-up research and held additional deeper dive discussions with others. “Know that there isn’t an easy button here,” said Kary. “Everyone needs to decide where they are on the solutioning journey.”


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