Banned Books Week Spotlight – Kaffir Boy

Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa by Mark Mathabane

Original publication date: 1986

This week is banned books week in the United States.  All week I will be highlighting banned, challenged, and censored books I own and have read.

Publisher description:

Kaffir Boy does for apartheid-era South Africa what Richard Wright’s Black Boy did for the segregated American South. In stark prose, Mathabane describes his life growing up in a nonwhite ghetto outside Johannesburg–and how he escaped its horrors. Hard work and faith in education played key roles, and Mathabane eventually won a tennis scholarship to an American university. This is not, needless to say, an opportunity afforded to many of the poor blacks who make up most of South Africa’s population. And yet Mathabane reveals their troubled world on these pages in a way that only someone who has lived this life can.

Status: Challenged in the United States (citation: #33), Banned in South Africa from 1991-1993 (citation).

Reason for challenge in the U.S.: Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with racial politics and apartheid, since that’s what the entire book is basically about.  Well, not on the face of the challenge anyway.  The general objection has to do with scenes of the debasement of the black Africans by the dominant white culture in South Africa under apartheid leading to child prostitution and scenes of sodomy (citation).

My thoughts: It really bothers me when books are challenged because of their depictions of terrible things happening to real people.  How are we to work to solve such problems if we don’t know about them?  How can we avoid similar things happening in the future if we ignore what happened in the past?  Reading “Kaffir Boy” for my South African history class really brought alive the horrors of apartheid for those who lived under it.  My teacher was fantastic and assigned us “Kaffir Boy” along with “My Traitor’s Heart” by Rian Malan, a white South African telling his story from the same time as Mark Mathabane to give us a fuller, more complicated picture.  “Kaffir Boy,” though, is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read.  Even the title is gripping and controversial.  ‘Kaffir’ is a racial slur in South Africa (citation); it is almost as if Richard Wright had titled “Black Boy” “N*gg*r Boy” (no way I want people putting THAT search term in to find my blog!).

Your Turn: Have you read “Kaffir Boy”?  What did you think?  How do you feel about the banning of memoirs such as this?  Why might it be important to read books like “Kaffir Boy”?

Buy this book on Amazon.

Check out my Banned Books Week Spotlights all week, every day at 2 pm Central through Saturday, Octobter 4th.

Rebecca of The Book Lady’s Blog is doing Banned Books Week Spotlights as well, every morning at 9 am.  Check her out as well!

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