Voting & Incarceration: “The More Things Change, The More They Remain The Same.”

Last week, I wrote about Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, et al., a voting rights case the U. S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear. They will decide whether federal law allows Ohio to penalize infrequent voters by purging them from the voter rolls.

In a comment to that post, Melanie from Grab the Lapels wrote: “I would love to read a blog post from you about voting and the prison population. I’m not sure I understand what rights inmates have/don’t have and why.”

So, Melanie, this post is for you!

The voting rights of felons and ex-felons varies by state, so I turned to The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) for their summary of state laws. They said:

State approaches to felon disenfranchisement vary tremendously. In Maine and Vermont, felons never lose their right to vote, even while they are incarcerated. In Florida, Iowa and Virginia, felons and ex-felons permanently lose their right to vote. Virginia and Florida have supplementary programs which facilitate gubernatorial pardons. The remaining states each have their own approaches to the issue.

[Check out NCSL’s chart for more information, linked above]

About six million Americans are not allowed to vote because of a felony conviction. This type of disenfranchisement stems from an archaic concept we inherited from Europe known as “civil death,” the idea that the government should punish people for their crimes by denying them the right to ever fully participate in society again.

Our modern laws have largely departed from this overly harsh concept of punishment, except in certain circumstances, such as the voting rights of felons and ex-felons.

The states that treat individuals convicted of felonies the worst when it comes to voting have more racial diversity than the states that treat them the best. The only two states that do not disenfranchise felons are Vermont and Maine, racially homogeneous places where well over 90% of the population is white. Racial and ethnic minorities are overrepresented in the prison populations in these states, but the vast majority of inmates are white (see VT’s prison profile here, and see ME’s prison profile here).

When I saw these demographics, I thought about the recently released Urban Institute Study that found that “States with larger African American populations, all else equal, have less generous and more restrictive TANF [Welfare] policies.” As the authors explained:

If voters or policymakers perceive people receiving welfare as different from themselves, they may believe that welfare dependency is caused more by personal shortcomings than by circumstances beyond one’s control.

A similar bias may be at work when it comes to voting rights. In racially homogeneous states, the general population and lawmakers are more likely to identify with prison inmates, making them both less likely to see individuals with criminal histories as unredeemable and less likely to feel threatened by maintaining their right to vote.

Laws prohibiting felons from voting have a discriminatory effect on racial minorities, whose right to vote, once finally guaranteed by the Constitution, has been long subjected to discriminatory suppression efforts. [And let’s not forget the ways our criminal justice system is biased against racial minorities; see the comments below]

In The New Jim Crow,* in which Michelle Alexander argues that we have redesigned America’s Jim Crow racial caste system through mass incarceration, we meet Jarvious Cotton, a man who cannot vote:

Like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather, he has been denied the right to participate in our electoral democracy. Cotton’s family tree tells the story of several generations of black men who were born in the United States but who were denied the most basic freedom that democracy promises–the freedom to vote for those who will make the rules and laws that govern one’s life. Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Ku Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation. His father was barred from voting by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Jarvious Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole.

Mr. Cotton was one of the plaintiffs in Cotton v. Fordice, 157 F.3d 388 (5th Cir. 1998),** which held that:

Although it appears that the constitutional disqualifying provision [prohibiting the vote] originally intended to discriminate against black felons, its recent re-enactment by the people of Mississippi has not been shown to bear that taint.

The opinion, written by Judge Edith H. Jones (who is still on the Court), is truly incomprehensible. Not only is it hard to believe the court would describe a reenactment from 1968 as ‘“recent” in a 1998 opinion, but its reasoning is also hard to accept:

The state defendants do not dispute that § 241 was enacted in a [sic] era when southern states discriminated against blacks by disenfranchising convicts for crimes that, it was thought, were committed primarily by blacks…

[However,] Section 241, as enacted in 1890, was amended in 1950, removing ‘burglary’ from the list of disenfranchising crimes. Then, in 1968, the state broadened the provision by adding ‘murder’ and ‘rape’–crimes historically excluded from the list because they were not considered “black” crimes. Amending § 241 was a deliberative process.

