While 2020 marked an inflection point in the nation’s awareness of issues of racial injustice, it also quickly ushered in heaps of backlash against anything to do with acknowledging the pervasiveness of racism in America.
Critical race theory, the New York Times’ 1619 Project, the phrase Black Lives Matter and anti-racism training have all been put on the endangered ideas list by various members of the Republican Party, as well as garnered outrage from members of the white American community.
According to a report by the Chicago Tribune, the same trend can be seen on the list of the most banned and challenged books in 2020.
The list, compiled by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, features at least four titles dealing with racism or related issues like police violence—including Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds’ Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You, and Angie Thomas’ Young Adult novel about police brutality, The Hate U Give.
Kendi’s bestseller was frequently challenged in libraries and schools on the reasoning that it “does not encompass racism against all people,” while the latter was targeted for supposedly promoting an anti-police message.
Other books dealing with police violence and racism were banned because of complaints that they are “divisive” and promote topics that are “too much of a sensitive matter right now.”
The spotlight on anti-racism narratives shows a shift from what adherents of book censoring have mostly focused on in the past—books dealing with LGBTQ issues—said the ALA.
“It reflects the concerns and conversations we’ve been having as a society and a country, villainizing the idea that we should consider racism inherent in American history,” director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, told the Tribune.
Kendi, whose books have shot to the top of bestseller list amidst last year’s national racial uprisings, isn’t cowed by the attempts to subdue the reach of his works.
“The fact that Stamped is being challenged proves just how necessary and effective it is for young people,” he said in a statement through the ALA.
“We must end the indoctrination that this nation is post-racial and colorblind that adults impart onto young people when we don’t discuss racism with them and challenge books that do.”
Despite the best efforts of those who would rather keep the American public’s proverbial head in the sand when it comes to acknowledging and challenging the issue of racism, it’s impossible to ignore the issue—especially in the age of smart phones and the internet, when a viral video backing up the evidence of anti-Blackness and police discrimination comes out every other day. Defenders of the status quo can fight all they want, but they can’t stop people from writing, seeking out and reading about the truth.