The Guardian • Issue #2043

Book Banning American Style

The Attacks on Critical Race Theory

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For anyone who is a book lover what is happening across the USA will be shocking. Over the past year, a nationwide campaign has removed books from public school libraries. If this sounds like something from George Orwell’s 1984, consider this; 1984 is also being considered for a ban in an Orwellian act of banning the book that gave rise to the term “Orwellian.” In Texas last year, over 1,600 books were banned, or considered for banning, as part of the attack on Critical Race Theory (CRT). Book bans turn a private and personal act, book reading, into a public battle, policed by the conservative establishment.

Despite the First Amendment of the US Constitution guaranteeing Freedom of Speech, banning reading material has a long history there. Even comic books have faced the wrath of the censors. In the 1950s, a crusade by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham sought to have the majority of comic books banned, for having a corrupting influence on children. This led to the creation of the Comics Code (no longer enforced). Of the few publishers that survived the censors, two later became DC Comics and Marvel Comics, which today are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Book bans in public schools have occurred throughout US history, notably during the 1950s McCarthy era and in the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan. Over the past ten years popular children’s books have not escaped scrutiny.

Books banned from public school libraries included the Dr Seuss series, the Harry Potter novels, as well as Little House on the Prairie, and Mary Poppins, as being too racist. The Wind in the Willows, Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and all editions of the Bible, have also been considered unsuitable for children in the USA.

Book censorship has radically worsened over the past two years, and the numbers have grown. The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) has finally seen The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn being removed from school curricula, but To Kill a Mockingbird has also made the list.

Most of the books now banned could be considered Left-wing; novels, political writings attacking racism, books by people of colour and Latinx, books containing abortion and LGBTQ-related themes. The reason given is that such books made students “uncomfortable” over their dealing with race and gender issues. Yet this does not explain why Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf is not even being considered for banning.

On 25th October 2021, Texas State Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) sent a letter to school districts across the state, asking them to review a sixteen-page list of books he thought contained “objectionable content.”

Some of the books considered for banning were: Ari Folman’s graphic novel adaptation of Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl; The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison; Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe; Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You by Jason Reynolds; This Is My America by Kim Johnson; The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander; The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander; and All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M Johnson.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s National Book Award-winning Between the World and Me is on the list, as is his We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, which features essays on race in America. Other notable titles include Duncan Tonatiuh’s history book for young readers, Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation, and Mychal Denzel Smith’s memoir Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education. Both of Ibram X. Kendi’s books How to Be an Antiracist and Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America are now banned. One wonders how delicate those enforcing the bans think American children are.

The venerable writers’ human rights and freedom of expression group PEN America found that across the country, 1,648 titles have been banned by schools. Of these titles, 41 per cent addressed LGBTQIA themes, or with prominent characters who are LGBTQIA.

Another 40 per cent contained prominent characters of colour. Novels such as Toni Morrison’s Beloved and The Bluest Eye, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner have all been removed from libraries, as has Maya Angelou’s book of poetry And Still I Rise.

Books challenging the politics of racism have been banned, which includes: Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group; Vegas Tenold’s Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside the Rebirth of White Nationalism in America; the Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the Holocaust comic book Maus by Art Spiegelman; and the DC Comics anti-authoritarian graphic novel V for Vendetta by Alan Moore.

In the 1970s critical race theorists held that racism is inherent in the law and legal institutions of the United States, as they create and maintain social, economic, and political inequalities between whites and non-whites, especially for African Americans.

CRT was dedicated to applying this understanding of the institutional and structural nature of racism to eliminate all prejudicial hierarchies. “Critical” is a reference to critical thinking, critical theory and scholarly criticism. CRT became a graduate-level framework for examining the racial biases embedded in the US legal, political and social institutions.

In 2019 political conservatives attacked The 1619 Project, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historical re-evaluation which seeks to place slavery and racism at the centre of US history and institutions. They then took on CRT in a propaganda campaign which redefined CRT as something sinister. They applied this new set of ideas and used this to discredit political opponents, or groups of people associated with the original ideas of CRT.

These conservatives falsely claimed that CRT is a subversive ideology which had infiltrated the elementary (primary) school curriculum. According to Education Week, since January 2021 thirty-six states have passed or proposed legislation to restrict the teaching of any issues pertaining to race and racism, using their attacks on CRT to ban books from library collections. They insist that they are defending children against the pain associated with racism and gender issues.

These conservatives have rewritten US history, making all socialists and left-wing activists “violent, godless, communists,” and feminists are now “man-hating radicals.” Black Lives Matter (BLM) became “violent white hatred,” and “Wokeness” (being socially aware) became political correctness and thought-policing.

They transformed CRT into reverse-racism, Black supremacy and Marxism. President Donald Trump issued an executive order in September 2021 banning “diversity and race sensitivity training” in government agencies, including all government “spending related to any training on critical race theory.”

Legislation has been drafted to ban teaching CRT. These attacks feign concern for students feeling guilty about what people did, in regards to race, gender and disability. The conservative’s real agenda is to remove all books that question their right-wing view of US history.

Since 2020, conservative US lawmakers have sought to ban or restrict CRT instruction in schools. Conservatives are waging a battle on school boards and in libraries, and seeking teacher removal. Librarians and educators are threatened with criminal charges. In the process, the conservatives attack the intellectually vibrant heritage of US culture. They seek to silence discussions on racism, equality, social justice and the history of race in the USA, using the minds of children as their battlefield.

Further Reading: Dan Solomon. 20th September, 2022, A User’s Guide to All the Banned Books in Texas
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