More than 1,000 books have been banned in the past year from schools across the country, and a significant number of those books were related to race and the LGBTQ community.
A new report released Thursday by the literary and free-speech group PEN America tracked the country’s public school book bans from July 2021 through March this year. A the group’s index counted 1,586 book bans targeting 1,145 books across dozens of school districts in 26 states.
The report comes in the middle Republican-led efforts to ban books from school libraries around the nation.
PEN America condemned the bans, noting an “alarming spike in censorship” that is “unprecedented in its intensity and frequency and represents a serious threat to free speech and students’ First Amendment rights.”
86 school districts had banned the books, representing 2,899 schools with more than 2 million students enrolled.
State by state, Texas had the most school book bans (713), followed by Pennsylvania (456), Florida (204), Oklahoma (43), Kansas (30) and Tennessee (16).
467 banned books (or 41% of all banned books) had main characters or significant supporting characters who were people of color.
247 banned books (22%) dealt directly with race or racism.
379 banned books (33%) dealt with LGBTQ issues or had main or supporting characters who were LGBTQ.
42 banned books were children’s books, including biographies of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Ruby Bridges, Cesar Chavez, Sonia Sotomayor, Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai.
“Book challenges in American schools are nothing new, but this kind of data has never been tallied and frankly, the results are shocking,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of the free expression program and d Education of PEN America and lead author of the report. Release.
Friedman noted that recent schoolbook bans have most often targeted books about racial and LGBTQ identities, and challenges to books by non-white male authors are “at the highest rates we’ve ever seen.”
“We are seeing the erasure of topics that only recently represented progress towards inclusion,” he said.
The three most banned books, according to the index, relate to the LGBTQ community: Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir” is banned in 30 districts; George M. Johnson’s “Not All Boys Are Blue” Banned in 21 Districts; and Jonathan Evison’s “Lawn Boy” is banned in 16 districts. “Out of Darkness,” a novel by Ashley Hope Pérez about a relationship between a black teenager and a Mexican American girl in 1930s Texas, is also banned in 16 districts. And “The Bluest Eye,” a book about racism in the 1940s by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, is the fifth most banned book, banned in 12 districts.
The report noted that although public school book bans existed throughout the history of the United Statesthe width of these efforts have “developed rapidly” over the past year, both in the number of books banned and the “emphasis on books that relate to communities of color and LGBTQ+ topics.”
Books have been removed from school libraries and classrooms following challenges from parents, administrators and board members, and even in response to laws passed by Republican lawmakers.
Much of the recent push to ban certain books stems from Republican-led bills aimed at preventing students from learning about white supremacy and racism, under the guise of purging so-called ‘critical race theory’ classrooms.
Although not all of these laws explicitly mention critical race theory – a college-level academic discipline focused on how racism is embedded in the country’s legal, political and social institutions – they are all written in similar language intended to stifle teaching about racism, privilege and supremacy White.