The Year of Censorship – Book and Film Globe
The book streamers deployed their tentacles with vengeance last year, sparking an explosion of challenges that resulted in books being taken out of student access. Censorship watchers say it’s one of the worst in recent memory.
“What we have seen develop during the year is that this environment of restricted information and access to information has become a real crisis of banning books in schools in across the country, “said the communications director of the National Coalition Against Censorship. Nora Pelizzari said in a phone interview with Book and Film Globe.
“We are seeing an unprecedented volume of challenges,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, executive director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, told Time magazine. “I have worked for ALA for 20 years and I can’t remember a time when we had multiple challenges to overcome on a daily basis. “
In early 2021, Tories blamed “culture cancellation” when Dr Seuss’ estate said in March it would no longer release six of the legendary author’s first children’s books because they contained a “hurtful and wrong” content.
But as the year continued, the culture of cancellation turned out to be coming for children’s books with black, brown, Asian and LGBTQ content. In September, book challenges reported to ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Office rose 60 percent from the previous year. And by December, the challenges had extended beyond the classroom to public libraries.
Titles familiar from the challenges of previous years would resurface again in 2021, such as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Melissa by Alex Gino (formerly George). But new headlines have also emerged as high targets for state-to-state complaints, via angry emails and rants from school boards fueled by well-organized campaigns from conservative groups like Moms for Liberty: Ashley Hope Pérez’s Out of Darkness, Jonathan Evison’s Lawn Boy, Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson.
And it wasn’t just the parents who were complaining. Requests for the withdrawal of books have also come from elected officials.
In Texas, State Representative Matt Krause sent a list of more than 800 books to school districts in Lone Star State, demanding to know if the titles existed on the shelves. North of Austin, Williamson County Commissioners withheld federal pandemic relief funds from two central Texas school districts, citing “X-rated” books in their libraries with “smut.” Although one commissioner warned the move was ‘out of our way’, the rest of the panel insisted, with Commissioner Cynthia Long pledging to provide $ 3.7 million in CARES law funding to Leander District as long as he deleted all copies of 11 books. from all school libraries.
In South Carolina, Governor Henry McMaster called on the state’s superintendent of education to launch an investigation into what he called “obscene and pornographic” material on library shelves.
And in North Carolina, where Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson spoke out against the queer genre, censorship bled again when Wake County public libraries removed seven copies of the graphic novel after a customer requested it. In Llano County, Texas, the public library planned to close for three days in the run-up to Christmas to conduct a “thorough review” of all children’s books, at the request of the Llano County Commissioners Court. , reported the Texas Tribune. The library also plans to create a “young adults plus” section to separate some books from the children’s section. Public libraries in at least three other cities in Texas have also overcome the challenges of the book, the Tribune reported.
School board members also complained. In Tennessee, a Chattanooga County board member called on schools to withdraw Angie Thomas books, among others, citing a “mind-numbing” amount of swearing, violence and sex. In Florida, a school board member filed a criminal complaint – ultimately dropped – saying whoever was responsible for putting All Boys Aren’t Blue on the shelves should be “held accountable.” In Spotsylvania, Va., Two school board members suggested that the books be taken off the shelves and then burned. This council voted unanimously to remove the books for review, but then canceled its action after an outcry from the community.
“We are seeing, at increasing rates, school districts ignoring their own policies and procedures and reacting out of fear,” Pelizzari said.
The disputed books should remain on the shelves during the review process, she said, lest a strategic stack of complaints become a de facto ban. A panel of librarians, educators and parents should decide what to do after a process that includes reading the entire book. She noted that in at least three instances where parents challenged the queer gender, the book was reinstated after a full review.
“Ignoring politics… is setting a dangerous precedent,” Pelizzari said. “This allows a rowdy’s veto.”
Knowledge of district policies became an anchor for the decline of free speech advocates, which increased as complaints accelerated.
In November, librarians formed the #FReadom campaign, which invites supporters of student access every Friday to tweet positive messages about various books using the group’s hashtag, as well as the Lone Star Lawmakers Alert # txlege. The group also provided handwriting models to school boards.
The National Coalition Against Censorship gathered more than 600 signatures – from professional organizations, booksellers and authors – in a December statement opposing the widespread bans. PEN America rallied authors earlier this year for open letters to districts that have withdrawn books, while also issuing statements condemning the bans. And in December, BookRiot launched a matching campaign for donations to EveryLibrary, a nonprofit political action committee for public, school, and college libraries.
Harnessing the voices of students has become a pillar of the struggle to preserve access to books. Students in York, Pa., Have successfully lobbied against a widespread freeze on books and educational resources designed to teach racism. In Flagler County, Florida, students organized a campaign to buy copies of All the Boys Are Not Blue to fight the school board’s complaint.
PEN America sponsored nationwide virtual education on December 15, with programming including students from York; Southlake, Texas; and Kansas City, Missouri, as well as free speech advocates and authors such as Johnson, Pérez, and Neil Gaiman.
Such organized pushback is needed, Pelizzari said, as interdiction efforts continue to expand. While a few books continue to grab the headlines, she said, many more are on the chopping block.
“When you look at these lists… the goals here aren’t, ‘Let’s take a few pounds off,’” she said. “You have to be very careful not to let it slip over a pound or two, and then it’s 800.”