This year marks the 90th anniversary of the birth of the iconic essayist, author, literary provocateur and civil rights advocate James Baldwin. Unfortunately Baldwin's work is disappearing from many high school classrooms, notes the New York Times.
[E]ducators offer different reasons for Baldwin’s faded presence there, from the concern that he is too controversial and complex to the perception that he has been eclipsed by other African-American voices. Collectively the explanations illustrate how attitudes about race have changed, along with the way the high school literary experience has evolved.
"I think he’s not taught as much anymore on the high school level because he’s incendiary and, for some, inflammatory," said Rich Blint, a Baldwin scholar and associate director in the Office of Community Outreach and Education at the Columbia University School of the Arts. Paradoxically, the belief that the country is somehow postracial, Mr. Blint said, has shut down some discussions about race. "Think about how impoverished our racial conversations are now."
Educators also cite poor reading habits, censorship and Baldwin’s absence from the list of works suggested for Common Core standards as reasons his works are not studied regularly. And since the late ’70s and early ’80s, as school districts have scrambled for more diverse subject matter in the classroom, Baldwin has had to share space with a new crop of black writers, especially women: Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. Over the years, some parents and schools have also challenged what they saw as the sexual material, violence and profanity in Baldwin’s work. Sex — interracial and intraracial, gay and straight — is prominent in his fiction. His raw dissections of race also raised concerns.
From the 1940s until his death in 1987, Baldwin was at the center of the national conversation on race, social justice and civil rights. What is most fascinating about Baldwin is that his work addressed Black identity and gay consciousness issues before the Civil Rights Movement and/or Stonewall. It would be fascinating to hear what his take would be today.