This fall, there’s been an alarming spike in bannings of books that examine race or sexuality, or are written by minority writers, in school libraries in 29 states, according to the anti-censorship group Kid’s Right to Read. The Guardian reports:
The Kids’ Right to Read Project (KRRP) is part of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and says in November alone they dealt with three times the average number of incidents. To date in 2013, KRRP investigated 49 book bannings or removals from shelves in 29 states, a 53% increase in activity from last year. In the last half of the year the project challenged 31 incidents compared to 14 in the same period last year.
Acacia O’Connor of the KRRP said, “Whether or not patterns like this are the result of co-ordination between would-be censors across the country is impossible to say. But there are moments, when a half-dozen or so challenges regarding race or LGBT content hit within a couple weeks, where you just have to ask ‘what is going on out there?’”
Among the books which have been complained about were Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits and Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima.
Coupled with one school’s initiative to use Kathleen Sockett’s The Help as a lens to help high school students explore the social and political history of Jim Crow America, this trend is alarming. KRRP notes that parents in some of these districts have been a key driver in banning these books, and after quick advocacy on their part, some titles were restored to library shelves and classrooms. Parental advocacy against certain titles reveals a disappointing fact: parents are often ill-equipped to engage their children in unpacking multiple narratives of the American experience. Apparently, the parents in some of these communities are unable and unwilling to engage in ideas and would prefer to sanitize their children’s education and censor class discussions on race, class, and gender, issues that they’ll constantly encounter in their adult lives.
Book banning is something that I pay very close attention to as an artist and educator. I have written on the topic many moons ago on my own blog and here. We know that good books are good for you. They promote empathy. The American story is complex; a more perfect union does not live in the erasure of the complete American narrative because it proves too difficult to discuss. That is exactly why these books are needed.