Artist: MK Asante
Date of Action: November 2017
Region: North America
Location: Baltimore, MD
Subject: Explicit Sexuality, Political/Economic/Social Opinion
Confronting Bodies: Baltimore City Public School District (BCPS)
Description of Artwork: "Buck" is a memoir by MK Asante, published by Random House/Spiegel & Grau. It tells the story of MK's youth growing up in Philadelphia from the perspective of MK as a teenager, navigating the lure of sex, drugs, and violence in the absence of a family ripped apart by incarceration and mental illness. "Buck" received the In The Margins Award and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Autobiography. It also an Alex Award finalist, an award from the American Library Association recognizing adult books that appeal to adolescents. The paperback edition of Buck made the Washington Post Bestseller List in 2014 and 2015. In 2014, Asante received a Sundance Institute Feature Film Program Grant to write and direct a movie adaptation of "Buck".
The Incident: Parents complained that profanity, as well as graphically described sexual acts, made "Buck" inappropriate for 9th graders. Out of a 272-page book, parents complaints mostly centered around one out-of-context chapter that was set in a strip club. A televised news report from NBC affiliate WBAL misleadingly referenced “a passage on page 96 depicting a party reads: ‘Boom boom boom — the bass from Luke’s face down (expletive) up, that’s the way we like to (expletive)’” without bothering to cite the fact that Asante is actually quoting the main lyric from a famous 2 Live Crew song and not something happening at the party.
Results of Incident: Baltimore County School District caved to pressure from parents and removed "Buck" from the curriculum at Digital Harbor High School. They did not respond to statements and letters sent by free speech advocacy groups. An examination of Baltimore’s school board policies reveals the process upon which those resources are approved is vague, as is the process for complaints and challenges to reading material in the classroom. Without a unified and transparent process for the community to express concerns, the students are at risk of having their First Amendment rights violated whenever the district feels a book they are reading isn’t worth the hassle of standing up to a handful of angry parents.
Free Speech and Educational Advocacy Organizations Call on Baltimore City School Administrators to Restore BUCK in Classrooms, NCAC, DECEMBER 19, 2017
‘BUCK’ IS NOT BANNED FROM BALTIMORE CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, OFFICIAL CLAIMS, Cassius Life, Dec 15, 2017
Don't ban "Buck," Baltimore; book inspires students, Baltimore Sun, Dec 10, 2017
Baltimore Pulls 'Buck' Out of School, CBLDF, December 8, 2017
Reading Assignment Removed From Baltimore High School Due To Book’s Graphic Content, CBS, November 30, 2017