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News + Advocacy

The Pushback On Progress: Banning Books in the U.S.

An effort to ban books in U.S. schools, libraries, and university materials/services has seen a recent increase in challenges to stories and information about/by Black and LGBTQ2S+ people — a growing and increasingly worrying trend that is being lead by ultra conservative groups with deep political influence.

Power and leverage being wielded in this way is part of a broader political movement echoed within many local, state and national right-wing talking points and government legislative bills. A rise in educational gag orders aimed at hindering discussions around race, racism and the history of slavery (deliberately misappropriated as critical race theory); and now the censoring of LGBTQ2S+ issues and identities within educational settings clearly motivates this push to withdraw books from circulation.

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The vast majority of the books targeted by these groups for removal feature LGBTQ+ characters or characters of color, and/or cover race and racism in American history, LGBTQ+ identities, or sex education. | Banned in the USA: The Growing Movement to Censor Books in Schools – Pen America

Any censorship aimed at subverting and limiting cultural, social, historical and political awareness should have no place in the 21st century. The fact that book bans in the USA have become more prevalent in the last few years should concern us all.

Protecting religious, conservative and/or political views of people in the United States is important; I don’t think anyone would necessarily disagree with that, but imposing book bans that censor evaluative, diverse and inclusive knowledge is not about preserving “freedom” or choice. Everyone should assert their right to access stories and learn from perspectives that challenge and/or reflect who they are. Make no mistake, this isn’t about informative and commonsense guidance regarding access to potentially inappropriate topics, issues and concepts; it’s about trying to subdue a progressive and transformative world that conservative right-wing America doesn’t like — and it’s recklessly undemocratic.

[…] it is less about protecting the innocence and purity of White children and more about denying and erasing the experiences of other races, genders, and sexual identities as the country’s demographics become more Black, Brown, and non-heterosexual. | Book Bans Are the Result of White Fear of a Changing World – Prism

Whether it’s books for children, teenagers, young or mature adults; what we read should reflect our society and evolve with us. When we experience a shift towards historical, cultural and social change; there’s frequently pushback against progress from those who see increased acceptance, equality and equity as a threat. Who benefits from generations of Americans being unable to discuss race or critically examine U.S. history (particularly its dark past regarding colonization and slavery)? More importantly, who does it harm? The same goes for embracing LGBTQ2S+ identities and sharing their stories; who gains the most and who loses the most when already marginalized people are further excluded?

A smiling, young adult (female) with short, dark curly hair and round glasses reads a book in a library; photo via Wilson Vitorino/Canva.
photo via Wilson Vitorino/Canva

The answers to these questions remain multifaceted; however, it’s easy to understand that not addressing historical or ongoing social and cultural injustices only advances those who are adequately represented (read: heteronormative and White). These book bans are forging a path toward education that silences and erases identities — literally driving a wedge between opportunities for exploration, connectivity and unity. It also means social problems don’t need to be addressed if they are never perceived — and I suspect that’s the point.

It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have. | No Name in the Street – James Baldwin

If a parent or particular group takes exception to certain literary works, it’s up to them to conduct an assessment that informs their own independent choices. Protecting strongly held beliefs that guide personal action is one of the cornerstones of American values — nobody is coming for that. It presents a problem, however when one side is imposing their point of view on entire classrooms or school districts; giving rise to disinformation or misrepresentations being used to restrict various titles. An example of this is the award-winning novel ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas; which has been repeatedly challenged and banned for profanity, violence and promoting an anti-police message — all egregious distortions of its purposeful and powerful message.

So what can be done to make sure recent U.S. book bans don’t become even more widespread?

  • be proactive and find out if local school boards, districts and libraries restrict access to certain books and educational materials
  • support stores and organizations like The Conscious Kid that distribute well-researched, diverse and inclusive, age-appropriate resources and books
  • join the Freedom to Read Foundation; an organization dedicated to legal and financial defense of intellectual freedom, especially in libraries
  • buy banned books and read them — join or start your own book club

It’s fundamentally important we stay vigilant and look out for the various ways in which certain voices, experiences and identities are being disenfranchised and stigmatised. We can all be a part of a solution that sees essential justice, representation, encouragement and care for those voices and stories that are deliberately targetted by censorship.

There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard. | Arundhati Roy

What are your thoughts about banning books? Have you read anything on a banned book list?


Further Info:

Why Book Banning Is Back in 2022 – Vox

The Mental Health Ramifications of Book Bans – VeryWellMind

34 thoughts on “The Pushback On Progress: Banning Books in the U.S.”

  1. What a wonderful and thought-provoking post, Molly. It shocks and saddens me to see this behaviour in a country that prides itself on “freedom” and is seen as a leader by many in the western world. I suppose what we can read into this behaviour is that freedom is for the privileged few. I love your point about who gains and who loses from suppressing this type of diverse conversation.