…Because Mississippi’s procedure resulted both in 1950 and in 1968 in a re-enactment of § 241, each amendment superseded the previous provision and removed the discriminatory taint associated with the original version.

(Emphasis added).

So, basically, in the court’s opinion, 1950s and ‘60s Mississippi was a post-racial utopia, despite the countless murders of African Americans and civil rights workers in that state, including Medgar Evers in 1963 and James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in 1964. I’m also shocked the court would believe that racists in 1950 and 1968 didn’t wrongly consider rape a crime committed predominately by black people. So-called “protection” of white women from black men was the stated reason for numerous lynchings and prosecutions in the south, such as the murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955 and the prosecution of the Scottsboro Boys in 1930s Alabama. It’s also the basis of the fictional legal case at the heart of the 1961 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.

The Cotton opinion is now two decades old, but it still stands, as does Richardson v. Ramirez, 418 U.S. 24 (1974), in which the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of laws prohibiting felons from voting.

It’s time for our courts to revisit this issue, though I’m not so sure they would come to a different conclusion. As Michelle Alexander says in The New Jim Crow, the disenfranchisement of felons exemplifies the old saying that “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”


*See also, Confronting My Own Bias About The New Jim Crow.

**Mr. Cotton’s appeal was dismissed before reaching the appellate court, so the Cotton opinion is about another plaintiff in that case, Keith Brown, who was serving a sentence for armed robbery in Mississippi and wanted to vote.

Impeachment: A Complicated Solution to a Dangerous Presidential Problem

The constant flow of information about Donald Trump’s scandalous and dysfunctional administration has intensified the calls to remove him from office.

But what is the impeachment process, and what will it take to use it against Trump effectively? The process stems from provisions in our Constitution that have long baffled scholars, jurists, and lawmakers:

Article I:

Section 2: The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

Section 3: The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

Article II:

Section 4: The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

(emphasis added).

Much of the controversy around impeachment surrounds the meaning of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” What actions qualify? The answer might be as simple as, “whatever Congress thinks qualifies.” Given how the House has “sole Power of Impeachment” and the Senate has “sole Power to try all Impeachments,” it seems likely that, under most theories of Constitutional law and the separation of powers, the Supreme Court would have no say in deciding if a particular “high crime” or “misdemeanor” was sufficient for impeachment and removal.

The House of Representatives has impeached two presidents, but the Senate convicted neither of them. Still, those experiences, plus the impeachment proceedings of a number of other elected officials, give us an idea of what the process entails.

To impeach a president, the process begins in the House of Representatives after a simple majority approves the charges against the President (known as the Articles of Impeachment). Then the Senate holds a trial, over which the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides. Two-thirds of the Senate must vote to convict and remove the President from office.

Impeached ThumbnailSo far, the Senate has never voted to convict an impeached President, but it came close to doing so in 1868, when Andrew Johnson kept his office by one vote. To learn more about what happened, I read Impeached: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy by David O. Stewart.

Andrew Johnson became President after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, a few weeks before the official end of the bloody Civil War. Republicans added Johnson to Lincoln’s presidential ticket as a symbolic gesture, hoping a Tennessean would show that they were not only a party of the North.

However, as Stewart explains:

Elected on the Republican ticket, Johnson longed to cut himself free from that party. He did not share its principles, its goals, or its brief history.

Johnson sounds like Donald Trump, the nominal head of a party he barely belongs to. Trump and Johnson have so much in common that many portions of Stewart’s book felt as though they could have been about Mr. Trump if we changed the dates and replaced names with “the President,” “Department official” and “Congressman.” For example:

  • “Quickly, the audience could tell that something was wrong.  [The President’s] face glowed a luminous red. His sentences were incomplete, not connected to each other.”
  • “[The President] had misplayed his hand. Rather than acting the statesman who wished to unify the nation, he behaved like a political brawler with a grandiose self-image.”
  • “[T]he president’s provocative and racist rhetoric failed to unite Republicans against him.”
  • “[The] vindictive spirit blinded [the President] to the damage he was doing to his own cause.”
  • And, as Carl Schurz remembered about Johnson in 1907: “There was a widespread feeling among well-meaning and sober people that the country was really in some sort of peril, and that it would be a good thing to get rid of that dangerous man in the presidential chair.”

