Black stories are unfairly targeted in recent book bans.
In the last six years, the book banning movement has increased significantly. A substantial amount of the ire is directed at Black authors and works highlighting Black stories.
Anti-Critical Race Theory Mania
Black literature has long been a target of censorship efforts in America, with coordinated efforts spanning back to at least the Harlem Renaissance. However, the current mania infecting anti-Critical Race Theory adherents has created a new wave of book bannings targeting Black authors, characters, and perspectives.
“Black writers have been feared for precisely their ability to highlight the injustices of American society with clarity, lyricism, and urgency.” – ACLU Massachusetts
There are currently over 50 national groups leading the book banning movement, some with over 300 chapters in various regions. Many of these groups formed in 2021 and espouse Christian nationalist political views. In particular, they align with anti-CRT advocacy, which equates the truthful telling of America’s current and historical systems of racial inequality and oppression with dangerous, seditious, and anti-American views.
Some groups are piggybacking their book banning efforts on new anti-CRT legislation in several states, using the laws to target books with civil rights, anti-racism, and black history themes, such as The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones or How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi.
“It’s so striking that when a book challenges notions of Black inferiority, it’s considered indoctrination. But then when a book says nothing about Black people or reinforces notions of Black inferiority, it’s considered education.” – Ibram X. Kendi
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Unparalleled Intensity of Censorship
Right-wing censorship efforts have risen rapidly across the country, with PEN America recording over 86 school districts implementing book bans between July 2021 and March 2022.
The organization’s Banned in the USA: The Growing Movement to Censor Books in Schools report found that 41 percent of banned books featured protagonists or prominent secondary characters that were people of color, second only to books featuring LGBTQ+ characters and themes. The report also found that 22 percent of banned books had themes directly relating to race or racism.
Two of the top three most targeted books have Black protagonists and center on Black experiences and perspectives. Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez, a novel chronicling a romance between a Black male teenager and a Mexican American female teenager, has been banned in 16 districts. Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, a frequent target of right-wing censorship efforts, follows the story of a young Black girl in 1940s America. It has now been banned in 12 districts.
Impact on Black Students
Only one percent of censorship efforts are initiated by students, but they are disproportionately affected by the bans. Black students, in particular, suffer from seeing Black experiences invalidated and Black history and activism reframed as inflammatory.
When books with Black protagonists, Black authors, or anti-racist messaging are banned, it eliminates the chance to recentralize marginalized identities. Even when book banning efforts are unsuccessful, the attempts send a clear message to Black students and communities that their stories aren’t allowed or are, even worse, anti-American.
Some students are fighting back. For example, student-led protests at Central York County High School in Pennsylvania succeeded in overturning a far-reaching censorship effort originally begun by parents and supported by the district. Many of the banned books were written by Black authors, and students called out the district for eliminating books that reflected the diversity of themselves and their peers.
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A few unintended positive side effects have arisen in the wake of these targeted censorship efforts. Some banned Black authors have actually seen an increase in book sales, and individual activism and advocacy groups supporting diverse literature have increased in proportion to book banning efforts.
As anti-CRT legislation continues to find a foothold and book banning targeting Black Americans increases, it’s up to each of us as citizens to fight back and support the truthful telling of every American’s story.
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