The late author Toni Morrison, whose books tirelessly established and extended the Black literary canon, has found perhaps her most celebrated work, Beloved, at the center of the culture wars around education in Virginia.
Terry McAuliffe, the former Governor of Virginia who is the Democratic nominee in the race to replace incumbent Democrart Ralph Northam, accused his opponent, Republican Glenn Youngkin, of using a "racist dog whistle" when a woman who advocated to ban Beloved appeared in an ad Youngkin released last week.
In a move that appears designed to take a hard stance against censorship, McAuliffe's campaign staff has also been handing out copies of Beloved to the press, which they did recently at one of President Joe Biden's rallies.
Terry McAuliffe's staff, at Joe Biden rally in Virginia, are passing out Toni Morrison books to the press pic.twitter.com/NAHjDFQV3z
— Christopher Cadelago (@ccadelago) October 26, 2021
McAuliffe also released a statement criticizing the ad on the evening of October 25:
"In the final week of this race, Glenn Youngkin has doubled down on the same divisive culture wars that have fueled his campaign from the very beginning."
"Youngkin's closing message of book banning and silencing esteemed Black authors is a racist dog whistle designed to gin up support from the most extreme elements of his party — mainly his top endorser and surrogate, Donald Trump."
Many applauded the move.
💕💕I think I will reread Beloved again. https://t.co/CLq6ZA1xSj
— Setura (@ShaySetura22) October 27, 2021
This is the best news story of the day. https://t.co/CdX0hdCNHO
— HGBadassery (@hudsonposton) October 27, 2021
wait do I suddenly want to go to a mcauliffe rally? https://t.co/RPgrG0ncLD
— Robyn Sordelett, MSW (@robbiclairesord) October 27, 2021
Doing it right. Well played, McAuliffe campaign. https://t.co/Gzte3qfrEb
— Charlotte Clymer 🏳️🌈 (@cmclymer) October 27, 2021
Truly good for them. Describing Terry McAuliffe as “the left" makes me want to cap myself, but very broadly, it's time for the left and Democrats to own the issue of free speech / anti-censorship. https://t.co/XaM7YBHuP4
— Jill Filipovic (@JillFilipovic) October 27, 2021
The kind of trolling where everyone wins. https://t.co/bBtgLBwkUY
— Fred the Grey Cat, MA (@FredTheGreyCat) October 27, 2021
Beloved, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988, is the story of a woman haunted by the spirit of the daughter she murdered to spare her from being subjected to the horrors of slavery.
Morrison would later win the Nobel Prize for Literature and receive worldwide recognition for work that has been largely praised for addressing the harsh consequences of racism in the United States.
Naturally, Morrison's works have often been targeted for censorship. Two of her books, The Bluest Eye and Beloved, appear on the American Library Association's latest "Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books" list.
Laura Murphy, the mother who campaigned to get Beloved banned from Virginia schools, once claimed that reading the book gave her then 17-year-old son night terrors.
Speaking in Youngkin's ad, Murphy recalls that her heart "sunk" when she saw her son's reading material, referring to it as "some of the most explicit material you can imagine."
Youngkin, for his part, remains undeterred by McAuliffe's remarks.
He has regularly used his Twitter account to attack McAuliffe, who he recently accused of "pushing the divisive political agenda of critical race theory into schools."
Critical race theory is a body of legal and academic scholarship that aims to examine how racism and disparate racial outcomes have shaped public policy via often implicit social and institutional dynamics.
Although critical race theory is just one branch of an incredibly varied arena of academic scholarship, it has nonetheless served as a flashpoint among the far-right amid a campaign by Republicans to energize conservative voters, particularly in school board elections.