There are also differences between Johnson and Trump, one being that Johnson was a hard worker (while Trump spends more time playing golf than any President in recent memory) and Congressional Republicans were ultimately more apt to counter the President in Andrew Johnson’s time than the current version of that party is willing to do today.

With Johnson, Republicans like Thaddeus Stevens laid the groundwork for his impeachment for years, failing multiple times to get a majority in the House to approve the Articles of Impeachment. The charges were “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which required something more than simply being “unfit” for the presidency. It helped the impeachment effort when Johnson violated the Tenure of Office Act by replacing the Secretary of War. Republicans in the House then approved, finally, the Articles of Impeachment, but the Senate did not convict, falling short of the required two-thirds by one vote.

It remains to be seen whether Donald Trump will be the first U. S. President to be convicted and removed from office. So far, the GOP’s Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have shown nothing but tacit approval of Mr. Trump’s misdeeds that, at best, show him to be unfit for the presidency and, at worse, raise the specter of treason.

We’re still uncovering the facts, but these disturbing actions (among others) could underscore the case for impeachment against Trump (& the list grows daily!):

  • Trump allegedly demanded “loyalty” from FBI Director James Comey, and then fired him amid the FBI’s ongoing investigation of Trump’s connections with Russia, a country that interfered in our election to benefit him. The stated reason for Comey’s firing—that it was based on Comey’s mishandling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server—is laughable coming from a man who gleefully encouraged his supporters to chant “Lock her up” during his campaign. So, it’s pretext, and the question is whether it’s obstruction of justice, an impeachable “high crime and misdemeanor.”
  • To make matters even more deplorable, we have just learned that Trump allegedly asked Comey to end the investigation into Michael Flynn’s connections and communications with Russia. (And now, Jason Chaffetz, the Chair of the House Oversight Committee, has sent a letter to the FBI requesting Comey documents).
  • Then there’s the allegation that Trump disclosed classified information to Russian officials, which looks treasonous on the surface, but does not meet the Constitution’s narrow definition of “treason.” Nevertheless, the flippant disclosure of highly sensitive and important information could support impeachment, particularly when coupled with other reckless acts.
  • And let’s not forget the evidence that Trump and his associates may have violated the emoluments clause of Article I of the Constitution, which prohibits public officials from taking something of value from foreign governments. The question is whether the benefits Trump has allegedly received from foreign governments amount to accepting bribes (a separate impeachable offense) or whether it’s corruption qualifying as a “high crime and misdemeanor.” See The Emoluments Clause: Its Text, Meaning, and Application to Donald J. Trump.

The American People deserve to know the facts surrounding these serious allegations. We need Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and their colleagues to finally stand up to Donald Trump. Our democracy remains at risk until either our Republican-led Congress prioritizes the good of the country over its loyalty to Trump or the American people vote them out of office.

*Image: Impeachment In A Horn (1868),

“I Hate Seeing You Walk”: Thoughts on A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

Teenager Veda Venkat, the star of Padma Venkatraman’s A Time to Dance, believes she excels at only one thing: Bharatanatyam dance. The rhythmic beats of this classical Indian dance speak a magical language to her, changing the way she sees herself. As she explains:

my graceful movements make up for

my incorrectly proportioned face.

I can dance beauty into my body.

Dancing defines Veda to such a degree that when an accident takes away her leg below her knee, it threatens to take away her identity too. A Time to Dance is a lyrical novel, written in verse, that describes the poignant process of healing after a profound loss.

I do not know what it is like to lose a limb, an aspect of the novel that is not #ownvoices, but Veda’s feelings felt realistic to me and even somewhat familiar based on losses I’ve experienced in my life. Veda experiences a range of feelings, from grief to jealousy, as she reestablishes herself as a dancer despite the physical changes she has endured.

She says to her best friend, for example, “I hate seeing you walk.”

This line reminded me of how much I hated the sight of pregnant women after my twin pregnancy ended at 26 weeks, leaving my daughters struggling for their lives in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for 78 days. It made me feel like a monster to hate looking at pregnant women, but I couldn’t help it. Those feelings only intensified when my next pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage, making me believe my body was irrevocably broken. My final pregnancy ended well over a month early, and my daughter spent a few days in the NICU. It was a better result than we’d ever had before, but still far from what I had hoped.

