Book bans are escalating across the country – part of a larger, coordinated effort to suppress marginalized communities’ history, presence, and future. Over 330 unique cases of banned books were reported to the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) in the three months between September 1 and November 30, 2021, double the number of reports from all of 2020 (ALA).
Currently, at least seven states are considering legislation that explicitly restricts books used in the school curriculum. These states – Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, and Tennessee – are all considered “red” or “purple” politically. Other states, like Texas, have implemented critical race theory legislation that’s being leveraged to remove books from libraries and curricula. Some political leaders are introducing criminal charges, like the governor of South Carolina, who has pressured law enforcement to investigate libraries for “obscene content.” Others are withholding funds to make their sentiments known; the mayor of Ridgeland, Mississippi, recently withheld funding from the Madison County Library System until they removed any books that discussed LGBTQ+ issues (NYTimes).
• Banned Books Book Club is a free virtual book club and platform for educating and mobilizing about banned books. Share this resource with a student or teacher near you – or join in!
• Discuss the importance of protecting books that reflect marginalized identities and experiences with your friends, coworkers, and family.
• Reflect: Which book most impacted your childhood? Why did that book resonate with you? What would your life be like if that book wasn’t available during that time?
There’s a misconception that banned book initiatives only affect red states – but it’s far more complicated. The states which have leveraged legislation to restrict book access are indeed all red (or purple, like the state of Georgia). But efforts to limit books being read have been tracked in both blue and red states, even if not through state legislatures. California Gov. Gavin Newsom posted a photo of himself reading banned books as a jab at other states, using the caption “reading some banned books to figure out what these states are so afraid of” (Twitter). But users were quick to note that many of the books in the photo have been removed from reading lists across California. The Burbank School district temporarily banned books about race, reversing the decision after organized criticism from the community (Mic).
Book restrictions aren’t implemented solely by political campaigning. A study from the American Library Association found that over half of all book challenges are initiated by parents and patrons – and only 1% are from students (NBC News). These people are likely influenced by political discourse but leverage their power as parents, board members, and community members to effectively limit whether these books are available in classrooms and libraries.
There are also growing concerns that book bans will affect retailers. Last week, an author noticed that their book, a gay rom-com, was no longer available to purchase on target.com. This prompted other authors to check the status of their books. Together, they realized that dozens of books focusing on LGBTQ+ issues were removed from the retailer’s e-commerce site without notice. After widespread criticism, the books were reinstated, and Target apologized, citing that the books were “removed in error” (Lit Hub). Whatever the reason, it’s terrifying to consider how far efforts to ban books can go.
Unsurprisingly, students, parents, and activists are fighting back. In York, Pennsylvania, students and parents worked together to reverse a ban on books that center people of color. Groups of moms have organized across the U.S. to do the same (Prism). Students in Texas were interviewed by the Texas Tribune about their efforts to create their own book clubs to read banned books and learn from each other (Texas Tribune).
We’d love to hear how you and your community are rallying against book bans – reply to this email with your story.
Despite what dissenters insist, book bans only make schools less safe and welcoming, particularly for marginalized students. Children form racial/ethnic stereotypes, often by the time they turn three (Yale). And children have higher self-esteem when they see themselves portrayed in a positive light. They’re also more likely to create more positive associations with people from a different background than their own (Common Sense Media). Without access and representation in educational content, students are less likely to learn how to accept these differences in their own lives.
When books are banned, authors lose, too. Nearly all of the books that have been banned over the past two years were written by marginalized authors. They are not only forced to reckon with the controversy of their book being banned but often have to confront the censorship of their own lived experiences.
“Book bans are about more than removing books. They’re an attempt to remove our existence, and we must fight against them fervently.”
Book bans aren’t just a political campaign but an interpersonal attempt at censorship. So our response must act accordingly. Not only is it important to advocate for access to books that reflect marginalized experiences, but vote and campaign for the people that will do the same.
• Attempts to ban books are growing alongside efforts to limit how students learn about race, gender, class, and policing in schools and communities across the U.S.
• Although efforts to ban books are conservative by nature, they affect communities in states across the country.
*This piece was originally published on 4/4/22. It was updated and edited by The ARD on 9/20/22.