February 16, 2022

Valerie Strauss: This wave of book bans is different from earlier ones

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We’ve been through attacks on books before. At the Washington Post, Valerie Strauss explains how this wave of bannings is different.

Advocacy groups are working to nationalize book challenges, this time with the help of conservative TV and talk shows, that for the past few decades have been mostly local events. Some state legislators are threatening punitive action against anyone in schools or libraries who spreads material deemed obscene or harmful to minors. And now students, parents, librarians and school boards are fighting back, calling the push censorship.

The current book banning crusade has its roots in the social justice movement that arose after the 2020 murder by police of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Caldwell-Stone said. The “rising awareness of racism in society” sparked pushback. President Donald Trump’s October 2020 executive order banning diversity training in federally funded agencies — to stop, he said, “efforts to indoctrinate government employees with divisive and harmful sex- and race-based ideologies” — ignited assaults on the teaching of systemic racism in U.S. history and society, as well as portrayals of the lives of members of the LGBTQ community.

“We see these efforts to narrow what is available to young people in an effect to preserve a status quo that valorizes the Founding Fathers and that is theoretically colorblind, but that seems not to include the actual voices of the people who have been impacted by racism or discrimination in our society,” Caldwell-Stone said.

George M. Johnson’s “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” a memoir-manifesto that follows the author’s path as a queer Black man in New Jersey and Virginia, is one of the many LGBTQ books being challenged in school districts and libraries, this one in more than a dozen states, for sexually explicit material. The fight over teaching systemic racism has seen bans of tomes such as Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” as well as a version for young people co-authored with Jason Reynolds. The complaints include Kendi’s public statements about racism and accusations that the book does not discuss racism against all people.

Read the full piece here.

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