Tuesday, February 01, 2022

Rural Tenn. advocate says, don't paint locals with a broad brush; support our fight against book banning, she writes

McMinn County, Tennessee, is in the nationwide spotlight after the local school board voted to ban "Maus", a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust. The school board has been broadly denounced, but so too has the county as a whole. That's unjust, since many locals also object to the ban and are trying to reverse it, writes lifelong McMinn County resident Whitney Kimball Coe for The Daily Yonder. Social media and the mainstream media jumped on the issue after the Jan. 26 vote, and Coe gave an interview with CNN. expressing how many locals were angry about the decision. But many posts still painted Tennesseans with a broad brush.

"Do they think we’re not outraged, too, here in East Tennessee? Do they think we can’t speak up and respond for ourselves? Because let me tell you, I lay awake the night before the CNN interview indulging my own outrage and constructing a commentary that would eviscerate all book ban supporters and signal to the rest of the world that I, too, am pissed off. It would feel good to give into the outrage, the indignation, the snark," Coe writes. "But I let the outrage pass over and through me because I live here. We live here. These are our people, our schools, our kids. We spend our days relying on the trust and goodwill of our neighbors to make a life here. Neil Gaiman doesn’t shop at the Food City downtown. Trevor Noah doesn’t volunteer with the local United Way. CNN isn’t interested in solutions journalism and outrage is where relationships go to die."

McMinn County, Tenn.
(Wikipedia map)
Opportunistic commentary only alienates Tennesseans and makes them more likely to dig their heels in, Coe writes. "If you must write about us, at least give a damn about us. Outrage is the quick and easy response if you’re not committed to the sum of us; that is, if you’re only committed to signaling which side you’re on and don’t really care about communities outside your bubble."

She also notes that book banning, or attempts to do so, are not limited to Tennessee. "The American Library Association says the number of attempts to ban school library books was 67% higher in September 2021 than in September 2020, fueled in large part by conservative activists organizing at a national level with an eye toward influencing local politics," Coe writes. "This isn’t a McMinn County problem or a rural problem. We aren’t a novelty. We sure as hell shouldn’t be the scapegoats for deeper rifts in our national and global fabric."

Coe is vice president of is vice president of national programs for the Center for Rural Strategies, which publishes the Daily Yonder. She also directs the Rural Assembly, a national coalition that supports better policy and more opportunity for rural Americans.

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