I hadn’t realized the degree to which I had absorbed my culture’s emphasis on female reproductive capacity–the terribly harmful and inaccurate belief that a woman’s role is to have children–until I just couldn’t achieve it the “right” way. I wondered what was wrong with me.

Those feelings of inadequacy have dissipated, thanks to time and the fact that my three children are now healthy. Looking at my twins now, you’d never know how fragile they once were. As a result, I am in a position to appreciate the silver linings of my family’s tumultuous beginning, and I even look back on our time in the NICU fondly (see Rosy Retrospection & #ReadingEmily). I’ve come a long way since those harrowing days beside my children’s incubators, watching their heart rates fall.

In A Time to Dance, Veda ends up in a similar place, feeling stronger as a result of her loss. To find out how she gets there, please read the book. I highly recommend it.

A Time to Dance is ideal for readers of middle grade and young adult fiction. One of my nine-year-old twins read it four times in a row because she loved it so much.


*Recommended by the Huntress of Diverse Books. Thanks, Sinead.

Defining “Hendren”: An Update on a Lawmaker’s Attempt to Ban Howard Zinn’s Books

Here’s an overdue update on Arkansas Representative Kim Hendren’s unconstitutional bill to ban Howard Zinn’s books from public and charter schools in his state:

Initially, Hendren’s bill prohibited public and charter schools from including any of Zinn’s books (or any materials about Zinn’s books) in the curricula under any circumstances. See Why is Arkansas Rep. Kim Hendren So Afraid of Howard Zinn’s Books?

A few weeks later, on March 21, 2017, Hendren sponsored an amendment that would permit schools to include Zinn’s books only if those materials are presented in “a balanced manner that considers other opinions and points of view.”

It may seem like a good idea to require the presentation of other “points of view,” but there’s always a question about what that means. Would a teacher have to counter Zinn’s People’s History of the United States with racist garbage? Or would a traditional history book that whitewashes and softens the horrors of our past be sufficient?

Thankfully, it doesn’t look like we’ll have to find out. Earlier this month, Common Dreams and the Arkansas Times blog reported that Hendren’s bill died in committee. Based on Hendren’s amendment to his own bill and its short lifespan, I can only assume he heard an earful from his constituents.

In my opinion, this is an example of how we, the people, really do have the power to impact the legislative process. Making a phone call or writing a letter to a lawmaker seems so insignificant, but it’s not. As Zinn said in The Optimism of Uncertainty (and elsewhere), “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”

While I doubt Hendren heard from millions of people, he certainly heard from many, making the demise of his bill an example of Howard Zinn’s point. The death of his proposed law doesn’t quite “transform” the world, but I hope the experience has taught Arkansas’s lawmakers an important lesson about promoting censorship. We’ll see.

Unsurprisingly, Hendren’s censorship effort had the opposite effect on access to Zinn’s ideas. As Bill Bigelow reports in Common Dreams (linked above):

In response [to Hendren’s bill], the Zinn Education Project—a collaboration between Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change, which I co-direct—offered to send free copies of a Howard Zinn book and A People’s History for the Classroom lessons to any Arkansas middle or high school teacher or school librarian requesting them.

In just a few days, we were flooded with requests. Many of them came accompanied by poignant notes about why people were eager to get the materials. One middle school librarian in Western Grove, Arkansas, near the Missouri border (population 373), wrote, ‘The proposed bill to ban Mr. Zinn’s book has fired up the Arkansas librarian world. To combat ignorance, I must have knowledge. I respectfully request a copy so I can educate my tiny corner of the world.’

By the beginning of April, nearly 700 Arkansas teachers and school librarians received copies of Zinn’s books. That’s wonderful, isn’t it?

Bigelow also detailed his conversation with the man responsible for spreading those books across the state, Kim Hendren, who reportedly explained the motivation for his bill like this:

I think my constituents had seen some stuff on the internet or media. And Rick Santorum had mentioned it. I’d never heard of Howard Zinn. I’d never heard of the man.

