This is a place where I wanted to collect a few threads of my tweets about the recent spate of schools banning books into one place for ease of reading. This also serves as my own way of documenting/archiving this labor of mine that I think is important. I am not cleaning up the typos or Twitter speak/ways that I have shortened words to fit into the limits of Twitter character limits.
For those unfamiliar with me or who wonder why I might be so invested in this issue, I was a writer (thanks to long covid, I am not so much a writer anymore. I struggle to put together words coherently in a timely enough fashion to realistically write anymore) from a very young age, as well as a reader. I am also a parent and grandparent. Early in my professional life I also developed a literacy program for middle and high school youth because I realized that in my urban community there were no services that worked with them. The counseling agency that I worked at served that age group when kids were being suspended or expelled from school and we noticed that low literacy was a common theme and underlying factor related to their supposed poor behavior, related to shame, mistreatment by teachers, acting out to cover for not being able to do their schoolwork, not knowing out to ask for help, and a school system that wasn’t offering them any assistance because it had already deemed them too much trouble.
I have also taught writing classes to pre-teen girls, run workshops around using writing & art to work through trauma, ran & edited a Muslim short fiction blog, organized a small Muslim writing support circle, was on the steering committee of a local literacy task force and co-facilitator of one of the workgroups for it, and was also a member of a local health literacy task force as well. In some of those roles, I got to learn about the barriers that youth face in accessing libraries as well as the dangers they face in bringing home books their parents don’t approve of.
I lived a lot of my young life in libraries, and when not in the library reading everywhere else. A lot of my adult life has also been joyously spent in bookstores and libraries. I returned to college in my 40s where I had the occasion to hear about the struggles of younger people, in the classroom and in student clubs like the LGBTQ+ club. I am also a historian and alongside my recent BS degree in Art History and failed MA-turned-certificate in Visual & Critical Studies, I also have a certificate in Teaching the Holocaust. So, I do have both lived experience and professional experience and investment in these issues, even if not in the most conventional sense that people might expect.
This is important to understand. So important. The idea that banning just makes ppl seek books out is… um… deeply lazy thinking. It makes those books harder to access actually & most ppl won’t know to try.
It is romantic to think of banned books as quietly fomenting revolutions, & I’m not saying they never help in that, but the reality is mostly that is simply not true. What happens is too many ppl forget/never learn what those books would have imparted & so they go along w/ harm.
We already literally live in a country where a large number of people think the Holocaust was a fictional movie trope rather than an actual thing — not because they are bigots who intend to deny the Holocaust, but because they genuinely didn’t realize it was actual history.
Because they confuse fact & fiction and bcuz the WAY we teach, using shitty fictional stories like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas confused generations of kids about the facts (and about who they were supposed to sympathize with).
People who do accept the Holocaust was real think of it as “forever ago” & can’t comprehend there are living survivors of both the Holocaust & the war. Living civilian survivors, living fighters on all sides, living war criminals.
So, just using this as one singular example, Maus is a very relevant book that still matters. Also, I argue that Maus matters not only for its depiction of history & discussing Jewish specific matters & the Holocaust.
Maus also matters in a broader sense for what it can teach us about trauma, generational trauma, how it impacts our relationships & parenting, the long-term impacts. It speaks of a particular event, but we can apply this to war, to refugees, to sexual assault survivors…
to chronic poverty, to domestic abuse, to so many other experiences of violence & chronic harm & the drama & trauma that it produces & reproduces. And no, I am not saying they are all the same or equal to the Holocaust. I am saying we learn about the human spirit & mind
and hopefully we learn how to CARE for each other, how to protect each other, and how to see each other’s humanity. Which is how we also ensure that we don’t allow things like the Holocaust to be repeated. But also how we prevent smaller scale things too. Because it starts small.
To take some other examples, Heavy by Kiese Laymon or The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison — both of which are, in my honest opinion, foundational texts for empathizing with Black realities in this country, are also on banned lists right now.
Heavy also addresses fat hate & I wish that I had read it much sooner than I did. I wish that I had read it earlier so that I could have given it to my kid when he was younger & struggling as a fat mixed race kid in an urban environment & w/ an incarcerated father.
