Censorship Divides Us, Books Unite Us

Banned Books Week: Censorship Divides Us Books Unite Us

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association, www.ala.org

Held in September, Banned Books week brings attention to the freedom of expression and the freedom to be free of censorship. Launched by the American Booksellers Association (ABA), American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, and the National Association of College Stores in 1982, it has become an annual event. You can read more about the history of Banned Books Week at the American Library Association, Office for Intellectual Freedom, Banned Books Week page.

Challenges, Banning & Self-Censorship

According to the American Library Association, “A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Article I of the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights states, “Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.” Article II further declares, “Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.” These statements do not just apply to outside attempts to challenge, ban, or censor, but also to those working in libraries. According to the American Library Association’s Diverse Collections: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights, “Library workers should not permit their personal biases, opinions, or preferences to unduly influence collection-development decisions.” It goes on to state, “Best practices in collection development assert that materials should not be excluded from a collection solely because the content or its creator may be considered offensive or controversial. Refusing to select resources due to potential controversy is considered censorship, as is withdrawing resources for that reason.”

Critical Race Theory & Book Bans

2021 Banned Books Week Censorship By the Numbers

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association, www.ala.org

According to Education Week, as of late August “27 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism ….Twelve states have enacted these bans, either through legislation or other avenues.” Ohio has two bills that fit this category: HB 327, titled “To amend sections 3314.03 and 3326.11 and to enact sections 3313.6027 and 4113.35 of the Revised Code to prohibit school districts, community schools, STEM schools, and state agencies from teaching, advocating, or promoting divisive concepts.” and HB 322 “To amend sections 3301.079, 3314.03, and 3326.11 and to enact sections 3313.6027, 3313.6028, and 3313.6029 of the Revised Code regarding the teaching of certain current events and certain concepts regarding race and sex in public schools.”

Richard Price, a professor at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah researches censorship and authors a blog Adventures in Censorship. In their September 29th blog post titled “Banning Books to Control History,” they state “the 2020 most challenged books were overwhelmingly driven by the moral panic over an essentially fictitious critical race theory.” In their blog post, they specifically cite as an example, complaints by Moms for Liberty in Williamson County, Tennessee about Ruby Bridges Goes to School by Ruby Bridges and The Story of Ruby Bridges illustrated by Coretta Scott King Award-illustrator George Ford, and written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Coles. Ruby Bridges was the first African-American child to integrate a New Orleans school. Tennessee has passed Pub.Ch. 493, a law that “establishes parameters for the teaching of certain concepts related to race and sex.” According to a CNN article written by Evan McMorris-Santoro & Meridith Edwards “A spokesperson for the school board in Williamson County told CNN school leaders in the county have launched a ‘Reconsideration Committee’ to review the books Moms For Liberty has complained about. One board member familiar with the process said new Tennessee law is hard to interpret, but this board member said they expect the state will ban at least one of the books Moms For Liberty cited.” Moms for Liberty filed an 11-page complaint with the Tennessee Department of Education and four books dealing with civil rights were specifically mentioned in their complaint. In addition to the Ruby Bridges books, Martin Luther King Jr. and the March on Washington by Frances E. Ruffin, and Separate Is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh.

Students in Central York School District in Philadelphia protested the “freeze” of books and other materials intended serve as resources for learning about diversity. On September 20, 2021 the Central York School District rescinded the freeze.

According to a Military.com article, Senator Tom Cotton might have introduced S. 968, Combating Racist Training in the Military Act of 2021, in part because “he was motivated to offer the bill after the Navy added ‘How to Be an Antiracist’ by Ibram X. Kendi to a list of 74 books it recommends to leaders…”

Top 10 Challenged Books of 2020

Of the 273 books that were targeted in 2020, the ALA Top 10 Most Challenged Books are:

  1. George by Alex Gino
    Reasons: Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community”
  2. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
    Reasons: Banned and challenged because of author’s public statements, and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people
  3. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
    Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now”
  4. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
    Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint and it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity
  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author
  6. Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
    Reasons: Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote anti-police views
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience
  8. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
    Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students
  9. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse
  10. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
    Reasons: Challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message

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