Wow. I’ll give Hendren credit for engaging in the conversation, even if his responses are laughable. In addition to learning a thing or two about the stupidity of censorship, Hendren also needs to learn a lesson about emulating Rick “Man-on-Dog” Santorum, whose name is synonymous with an occasional byproduct of anal sex.

If Hendren isn’t careful, he might be appalled to learn how the American people will define his last name someday.

Here is HB 1834 in its different stages:

The Scent of Old Books: How Do You Describe It?

“The smell of books intrigues and inspires,” Cecilia Bembibre and Matija Strlic write in their research article, Smell of Heritage: a Framework for the Identification, Analysis and Archival of Historic Odours. They contend that smells, such as the scent of historic paper, are part of our cultural heritage and worthy of conservation and inclusion in museums. As they explain, citing guidelines by the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England: “the smells of a place are considered of value because they affect our experience of it. For this reason, they should be taken into account when defining the character of a historic area.”

To explore the identification and documentation of historic smells, the researchers studied the odor of old books, looking for ways to communicate how it smells. The sample book was Les Chardons du Baragan, published in 1928 and purchased from a second-hand bookstore in London. Study participants smelled an extract of this book as one of eight unidentified odors, which included “chocolate,” “coal fire,” “old inn,” “fish market,” “dirty linen,” “coffee,” and “HP sauce.”

Participants described the historic book smell in a variety of ways. The word “chocolate” was the most prevalent description. The next most common descriptions were “coffee,” “old,” “wood,” and “burnt.”

Meanwhile, participants chose the following words to describe the smell of Wren Library at St. Paul’s Cathedral, a historic library: woody, smoky, earthy, vanilla, musty, sweet, almond, pungent, medicinal, floral, fruity, green, rancid, bread, citrus, sour, and creamy.

The authors of the study connected this information to a chemical evaluation of the historic paper odor and created a odor wheel so that “untrained noses could identify an aroma from the description and gain information about the chemical causing the odour.”

I, with my “untrained nose,” have always loved the smell of old books, especially the earthy fragrance that permeated my undergraduate library. I described this aroma in my new adult novel, Two Lovely Berries (2014), like this:

I spent much of my time at Yale, probably too much of it, in Sterling Memorial Library, a grand building in need of no ivy, where the stacks led to well-hidden reading rooms that were empty enough for me to think or daydream without interruption. A faint musty scent hung in the air, the smell of tradition and scholarship; I wore it like a perfume.

Fond memories of that “faint musty scent” at the same alma mater aren’t the only similarities between Nora Daly’s fictional life and my real one, but it’s all I’m willing to admit.  😉

Sterling Memorial Library in New Haven, CT

*Cecilia Bembibre & Matija Strlic, Smell of Heritage: A Framework for the Identification, Analysis and Archival of Historic Odours, Heritage Science (2017) (linked above).

**See also, The Quest to Better Describe the Scent of Old Books (

A Family Secret

A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life by Allyson Hobbs begins “on a sizzling summer morning in the late 1930s” with the real-life account of a young girl watching the Bud Billiken Parade, a celebration honoring the black children of Chicago’s South Side. Hobbs writes:

The young girl could not have known that this would be her last time hearing the marching bands and the cheering crowds… She looked white, as did both of her parents. At the insistence of her mother, she would move far away from Chicago’s South Side to Los Angeles to live the rest of her life as a white woman apart from her family. It was not her choice. She pleaded with her mother; she did not want to leave her family, her friends, and the only life she had ever known. But her mother was determined and the matter was decided.

It’s a heartbreaking loss for this child and for her family, and it makes me wonder if my own ancestors had similar experiences. In Uncovering Our Roots: Why Does Family History Matter?, I discussed my predominantly Sri Lankan and Irish background, but said:

I wonder sometimes whether it would matter if I suddenly learned, possibly through a DNA test, that we hail from a different area of the world, perhaps through a later migration from Africa, East Asia, or Eastern Europe?

As it turns out, a later DNA test revealed my family’s African ancestry. It’s likely that my great-grandfather, born in 1897 and described by relatives who knew him as having a “perpetual tan,” came from a mixed-race, African American family at a time when the “one-drop” rule assigned racial identity for legal purposes. I don’t know what he knew of his background or what he thought about it. He married a white woman and had children, including my grandmother, whom everyone assumed was white.

