In 1953, a young writer named Ray Bradbury wrote a dystopian novel named Fahrenheit 451 about a society where “subversive” books are banned (Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which books burn). He was horrified by the Nazi book burnings of the 1930s when books by Jewish, communist, social, liberal and pacifist authors (among others) were ceremoniously destroyed by members of the German Student Union because they were considered opposed to Nazism.
Seventy years later, history is repeating itself as Republicans, determined to drag America to its most regressive time, are raising a hue and cry in local school boards and districts to ban books they claim will offend children of certain races (read: white), if they learn the reality about slavery in America. More than 1,500 book bans have been instituted in U.S. school districts over the last nine months, a study has found, part of a rightwing censorship effort described as “unparalleled in its intensity.”
The books selected for banning include works by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, among others. Twenty-two percent of the books directly deal with race and racism, while 33 percent deal with LGBTQI issues.
It’s tempting to see this as a political stunt; certainly there is some evidence that harping on the non-existent “Critical Race Theory in Schools” contributed to Republican gains in Virginia. That success has bred a thousand copycats in districts across the country where Republicans think they can gain traction.
But there is also some evidence that there is an ideological wing of the Republican party that fervently believes in the supremacy of white thought. And banning books about the Black American experience is just a slippery slope to banning books, which don’t perfectly align with white supremacist thinking. How about books about Hindu gods? How about books that extol Indian/Asian values, dress, rituals and experiences?
Every Democratic activist, especially activists of color, have to see these book bans as canaries in the coal mine — if we ignore this troubling movement as not relevant to us, we will be the ones getting “othered” in the near future.
What can we do? For one, we can stay engaged and informed about attempts to ban books in our local schools. We can communicate with family and friends about the need for freedom of expression, and voice solidarity with teachers who expose our children to varying points of view and different cultures. We can make our voices heard at school board meetings and local media about never, ever curtailing the ability of young minds to hear, read, and learn about every aspect of our history and culture, the good and the bad.
How should you respond to book bans and challenges to other library resources? Check out the American Library Association's step-by-step suggestions here. Please see other resources below for more information.
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