There are a lot of bad takes this week on the whys and hows of the growing firestorm of book challenges. I’m not going to link to them, but the reality is this isn’t new, media that’s reporting on “firsts” for any area are behind the curve by months (thanks, death of local journalism), and no, it’s not school boards who are willy nilly banning books. These complaints are coming from grown adults who may or may not live in a community and more often than not, they’re aligned with right-wing groups funded by a lot of dark money. Moms of Liberty — currently putting a bounty on teachers who talk about systemic racism — is but one of many of such groups across the United States, typically spearheaded by a failed or hopeful politician. They share information across public and private social media tools (here’s a great example of an extremist group gearing up their followers to at protest one school board meeting this week). These groups put board members in a position of being on the defense, and in many cases board members need to be escorted to their vehicles after a meeting because their literal safety is at risk.
Are there folks on the inside starting these censorship calls? Sure. But the vast majority are not, and in a not-insignificant number of cases lately, the adults who are complaining aren’t parents of students in the district.
Rather than offer any insights or clear up any misconceptions roaring around this week’s censorship news, I’m just going to list them. In many ways, this is a really useful way to see just how widespread this issue is. I’m going to miss many stories, and that’s part of the point: it’s impossible to keep up. Note that this may be mostly not-great news, but there ARE some positive developments here.
As always, here’s the tool kit for what you can do to combat censorship in your community and beyond. Spend an hour this weekend writing letters, planning a visit to your local school and library board meetings in support of intellectual freedom, and requesting books for and from your local library.
Something else to be aware of: the same groups that are pushing anti-antiracism with their anti-“CRT” movement that conveniently includes anyone who isn’t straight, too, is going to start coming hard for mental health. They’re already protesting social emotional learning, and the next logical step is the books that talk about mental health. (This is, of course, the same groups that complain students are miserable and why won’t anyone help them. The fault lies, conveniently, in mask mandates or virtual learning or any other anti-science scapegoat).
- The Flathead area public library district ImagineIF in Montana received two formal book complaints. Guess what they are.
- The school board president in Flagler County Florida believes it is a crime four books are in the library. The crime being the dogwhistle word “obscenity.”
- Canutillo, Texas, school district being asked to remove Gender Queer.
- Anchorage Alaska school district removes Gender Queer from their school libraries.
- Katy Texas ISD, which was mad about New Kid earlier this school year, is now trying to get rid of a bunch of other books, following in the steps of neighboring Waller ISD.
- In Tennessee, Williamson County school district is reviewing several books after complaints. There’s an angry rant here about breeding seahorses, the Civil Rights Movement, and how dark and depressing these books are.
- In Georgia, state representatives are working on how they can control what is and is not allowed in school libraries.
- This one’s a blast from the past, as Sherman Alexie’s YA novel is under pressure in Lawrence County, Ohio.
- Fort Mill, South Carolina, schools made the decision to remove Gender Queer from the library.
- Moms for Liberty complaining about the same books they’re obsessed with in Bedford, Virginia.
Let’s end with something that feels like the right place to end. Malinda Lo, who took home the honor of National Book Award winner in this year’s category for Young People’s Literature with her queer, Asian American historical novel Last Night at the Telegraph Club, shared a powerful message about censorship going on right now. The parallels to some of the discussions in her book to what’s happening across the country with censorship are chilling: