I would not have found this book had it not been for my mother or one of my older brothers who had picked it up in one of the books that had been handed out and left it on the floor in the living room, where I noticed it lying there and picked it up. That’s why efforts to ban books, or reduce the number of people who might unexpectedly stumble upon a book they didn’t know could change their lives, is so detrimental—especially for kids who grew up with few resources, the way it did.
And there are people like my wife, whose lives are changed at an elementary school book fair with “Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears: A West African Tale,” a story written by Verna Ardema and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon — about an African legend about what happens after a mosquito lies to her. iguana; Its cover photo spoke to her, a young black public school girl in South Carolina who grew up in the shadow of farms where our ancestors toiled as bonded laborers. It helped her feel better connected to their ancestors in Africa, whose lives we hardly notice in history textbooks. And she went on to found a non-profit literacy organization that helps kids build their own libraries at home.
But today, for kids like us—those whose lives can truly be changed by an unexpected encounter with books—communicating that magic has become unnecessarily more difficult.
This is partly due to things like the ridiculous claim that seahorses are, according to some parents, too sexual to present to impressionable young minds. And because other parents have trouble with books about Anne Frank and civil rights icon Ruby Bridges. Now even Jesus has been dragged into this mess.
This is what happens when you open Pandora’s box of book bans and laws targeting journalistic endeavors that conservatives and their lieutenants don’t like. No number or subject is excluded. According to PEN America, state legislative proposals to restrict freedom of learning and teaching increased 250% in 2022 compared to last year. The United States is not Saudi Arabia, which recently sentenced a woman to 34 years in prison for tweeting. But make no mistake. This procession of madness will go on, trampling on much of what is good in this country, if we do not decide – now – to confront it with determination at every turn. The start of a new school year is the time to fulfill this commitment.
While book bans and censorship laws have been with us for a long time, what we’re seeing is “unprecedented in scale,” according to PEN America’s Jonathan Friedman. During the nine-month period between July 2021 and March of this year, there were approximately 1,600 targeted books. Books on themes of race, racism, sexual orientation, and gender identity were the primary goals, for example, of misguided Tennessee parents who followed up on children’s books about Bridges and Chris Butterworth’s Seahorse: The Shy Fish of the Sea.
The Tennessee parents claimed that Bridges’ story, which revolves around the civil rights icon’s journey as one of the first black girls in elementary school to integrate a school against the wishes of angry white groups, might make white children today feel bad, while “Si’s horse was supposed to be very sexual.” Because of a scene in this children’s book about sea horses twisting their legs around each other.
In Texas, officials in a school district near Fort Worth have directed school staff and librarians to temporarily remove books — including a Christian Bible and an illustrated adaptation of Frank’s diary — that have been challenged through the district’s official complaint process, which allows parents, staff and area residents to file Objections or objections to books and educational materials used in schools. This is the reason why Pandora’s box won’t open. In such an environment, an angry lonely parent could force a book to at least temporarily remove it from library shelves.
A committee then reviews and determines whether these materials will remain in schools. The county said in a statement that books “that meet the new guidelines will be returned to libraries as soon as they are confirmed to comply with the new policy.”
This latest moral panic began to cross the line in 2019 after objections to Project 1619, published in the New York Times Magazine during the 400th anniversary of the beginning of baggage slavery in what would become the United States of America, sparked a flurry of publicity. Over the past four years, New York Times journalist Nicole Hannah Jones, who spearheaded the project, has been relentlessly assaulted by those outraged who dared tell a fuller story about how this country came to be — detailing the central role Africa played. Americans and Tracing the Legacy of Slavery – Instead of the watered-down version, most of us were fed when we were kids.
This and the violent reaction to the unprecedented protests after the killing of George Floyd have caused smart people to lose their permanent minds. Conservatives have not all initiated calls for censorship, although they are clearly at the forefront of this rise in censorship. Since many of them are Christians, perhaps seeing their Bible in plain sight will awaken them to the comic of it all. Perhaps they will join the rest of us and remember the power and importance of books, even those we think are dangerous – especially those we think are dangerous.
Jesus was persecuted because he was out of time, daring to visit and love the undesirables, those who had been pushed to the margins of society, spit on them, and considered traitors. He was executed because he challenged those in power who thought themselves more pious than anyone else, as if their opinions, comforts, and customs were sacred, and that anyone who dared see things differently was not worthy of being discussed as fellow human beings or better. Understandable, but excluded.
How ironic, then, that people who say they want to imitate Jesus are leading efforts to ban books and journalistic work designed to uplift the hopeless, reflect on the forgotten, and right wrongs? I am also a Christian. I also want to imitate Jesus. That is why it saddens me that many whom I call brothers and sisters in Christ, such as those in the red states crowded with Christians, like my native South Carolina, do not stand against this folly but rather fuel it.
Books on gender, sexual orientation, race, and racism have been repeatedly targeted. That the Christian Bible receives similar treatment is a kind of poetic justice. I suspect that conservatives and Christians who were in favor of banning books would not want the Bible to be challenged in this way, by an unknown parent who might really object to it or was simply trying to make a point. Either way, it confirms the cause of the error in blocking the books. They never stop eliminating only the “right” books.
It also explains why we must back down – and forcefully – against this ban. Some people are starting to do just that. A Louisiana librarian resists attempts by conservatives in Livingston Parish to ban books there. Hannah Jones Wisely double
In her landmark work, he first transformed the magazine project into a book and podcast, and now serves as the basis for a course at Howard University in which those who value great journalism and strong free expression must be.
But you don’t have to file lawsuits or create innovative college journalism programs to fall back on. Maybe you could organize a book fair or two. My wife and her organization are considering doing exactly that. You won’t forget how dizzy she was as a little girl walking out of a gallery amazed because she “Gives you these for free?!”
A book about mosquitoes that happened at the book fair changed her life. A book about sea horses at an exhibition you’re curating might turn a kid forever.