The book Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher, has become controversial in Grand Rapids, Michigan, because one of the stories contains the word "nigger." After a parent complained, the teacher was suspended and the book was removed from the schools, including the libraries.

Controversy over racially sensitive themes and language is not new. For example, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a frequent target of similar censorship efforts. African-American authors are disproportionately attacked on these grounds. Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Alice Walker, Walter Dean Myers, Toni Morrison, and many others, have been challenged, even though their books represent efforts to expose the reality of racism and the harm it causes.

Crutcher's story is no different. Crutcher himself says the book is about "how bigotry flows down the generational river through innocence." To make his point, he says, he used "a sadistic weapon of a word that has been used in this nation's history like a hammer. You don't hide a word like that. You expose it. You tell the truth about it." Crutcher's response to critics is available at www.chriscrutcher.com, which also provides links to the extensive press coverage of the dispute.

"African American teachers all over the country" have praised the story, according to Crutcher. As have some parents. One wrote, "As an African American parent of an 11 year old, I found the story helpful in showing the realities of racism….if we are to be a truly inclusive society, racial dialogue must take place between all of us, and African Americans cannot be the only ones to hold the podium to speak on issues of race." Another self defined "minority" expressed hope that the book would help people "see life different and …walk in our moccasins for a while."

If you wish to express an opinion about this situation, names and addresses of Grand Rapids school officials are listed below.

Grand Rapids Schools
1331 Franklin SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49501-0117
Bert Bleke, Superintendent
(blekeb@grps.k12.mi.us)

School board:
David C. Allen, President
Amy McGlynn, Vice President
Cathy Mueller, Treasurer
Luis Pena, Secretary
Nancy L. Capriglione
Rhonda K. Grochowalski
Lisa Hinkel
Rev. Kenneth W. Hoskins
James R. Rinck