Whitney Kimball Coe, director of national programs for the Center for Rural Strategies, advises those who are outraged about the removal of MAUS from the eighth grade curriculum by the McMinn County School Board to support those in the South and rural areas who agree with them, instead of showering them with contempt and condescension. She was invited to appear on CNN to talk about the decision, and she had a sleepless night trying to find the right way to condemn the decision without condemning her neighbors.

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.

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.

There’s no cure for opportunism. With each op-ed from another coastal publication, Tennessee becomes more alienated, and our public officials dig their heels in deeper. And those of us dissenting locally are left to bridge the gap, trying to figure out how to protect our hometown and organize for change. 

As I lay awake, I remembered that the only side I’m on is the one that keeps the door open to a relationship, and one day, community transformation. When the rest of the world tires of tweeting, expounding and publishing op-eds about this ban, I’ll still be here: raising a family, living, working, organizing, and praying in a community that has my heart. I’ve got to be on the side of holding that together.

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. 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.

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.

If you want to signal to the world that you’re on the side of solutions and repair, then write or tweet as a repairer of the breach.

Write about the donations that have poured into our local library these last days, both monetary and in the form of copies of the books! Look at the people who have been inspired to run for the school board. Talk about how one local parish is hosting a community-wide book discussion and conversation about the history of anti-Semitism in the Christian church. Celebrate Maus flying off bookshelves and selling out on Amazon. Find opportunities to deliver copies to kids in our community and around the world.

After reading her article, I went to the library website. I saw that every copy of MAUS had been checked out and had a hold on it when it was returned. I made a donation to the library. You could too.