The Bluest Eye was the first book by Morrison I read & I read it as an adult & again, I wished I had that as a brown-eyed mixed race (granted super light skinned) kid. I both related to it & was definitely challenged by it.
When those books are not on shelves, when they “go underground,” one of the problems is that the people who most need to learn from them aren’t going to seek them out & read them & learn the lessons they need to learn from them. They aren’t going to know they should.
But another thing is, these books bear thinking about them, discussing them, having complex conversations with other people to work through them to properly understand them & let them really work through you. And when they are banned, you miss out on that part of the process.
When you don’t have to write a report or reflection & stand up & explain yourself to your class or get feedback of any kind, or think through what you are saying, or reflect again, or be challenged by a classmate or teacher with a different perspective, you miss a lot.
If you don’t at least have a book club to talk about it with, and if that club isn’t prepared to get heated at times & let folks get passionate, respectfully, & challenge each other, you can’t truly grow as much as you might from what these books offer.
Now, let’s just be real: It’s a damn privilege to say banning books will just mean we run out & buy more copies. I wish that were true. At least for the sake of the bank accounts of those authors. But it’s not. It’s a short-term solution if it happens at all.
And it doesn’t guarantee those bought books get read either, it’s worth noting. Because as we all know, every crisis leads to a list of “recommended BIPOC books” or “queer books you need to read” but it doesn’t lead to much actual change in attitudes… but I digress…
Ultimately, when the dust settles, those banned books become hard to find AND the people who need to read them don’t even realize they are missing. That’s a fact. They just quietly go away. And your kids are indoctrinated with other garbage instead.
Let’s also be real about the other disparities of who gets on these boards/gets voted for. How likely do you think outwardly Muslim/Jewish/Buddhist/Sikh ppl, much less obviously queer, heavily tattooed/pierced, CLEARLY PAGAN, etc ppl get voted for school boards?
I’m not saying it never happens, can’t/doesn’t happen. It can! I’m not saying don’t run if you feel that’s your calling — PLEASE DO IT! I’m saying we also know that some of us are far less likely to gather sufficient mass support for some pretty obvious reasons.
There is MONEY involved, but there is also time (ppl who can leverage their professional networks, work flexibility or even take a sabbatical, who can afford to quit a job & rely on a spouse’s income alone). But there is also RESPECTABILITY involved.
And some of us, quite simply, are not “respectable” enough to build the kind of base support necessary to win these positions. Ok, local elections don’t necessarily require massive numbers to win, but they do still require enough to beat someone else.
And if that someone else looks more respectable, or their name sounds whiter, or they could saturate the market with lies about you or just their own “respectable” face more, well… people like me are pretty fucked, come on…
Not to mention, there is privilege just in being able to find the time/energy to serve on a school board too. Some of us are already paid less, have less stable jobs, aren’t granted the flexibility at work, have heavier family responsibilities & other community loads
Only to be asked to take on this thankless task where we will be abused by other board members & the public? You want ppl to do this work, but then who is going to support them while they do it? How do you protect them & their families from harassment? How do they avoid burnout?
Again, if you feel called to do it, I absolutely support you doing it! It is a one strategy in our tool belt. It is a thing that should happen. We are looking for solutions & taking back the power of school boards needs to happen somehow.
Or, I dunno, maybe it means abolishing school boards & envisioning a completely different system. I’m NOT trying to discourage anyone from running for local elections who has great ideas to fight fascism. That isn’t my point at all, so please don’t misunderstand.
I’m only saying, don’t act like it is a SIMPLE answer or the only answer or demand that everyone “just do it”.
Also, a note on local elections, sometimes how votes are calculated impacts who wins in this weird way even when numbers are low. Let me give an example of this to illustrate based on how a lovely queer/tattooed friend of mine lost an election w/ more votes than their opponent:
My friend ran for the library board against an incumbent board member who has outdated ideas & is keeping the library from moving forward in some important ways, including supporting progressive programming. So it does matter that my friend ultimately lost.
And it was an election with low voter turnout bcuz ppl notoriously don’t turn up for these mid-term, non-presidential just local issues things. Ok. So low numbers to begin with. My friend had a great grassroots campaign & did get FAR more votes than the incumbent though!
