When you hear about certain books being restricted or banned from schools, libraries and bookstores; it conjures up an image of writing that’s dark, dangerous and divisive. While some may argue a line needs to be drawn against insidious messaging, recent attempts at book banning have seemed to target works about acceptance and diversity.
The most challenged and banned books in the United States in 2018 and 2019 were titles that shared and explored LGBTQ2S+ issues; with the 2020 list being dominated by works that covered Black history, diversity and anti-racism. Even as recently as last month, a year-long ban on books in a Pennsylvania school district; that focused overwhelmingly on writing authored by and/or about People of Colour, wasn’t overturned until protests by students, parents and educators made them reassess their position. The educational board “froze” books from a diversity committee that included informative explorations of notable people who fought for equality throughout American history; and children’s stories that celebrated the love, joy and kindness of Families of Colour — none of which were explicit, offensive or unsuitable for school age students; which is so often cited by individuals and groups who seek to prohibit literary titles.
Protecting the freedom to read has been championed in this country by the American Library Association (ALA); which since 1982 has held an annual ‘Banned Book Week‘ to showcase the ten most challenged publications of the year. 2021’s list has followed the same pattern as previous years (referenced above); with literary works that aim to address racism, racial injustice and understanding/supporting LGBTQ2S+ communities predominately coming under fire.
What appears to be happening with regards to censoring certain topics is that individuals or groups; who want restrictions placed on anything that goes against their personal beliefs, and political ideologies are behind the majority of challenges made against various reading materials. This comes as no surprise as censorship has consistently been used in this way. Trying to elicit control over what other people read; so that an individual/s preferences are forced on everyone else seems to have one aim, to strangle a protected right to access information and ideas.
While there are undoubtedly some books that offend or are unsuitable for specific age groups; choice about whether or not there is access to them should come down to individual supervision and not complete suppression. However, it’s become increasingly evident that the purpose of challenging and banning publications has come down to obstructing knowledge about anti-racism movements, evolving social perspectives and LGBTQ2S+ acceptance.
… so when you start saying to a kid or your kids, “I only want you to read things that validate my point of view,” that’s no longer education, that’s indoctrination. | Ta-Nehisi Coates (CBS Mornings Interview)
One of the most consistently challenged books in recent years has been ‘George’, a children’s story written by the non-binary author, Alex Gino (they/them). This poignant tale is about a fourth-grade transgender girl named Melissa; who is trying to figure out how to navigate through isolation to discover hope, love and acceptance within a world that regards her as a boy. This work was challenged, banned and restricted for LGBTQ2S+ content; conflicting with a religious viewpoint; and not reflecting ‘the values of our community’. But what about the community this story does reflect? What about building empathy, peer support and social awareness about the world we’re living in?
It’s inevitable portions of the population will feel threatened by social progress. A shift towards embracing more of our differences and becoming increasingly aware of racial injustice (and the history behind it) helps to fuel cohesion, innovation and advancement; that’s exactly how the world works.
To those who want any mention of critical race theory, racial justice, historical truth or LGBTQ2S+ lives scrubbed from our bookshelves and absent from our social consciousness; I offer this thought: your approval isn’t required for society to continually develop and evolve, it’s going to happen with or without you. No matter how hard you try to censor what is represented on the pages of works that you wish to exclude; it’s already reflected in the life around you.
The recent focus on banning books almost exclusively authored by/about People of Colour and members of LGBTQ2S+ communities speaks to where we’re at as a society. While it does still point to the relentless grip that prejudice, discrimination and racism has in this country, it also shows that change is literally being written into existence.
Have you read any of the most recent top ten banned books (find the list here)? What are your thoughts about the top ten banned books consistently being about/by People of Colour and the LGBTQ2S+ communities? Do you think book censorship is beneficial or detrimental?
Watch the Oscar-winning short animation ‘Hair Love‘, written and directed by Matthew A. Cherry, about a Black father learning to do his daughter’s hair. The book based on this beautiful and loving story was banned by the Central York School District.
Banned Books: Top 3 Pros And Cons – Britannica
LGBTQ2S+ What Does It Mean? – Kids Help Phone