Book Banning: A Political Tool to Uphold Racism in Schools?

This post was originally published in March of 2022. With the recent push from the local “Our Kids Deserve Better” group in Newtown, we decided that this was a good time to revisit this topic. Book banning is a slippery slope. While these parents may have good intentions of keeping what they feel is inappropriate content from their children, it will not stop here. More and more books will be “challenged” and removed from school libraries. It is straight from the playbook to remove diverse, equitable and inclusive literature from the schools. It is a plan by White Supremacist groups who are fearing their loss of power and control in government. This is a problem. It diverts attention and funds away from the important things in school and keeps our educators busy putting out fires rather than educating students. Read on for more.

It seems these days that you can’t read the news without learning about a group of people wanting to ban certain books from school libraries. Whether it’s the town in Tennessee that banned the graphic novel ‘Maus’ from its 8th grade curriculum or the entire state of Texas trying to ban anything that lawmakers consider “pornographic or obscene” (i.e., anything that is not white or heteronormative), book banning is in the headlines.

It’s not as if banning books is a new concept, however. For as long as the printing press has been around people have protested various publications, namely those which included content contrary to white Anglo Saxon Protestant beliefs. They didn’t want children to have access to books that were considered too sexual or that contained what was deemed as vulgar language. Fast forward to 2022 and we clearly see an increased focus on banning books and limiting curriculum. The renewed interest in banning books and censoring educational materials can be explained by the definite shift in both the reasons WHY people are motivated to do this and WHO is spearheading these movements.

First of all, while in the past it was pockets of conservative parents attempting to ban books, they considered to be objectionable, currently many of these movements are being led by conservative political groups. In addition to Boards of Education working to rid books they object to from their local school libraries (as was the case in the Maus example), legislators in a number of states have begun pushing for state-wide book bans affecting the entirety of their school systems. Some legislatures are going so far as to push for pressing criminal charges against librarians should they refuse to remove the banned literature from their shelves. It is the politicians, not the parents, pushing these bans.

Much of this uproar started two years ago when the fear of “CRT” was being incited by Republican groups and conservative media. Instead of gaining an understanding of what Critical Race Theory actually is, these powerful groups began to spread a false narrative that education seeking to teach American history as it actually happened, and that included the experiences of BIPOC, was dangerous. If white people weren’t portrayed as the main characters, the victors, and as good, Christian patriots, it was labeled as “CRT”. From this point they started to attack books that taught an accurate portrayal of American history, starting with The 1619 Project and quickly moving towards children’s books.

So, what is motivating this movement? Parents have been convinced that books tackling difficult subjects are harming their children; that they introduce students to concepts that they would otherwise not be thinking about (racism, sexuality, and gender for example). They also claim that books about people who experience racism in brutally honest ways cause their children to feel uncomfortable or guilty. This argument suggests that since it makes THEM feel uncomfortable, it has no value and therefore NO ONE should be permitted to read it. This all boils down to one thing: Racism and the fear of losing the power and privilege of being white. It’s not about the books. It’s never been about the books. It has always been about keeping the status quo. If our children are taught that racism ended with slavery and that social justice was achieved during the Civil Rights movement, it will keep white people comfortable while simultaneously keeping BIPOC “in their place”.

What can we do as Allies to stand up against fear mongering and political games? We can write letters to our local BOE in support of DEI materials. We can donate money to our local school libraries so that they can purchase books that are being threatened and unlikely to be purchased with PTA funds. Finally, we must call book bans out for what they really are: Racism.