So we watched the numbers & the media reported my friend as the winner & we were all celebrating. And then a couple days later the city announced: The winner was the incumbent. Bcuz the charter required a minimum NUMBER of votes for the position.
Meaning, a certain number of ppl have to vote for someone for them to win. So, if say, F gets 200 votes & I gets 80 votes, I could still win if the charter requires that to unseat an incumbent the challenger MUST get a minimum of 250 votes & F didn’t get that minimum.
That is what happened in this case. It didn’t matter that the incumbent didn’t get the votes. The charter set it up that the challenger didn’t get the minimum number to unseat her, even though they got MORE votes than she got.
So think about how that keeps problematic/bigoted ppl in place regardless of how the public votes, just because of the reality of low voter turnout. And no, the answer isn’t to yell at ppl for not voting either bcuz we KNOW the barriers to voting & why ppl don’t.
Plz read this thread! And stop saying “get to a non-school library” that requires: transportation, parental permission for a card & access, knowing what to look for/librarians that will direct them (not always happening!!!), & SAFETY IF CAUGHT WITH SAID BOOKS + ability to return.
Plz stop screaming “we have banned books week!” What good does that do kids the other 51 weeks of the year? That one week means the books are already checked out. You’re asking CHILDREN to be organized & remember titles to ask for later that you advertised that week?
You are assuming that librarians are always helpful — there are many wonderful librarians, but they aren’t all wonderful. Many in fact are bigots who are only wonderful to certain types of people or about certain kinds of books.
Many librarians have weird ideas about where children belong in the library or what “level” of reading kids are capable of. Or they think they need to “check” with a parent before offering/suggesting books. They are not all kind, open-minded people who provide safe haven for kids
And if, like me, you are someone who fondly recalls having librarians who did provide you safe haven & multi-cultural recommendations & things that other librarians said were “too advanced for your age” — please recognize what a privilege that is & it doesn’t exist everywhere
Please realize that even if a kid has access to the library — which is a big if to begin with — the ability to check out books & KNOW they should hide them from their parents or manage to hide them from their parents varies widely.
I didn’t have to hide many books. But… there were some I did. And, there were times when I didn’t think I needed to but was very shocked to discover I should have & got a beating for a book I hadn’t realized was going to be a problem at all.
Now, also, consider that a kid borrowing from a library has to deal with the responsibility of returning books that their parent may have confiscated, destroyed, or simply “disappeared” from them. Now they can’t borrow at all anymore.
No, the reality is that the people who most need the books that banned are the least likely to have alternative means of accessing them precisely because of the banning. They don’t know to seek them out, they don’t have the tools to seek them out.
And, they don’t know what they are missing because they are being fed misinformation & propaganda as well. They are being raised & educated with a specific mindset that discourages them from questioning or looking for those books.
Ok, anyone got a list of the recent banned books? I have heard that Kiese Laymon’s Heavy, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, & Ibrahim X Kendi’s Stamped From the Beginning are on the lists. I am wondering WHY it seems every1 is hyper-focused on Maus but not on Black authors.
And I assume there are others, Indigenous, SWANA, Rroma, South Asian, East Asian, etc. not to mention LGBTQ+, disabled authors, & obviously authors live at intersections of identities, who are being targeted.
It is interesting though that I have seen numerous ppl offer to buy/donate copies of Maus, but not Heavy or other books. I keep seeing the suggestion that kids should somehow “seek out banned books” but aside from all access issues I & others have pointed out, which books?
Like, I’m a grown ass person hooked into these convos & with great research skills, & I can’t even find a clear list of which books we are talking about *right now*. (Yes, I can find the “most common banned books” & the ALA top 100 of the last decade.)
To be clear, I absolutely think everyone should read Maus. It’s a super important graphic novel. And I realize that the timing of that controversy coinciding with Holocaust Remembrance Day is relevant too. My comments aren’t to detract from attention to Maus.
But I am sincerely asking 1. What books am I not aware of that have been banned recently, and 2. Please think about WHY there is a disparity of attention to Black & Brown & Queer authors… because it matters. Are Sikh authors also being banned? Muslims? It matters.