At the beginning of September in honor of International Literacy Day, USA Today pulled together several interesting charts and statistics about adult literacy across the USA. One of the big takeaways is that most adults–130 million–read at or below a sixth grade level.
Something this roundup of statistics did not include, though, was the broad range of literacies available to us and where or how they appear in US adults. We are in a media-rich environment, where mis-, dis-, and mal- information are rampant, and because of the changing landscape for news, we’re frequently beholden to sources that cannot be verified several times over or to sources that simply want to spread agenda-laden lies for clicks.
Book banners have seized this opportunity. Three years’ worth of videos and stories show how people read passages from books out of context, labeling them everything from pornographic to explicit. Time and time again, they succeed and continue to gain ground because, well, some of those passages are pretty surprising to hear read aloud. If more than half of American adults do not have literacy skills greater than that of a 12 year old, how do we expect them to question the notion of context? How can we expect them to question where or how the same books are being challenged in community after community, with the same passages being performed, recorded, and spread across the internet as proof of a (manufactured) crisis?
Groups like Moms For Liberty not only exploit this, but they perpetuate it.
On September 8, Clay Bennett–one of the few editorial cartoonists still employed by a newspaper–published this chilling work in the Chattanooga Times Free Press:
In it we see a blood-soaked bear wearing a shirt with the Moms For Liberty logo on it. Beside the mama bear, two cubs who are unscathed. But the reason those cubs are unscathed is because that mother has taken part in a gruesome act of murder. There are destroyed rainbow flags, representing LGBTQ+ people, alongside torn up books, posters, and indeed, two sets of feet representing dead children.
One of those sets of feet is missing a shoe, presumably from the extreme way in which the individual was killed.
The cubs are safe because their mama killed people who were unlike them, and even though they are safe, neither of the cubs looks particularly happy with their mother’s actions. If anything, they look concerned about the destruction before them and, presumably, they witnessed.
The impact of the cartoon is big. It sends a harsh message about the reality of groups like Moms For Liberty: they’re going to kill people to get their way.
Moms For Liberty did not like this cartoon. But you would never know that, as the national group shared the cartoon onto their own social media. It looks a little bit different than the original though:
Gone from the cartoon are its attribution and several of the indicators of the violence that happened. The rainbow flag is cut. Indeed, Moms For Liberty took the cartoon and made it look like their own work–the watermark credit is very difficult to see on the image because of how they cropped it–and they tweeted it with no attribution. Their comment? “Looks like the cubs are unscathed. Good job Mama.”
The group took a cartoon meant to shed light on their violence and turned it into an opportunity to incite more violence. Conveniently removed from the image tweeted are the legs of the dead people (we only see part of their feet), the rainbow flag, and the textbooks that made it clear this was school-centered violence.
We know Moms For Liberty lies by omission in order to push through their right-wing, christofascist agenda. They take advantage of poor literacy to further encourage and rile up their base. They pull materials out of context in order to present an argument which, without the context, would have no merit–see how they did this in Iowa, one example among hundreds.
This is the same group wherein one of the founders has just been installed on Florida’s State Commission on Ethics.
Book bans are going to continue. Moms For Liberty and their cavalcade of similar groups across the country will continue to inspire people to join them because they know the statistics. They know how to manipulate information however feels most advantageous to their causes.
As long as it means their kids are okay, then who cares about the dead queer kids?