    Here in Canada, we aren’t seeing calls to ban books. We are, however, seeing a mostly white-dominated right-wing extreme “freedom” movement that is disturbing to say the least.

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    1. It is so sad to see thins happening (and hearing about what is going on in Canada); I can only hope that enough people stand up against this censorship and push against right-wing control. This is something we’re seeing creep further and further into all aspects of American life; and as you said, only the privileged few will (continue to) benefit.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The way we are going backwards constantly surprises me. Ploys like these are so harmful to communities that are already targeted, and many people won’t even know this is going on/how it affects us as people.

    Great post to bring this issue to light. And a powerful quote at the end!

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    1. Ploy is exactly the right word for this; it’s the slow creep towards pushing us backwards that is (usually) the point of these book bans. So many people are unaware they are happening so it’s good to share what we can do to fight this!

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  3. The whole idea of banning books is crazy to me. The books that are being banned are some of the more worthy to be read. I will make sure my children will read many of these books.

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  4. I once read about the books banning trend in the States last month. I kinda disagree with it. I believe it decreases creativity. If readers doesn’t like a book, they can just ignore it. They govt doesn’t have to banned it.

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    1. It’s horrible that this is happening; and you’re totally right, if people don’t like a book or parents don’t want their children reading a book in school then they can have their child excluded from that. The books should not be banned.

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  5. Oh gosh, it sounds awful to be so sensored! I never understand that mentality of trying to stop others from reading things you don’t ‘agree’ with or whatever. Just don’t read it yourself if you don’t want to. It’s wild!

    Corinne x

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  6. As Michelle states in her comment, this is a very thought provoking topic. I also add that this is a very sensitive topic. Some people have argued that certain books are a way of infiltrating certain belief system into minds of the young. As you nicely state “Whether it’s books for children, teenagers, young or mature adults; what we read should reflect our society and evolve with us.”

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    1. You’re correct, often the reasoning given is that there is some kind of infiltration or indoctrination/grooming — all of which are conveniently emotive words that are designed to get people to respond with visceral fear rather than reason (with that fear typically being unfounded). The world is changing and you can see how many people don’t like that — which is very sad indeed. Thanks so much for commenting!

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  7. Wow, this is reminiscent of the Nazi book burnings that took place in the 1930s – targeting works by, amongst others, Karl Marx and Albert Einstein. Nearly a century later and we seem to have learnt nothing.

    There are billions of us on this planet, we aren’t all going to have the same views. And that’s OK, you don’t have to agree on everything – but banning anything that you don’t want to discuss is just madness.

    I also think that the current trend to label things as ‘White this’ or ‘Black that’ is, whether intentional or not, divisive. Why can’t it just be ‘this’ or ‘that’? No need to colourise everything.

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    1. It is very reminiscent of that which should trigger alarm bells, but sadly it seems to be very enthusiastically supported by quite a number of people and special interest groups. I wish there was a way for people to find their way to accepting diversity in all its forms but it feels very far from that right now.

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  8. I actually talked about this with my partner the other day because I saw a list of books banned in the last year including The Hate U Give, and I think the whole concept of banning books is terrible because most of the books that are banned are ones written by black and/or LGBTQ+ authors. My partner talked about how it happens in Denmark too, but it’s not as extensive as in the US

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    1. It is a shame that this happens because the reasoning (in the U.S., but likely in other places too) for challenging certain books doesn’t truly reflect what these authors and stories are about. The supposed ‘anti-police’ messaging within ‘The Hate U Give’, for example, is because it’s an effective story at exploring the individual and community impact that an officer-involved shooting triggers — which is a reality we see playing out over and over again here. I hope more people start reading all the banned books and make a point to counter this insidious censorship. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. This is always disheartening to read but such a reality we can’t ignore or stay silent about and your piece is all about taking action, so thank you for this! It’s so easy to ignore something we are not much affected about, but starting with books, people won’t see themselves represented anymore and it’s so so dangerous!n

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  10. It’s very sad and amazing that in the 21st century we are still resorting to book banning to silence the diverse voices of the world. I love books and enjoy learning about the many diverse thoughts, beliefs, perspections, stories and histories of people. Books provide an avenue to live in another person’s shoes and learn to relate and empathise with others. Banning books is saying no to Diversity, embracing differences and fostering empathy. I don’t believe any books should be banned. We should be allow to tell how stories in whatever form we can. It’s up to us to make the choice to read it or not. But the information should be available for those who would like to learn.

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    1. Exactly — there shouldn’t be censorship in this way; the information should be available and a choice can be made to read these books or not. It’s fearmongering of the ‘other’ and an idea to control and deny diversity and inclusion. Thanks so much for reading!

      Like

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