So far, the closest I’ve come to understanding what my great-grandfather might have experienced as a racially ambiguous man is through Hobbs’s book. A Chosen Exile highlights the complicated nature of racial identity, underscores the absurdity of racial categorization, and challenges the common presumption that passing as white was an unequivocally beneficial experience. She writes: “Indeed, it is my contention that the core issue of passing is not becoming what you pass for, but losing what you pass away from.”

Many racially ambiguous people chose not to pass as white. As Hobbs explains:

[T]he lion’s share of evidence points to light-skinned African Americans who made the decision to identify as black and who worked tirelessly to build and sustain free black communities.

Others, however, chose to pass (or were forced to) in order to gain the social and economic privileges associated with whiteness. Depending on the era in which it was achieved, benefits of passing included escaping slavery, traveling freely, attending elite schools, and acquiring jobs reserved for white people.

But those benefits came at a steep price, as the experience of that young girl from Chicago so painfully illustrates.

By passing as white, individuals lost their black identities, their families, their communities, and their cultures. Their ancestry became a secret handed down through the generations. A DNA test or genealogical research may uncover the truth, as it did for my family, but a test result is a poor substitute for lost heritage.

When Wisdom Isn’t Timeless

To satisfy the nostalgia that arrives annually with my birthday, I revisited Irene Hunt’s Up a Road Slowly, a 1966 coming-of-age novel that won the Newbery Medal in 1967. I read it for the first time in the early 1990s, when I was in the fifth grade. I stumbled across it in my school library on one of the lower shelves by the window facing a vegetable patch. I loved that vista, and I loved this book. It reminded me of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, another sentimental and gracefully-written story featuring a strong-willed young woman navigating the challenges of growing up.

Up a Road Slowly was Hunt’s second novel, published two years after her first, when she was almost sixty. The novel’s Aunt Cordelia is similarly mature, a woman who uses the lessons she’s learned in her life to guide her young niece, Julie Trelling.

When I first picked up this novel, I was only a few years older than little Julie was when she moved in with her Aunt, and much of Aunt Cordelia’s advice applied to me too. Julie is a child who makes mistakes, a child who can be cruel sometimes, a child who is learning. In other words, she’s a typical kid who shouldn’t be defined by the follies and missteps of childhood. As Aunt Cordelia explains to her, “You’re neither cruel nor mean; basically, you are a very good child. You’re just young.”

It’s a point I appreciate even more now that I’m a parent guiding my own children to adulthood. They will make mistakes, just like I did (and still do).

However, like virtually all classics, aspects of this novel are problematic, something I see more clearly now than I did when I was eleven. It’s a book from a time when people, even relatively enlightened ones, willfully ignored or actively suppressed society’s complexity and diversity. Reflecting this oppressive world, Up a Road Slowly makes no mention of racial, ethnic, or religious diversity. It is also hetero- and cisnormative, terms coined many years after the novel first appeared on the shelves. As a result, this book quietly promotes messages that cannot go unchecked, messages that could be especially painful for children who do not identify with these so-called norms.

For example, Aunt Cordelia, commenting upon a child she once taught, says, “Now that one was bound for trouble from the first. She was boy crazy before she was quite aware that there were two sexes.” She also says, “A woman is never completely developed until she has loved a man.”

Plus, while Julie is a young girl who embraces the freedom of blue jeans (instead of dresses) and questions her older sister’s behind-the-scenes research supporting the work of a man, she largely accepts that it’s “a man’s world.” She does her best to follow her Uncle Haskell’s advice to “learn how to play the game gracefully.”

I wasn’t so impressionable at age eleven to adopt Up a Road Slowly’s old-fashioned world view, and today, I am a public interest lawyer devoted to changing the discriminatory rules of “the game” through litigation, education, and public policy. I wish I could say Aunt Cordelia and Uncle Haskell wouldn’t recognize their norms in our society anymore, but that’s certainly not the case. It will be someday, though. I wouldn’t do the work that I do if I weren’t an optimist at heart.