If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you know that conservatives all over the country have been relentless in their quest censor the books we read. A report from PEN America found that more than 1,600 book titles were banned during the 2021-2022 school year. But book banning ain’t nothing new. Censorship has been around since the beginning of time. This Banned Books Week, we’re taking a look at what kinds of books are banned these days and why.
Back in the 1850s, anyone writing about the evils of slavery was a prime target for censorship, including Harriet Beecher Stowe and her 1851 novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” While no Black person wants to be labeled an Uncle Tom today, Beecher Stowe’s story centers around an enslaved person who sacrifices his own life to help other slaves escape. The book became extremely popular with abolitionists in the North. And as a result, it was not only banned but burned in public by those who opposed it.
It’s important to note that there is a difference between a book ban and a challenge. The American Library Association (ALA) defines a challenge as “an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.” A ban, on the other hand, is the removal of those materials from a book or library.
Although Black and LGBTQ writers are not the only targets of book bans and challenges, they sure carry a large portion of the load. According to the PEN America study, 41 percent of books on the banned list during the 2021-2022 school year were targeted because they featured LGBTQ themes or characters, 40 percent contained main characters of color, and 21 percent dealt with issues of race and/or racism.
One of the most frequent targets is Nobel Prize-winning author, Toni Morrison. In the 2021-2022 school year, her novel “The Bluest Eye” was challenged in 22 school districts. “Beloved” was challenged in 11 districts, according to PEN America.
The Constitution was designed to establish the country’s government while protecting the individual rights of its citizens – including the right to free speech. But you don’t have to look too far to see examples of people looking to take those rights away, or at least put some serious limits on them. The best thing we can do in the face of these book bans and challenges is continue to read the titles being targeted and share them as widely as possible.