As the conservative right descends into the culture war of the day, the list of challenged and banned books across the country has exploded. According to the American Library Association, 1,597 individual books were targeted in 2021, more than double the number in 2020.
The vast majority of challenged books last year dealt with LGBTQ or racial themes. Right-wing politicians and parents have called themselves free speech warriors who are fed up with the endless censorship of the liberal media.
But the moral panic of the day around critical theory of race, gender and sexuality has driven this select group of people to launch unprecedented attacks on free speech in service of the ongoing culture war.
The anti-book movement over the past year has taken the form of removals or attempted removals from libraries, schools and universities across the country.
When George Floyd was murdered in May 2020, there was a period when it seemed the country was on the verge of a turning point when it came to racial justice. But the outpouring of support for the protesters quickly turned into a backlash.
New laws barring teachers from talking about race and racism swept through GOP-run states, and conservative activists quickly turned their attention to books on those topics.
“The Hate You Give” by Angie Thomaspublished in 2017, is about a teenage girl dealing with the shooting death of a friend by police. Thomas’ book has been targeted by school boards and parents, who say it should be banned because it promotes “an anti-police message and the indoctrination of a social agenda”.
It was named one of the library association’s 10 most contested books of 2021. Late last year, the book was removed from a school in Pennsylvania after parents complained the novel was in on a list compiled by an organization called Social Justice Books.
“The purpose of this organization is to compile a list of approved books that educators should use to help promote ‘social justice’ in the classroom”, a parent said. “In case you haven’t decoded it yet…we’re talking about books that promote and encourage critical race theory.”
The parent hadn’t actually read the whole book, but said it was “disgusting”.
A sure sign that these complaints have little merit is a weirdo that came out of Katy, Texas. Heather E. Schwartz has written a children’s biography of former first lady Michelle Obama.
A anonymous relative in the Katy School District complained that “Michelle Obama: Political Icon” should be pulled from the shelves because she called Donald Trump a bully and implied that “if you talk like a white girl, you should be ashamed of yourself”.
The school district refused to remove the book.
But that doesn’t mean Texas isn’t leading the charge when it comes to book bans. In October, State Rep. Matt Krause announced he was investigating 850 books in Texas schools that “may cause students to experience discomfort, guilt, anxiety, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex”. Krause asked schools to report whether they had such books and how much money they spent on them.
No to gay penguins
Some of the targeted books include non-fiction history books like “An African American and Latinx History of the United States” by Paul Ortiz and two novels by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Books about race and racism weren’t the only ones on Krause’s list. Those focusing on gender, sexuality and the LGBTQ community were also present, including “And the tango makes threea children’s book about gay penguins and their daughter.
Krause most likely included a book about gay penguins because the GOP’s war on LGBTQ people has escalated with Florida’s new “Don’t Say Gay” bill and the vilification of transgender people and their allies. as sexual predators.
Another book that makes the list of top 10 most disputed books is for young people. In Juno Dawson’s “This Book Is Gay”, the author seeks to teaching LGBTQ teens about sexual health — a lesson sorely lacking in our country’s public education system.
In Wyoming, parents complained to a public library about five books included in the teen and children’s sections, including Dawson’s. One couple even went to the county sheriff’s office to file a criminal complaint.
“We thought they would see a problem recruiting children for sexual activity when they are not mature enough for it to become a problem in their lives, creating a problem where it should not be created,” said one of the people who went told law enforcement.
Silence the voices
A district attorney declined to prosecute the librarians.
But not being accused of refusing to ban a book doesn’t mean the fight is over for libraries and schools.
This iteration of the book bans isn’t really about protecting children from Michelle Obama biographies or penguins in a same-sex marriage. The end goal is to eliminate the voices of people of color and the LGBTQ community.
This is all part of the larger war on marginalized communities. Every day, black people and liberals are accused of practicing critical race theory to talk about racism, or accused of sexually grooming children to support LGBTQ youth.
Consider how same-sex marriage and interracial marriage, two issues already resolved by the Supreme Court, have recently been raised by prominent Republicans as if these rights were not colonized. Conservative leaders openly accuse liberals and corporations who dare to disagree with their wave of homophobic and transphobic laws of supporting pedophiles. Clearly, the culture wars have entered a new and more insidious phase, and the book ban is only the beginning.