Book Bans Are Targeting and Silencing One Group in Particular – But You Can Help
Book banning has always been present in America, but minority authors feel their publications are being unfairly scrutinized more than ever. How far has systemic racism infected the publishing industry?
Book banning in the U.S. is nothing new. Some authors, such as Dr. Seuss, are now deemed controversial and are having their works condemned for what some argue valid reasons. However, book banning has gained new relevance as it seems to be affecting minorities. Be they people of color or part of the LGBTQ+ community, schools and libraries are seeing books authored by minorities being ripped off shelves at an alarming rate.
Book bans are not the only things we have to be worried about, though. Censorship generally is part of the effort to silence minority authors in telling their stories. Only one month ago, Muskego High School in Wisconsin made headlines for its school board committee meeting where the book When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka wasn’t approved for the English reading list. This book is centered around the U.S. incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.
While district leaders refused interview requests, they did issue a generalized statement about how and why this book would not be involved in the Accelerated English curriculum. This statement left many people confused and unsure about the intention behind the decision.
The silver lining is that book banning is creating awareness around systemic injustices that are ingrained in our school system, which in turn allows parents to understand how race can play a role in the education of their children.
Does systemic racism continue to be a pervasive, and even growing problem in the publishing industry?
Which Books Are Being Targeted by Book Bans and Censorship?
The most challenged books in the last year have been written by minority groups about the struggles of their communities or included LGBTQ narratives. In fact, the ALA released it top 10 list of the most challenged books of 2021, which referred to many of these titles as “sexually explicit.”
Some of these books include Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, Lawn Boy by Jonathon Evison, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sharman Alexie, and Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin.
George M. Johnson, of one of the banned books All Boys Aren’t Blue, addresses the situation. “What is at stake when we ban these books are actual lives who need to read their story. Banning my book won’t stop me from existing, my story from existing, or future generations of kids like me existing.”
Why Are Minority Authors’ Books Subject to So Much Scrutiny?
Not only are books being banned, they are being labeled under “critical race theory” or as “anti-police” narratives, challenged by claims that these books are vulgar or promote violence and sex. Although, many of these books are kid-friendly and don’t contain any cursing, foul language, or mentions of drug usage. The discrepancies between the claims versus the actual content of the book are what parents and teachers need to question. The ALA’s 2021 list was not discretely targeting LGBTQ content, many authors of color and books that revolve around the stories of black communities are also being shunned.
We’ve heard the arguments time and time again about promoting certain types of content to children can be inappropriate. But, what about the argument that some of these children are actually experiencing this content in their daily lives? It’s important for all children to feel represented and many children of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community can relate to the content of these books: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Books that touch on sensitive themes are a way for children and teens to feel heard and seen.
Many authors who have been affected by these book bans are convinced that the banning occurs due to the fact that their books highlight and call attention to racism and inequity in America. But what the U.S. doesn’t seem to understand is that children like to read about characters with whom they can identify.
If they’re trying to promote education and encourage reading in schools, they need to understand that the first order of business is making sure that all walks of life, all cultures, all races, and sexual orientations are being represented. Doing so is not an attack on America, it’s merely an acceptance of the melting pot of individuals that call America their home.
The intention of book banning has taken a trip back in time. In many ways, the world has progressed and become a more accepting place. But, in so many others, we see minority groups still having their stories and works suppressed and censored. Are these books bans simply a political issue, are they a social issue, or are they a symbol of the ever-present oppression that America still displays?
How Can We Help Minority Groups Through Severe Book Bans?
Unfortunately, petitions and letters to school boards have yet to make an impact on the cutthroat book bans that American schools are seeing. But, there are some ways that we can help highlight the voices of minority groups and support their publications.
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While you may not be able to access a book through your school library, these books do exist. Buying a book independently, if you have the means to do so, is a significant first step. Promoting these books on social media and allowing others to make that decision to read them for themselves is also a great way of not only showcasing the publication, but giving people the ability to form their own opinions.
Simply raising awareness for these types of social justice issues is not an end, but it is a good start. In the same way that police brutality and inequity in the justice system have been a topic of debate in recent years, we need to make book bans a central conversation. Sparking the discussion will bring attention to the issue and challenge ongoing book bans. The only way to elicit change is to question the behaviors and actions we see around us.
The way that society is starting to recognize book bans as a way to silence minority voices shows a positive step forward in our attempt to tackle systemic injustices. It’s brought up additional ways in which discrimination has manifested in our institutions. Being aware of the issue is half the battle, and this knowledge can be used to advocate for positive change.