Reviews | Conservatives try to ban growing list of books

The Spotsylvania County School Board in Virginia voted this week unanimously to have books containing “sexually explicit” material remov...


The Spotsylvania County School Board in Virginia voted this week unanimously to have books containing “sexually explicit” material removed from school library shelves. For two members of the school board, that did not go far enough; they wanted to see the books cremated. “I’m sure we have hundreds of people who would love to see these books before they burn them,” said one of the members, Kirk Twigg. “Just so that we can identify, within our community, that we are eradicating these bad things.”

This was just one example of an aggressive new censorship tearing America apart, as the campaign against critical race theory grows into a larger push to purge school libraries of books that confront conservative sensitivities regarding race and gender. Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association, told me that in her 20 years with the organization, “there has always been a constant buzz of censorship, and reasons have changed over time. But I’ve never seen the number of challenges we’ve seen this year.

In Texas and South Carolina, Republican governors have called for action against “obscene” content in school libraries. Virginia Beach Public Schools have books pulled including “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison out of their libraries while awaiting the results of a challenge by conservative school board members. Schools in North Kansas City, Missouri, have do the same with books including the acclaimed memoir “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel and “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” a book of essays on growing up gay and black by George M. Johnson. In Flagler County, Fla., A school board member filed a criminal report about the presence of “Not All Boys Are Blue” in school libraries in her district, claiming it violates state obscenity laws.

With the rush to ban critical race theory, conservatives have already given up on posing as defenders of free speech. Yet this sudden craze for banning books is striking. It’s part of a larger attack on public schools, which builds on anger at critical race theory, mask mandates, and sometimes even QAnon’s inflamed fears regarding pedophile plots.

“What I started to call more and more the war on books, it comes down to all kinds of anti-school activity,” said Richard Price, associate professor of political science at Weber State University who directs the blog. Adventures in censorship.

It’s important to recognize that a certain amount of parental shock over young adult literature pushing the envelopes is understandable. Like when the Christian right was trying to rid libraries of Judy Blume, books whose frankness on taboo subjects intrigues teenagers can horrify their elders.

A frequently targeted book is the 2019 “Gender Queer” graphic brief. Its author, Maia Kobabe, wrote a illustrated column about the outcry over the book in the Washington Post, with a thought bubble saying, “Why are they crazy about the book?” Because I said that non-binary and trans people exist? Maybe, but I guess some parents are also crazy about blowjob pictures. It’s easy to imagine “Gender Queer” being a great comfort to a confused and lonely 16-year-old, but it’s just as easy to see why the Conservatives would find it outrageous.

The transgressive nature of some recent publications for young adults, however, is not enough to explain the current national campaign to clean libraries of works considered unhealthy. On the one hand, in most schools parents can already block their own children’s access to books they oppose. And many of the works that the right is angry about now have been out for years. Texas lawmaker Matt Krause recently sent school districts a list about 850 pounds he wants Informations about. Among the titles to study are “The Confessions of Nat Turner” by William Styron and “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides.

The award-winning work of Ashley Hope Pérez “Out of the darkness», About a love affair between a Mexican American girl and a black boy in connection with the explosion of a school in Texas in 1937 in New London, was released in 2015. Until this year, Pérez, a former high school English teacher who is now an assistant professor at Ohio State University, had not heard of any controversy over him. But now his book is regularly denounced by the warriors of school culture. The No Left Turn in Education group, which founded last year to fight against the critical theory of race in schools, list of books who “indoctrinate children with a dangerous ideology”.

In September, a Texas anti-mask activist named Kara Bell read a passage of “Out of Darkness” at a school council meeting. The scene she chose is one in which a gang of racist white college students sexually demean the Mexican heroine.

Bell cited the characters making a slang reference to anal sex, words that left her dismayed. “I don’t want my kids to learn anal sex in college!” She cried. “I have never had anal sex! I don’t want to have anal sex! I don’t want my kids to have anal sex! “

Bell’s video went viral and Pérez was inundated with angry and sometimes violent messages, often accusing him of promoting pedophilia. Jonathan Friedman, director of free speech and education at PEN America, told me he was accused of being a pedophile simply for defending the presence of “Out of Darkness” in school libraries. “There is definitely some sort of QAnon element going on here,” he said. After all, the paranoid belief that liberalism is a front for pedophile cabals is a staple of QAnon conspiracy theory.

This spreading moral panic demonstrates, once again, why the left needs the First Amendment, even as the reverence of free speech has fallen into disuse among some progressives. In the absence of a societal commitment to free speech, the question of who can speak becomes purely a question of power, and in much of this country the power lies with the right.

“What we are seeing is really this idea that marginalized communities, marginalized groups, have no place in public school libraries or public libraries, and that libraries should be institutions that only respond. to the needs of a certain group of people in the community, “Caldwell-Stone said. The struggle over who controls school libraries is a microcosm of the struggle for who controls America, and the right is on the offensive .



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