Congratulations to this year’s notable authors of banned books.
According to the Chicago-based American Library Association, whose Office for Intellectual Freedom keeps track of such things, schools and public libraries are headed toward another record-breaking year of attempts to ban or otherwise challenge books.
As a fellow scrivener, I offer my congratulations to those authors as my way of expressing both sympathy and admiration. Sure, nobody likes to wind up on someone else’s list of deplorables, but cheer up, folks. Some of the finest books I’ve ever read – or put on my to-be-read list – have been banned by somebody.
You can tell a lot about shifts in the cultural winds by what we supposed grown-ups disapprove for our kids.
In 2001, the ALA’s Top 10 included such titles as “Harry Potter” by J.K. Rowling partly because some religious folks thought it was teaching witchcraft, “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck (“racism, violence, offensive language”), “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou (“offensive language, sexually explicit”) and “Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger (“language”).
By 2021, the list showed the rise of LGBTQ themes with such books as “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison and “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, topping the list.
Two notches down was one of my favorites, “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, repeatedly banned and challenged because of “an anti-police message” and “indoctrination of a social agenda.” Maybe its depiction of what struck me as real-life for too many unfortunate Black teen girls was a little too real for some people.
Such a sincere desire to tell the rest of us – or, more precisely, our kids – what they should read is a pretty familiar sentiment these days in the crusades against “critical race theory.”
The national moral panic over CRT has caused me to give up arguing that real CRT, a college-level legal and academic argument about the impact of historic and systemic racism, isn’t even taught in public schools. Ever since Republican Glenn Youngkin beat expectations by winning Virginia’s gubernatorial race as an anti-CRT crusader, conservatives nationwide have applied the label to any diversity talk or study that they don’t like.
That national movement to scrub “indoctrination” out of public schools has something to do with the news that more than 70% of the ALA’s reported 681 attempts to restrict library resources targeted multiple titles. In the past, most challenges to library resources only sought to remove or restrict a single book.
“The unprecedented number of challenges we’re seeing already this year reflects coordinated, national efforts to silence marginalized or historically underrepresented voices,” ALA President Lessa Kanani opua Pelayo-Lozada said in a news release, “and deprive all of us – young people, in particular – of the chance to explore a world beyond the confines of personal experience.”
Some things don’t change, just the names and authors do. I was not surprised to see another of my favorite perennially banned books, Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” missing from the latest list. I guess the classic’s use of the N-word more than a hundred times finally is doing it in.
As I’ve written before, I’m a Black man who defends “Huckleberry Finn” precisely because it is brave enough to use the N-word as freely as a lot of white folks used it back then – and not only in the South.
More important, Twain used the language of those times to put us into Huck’s head as his heart leads him to help his Black enslaved friend Jim run away from his masters, an act that Huck has been painfully taught will send him straight to hell.
In a momentous coming of age decision, shedding all that he has been taught by his conservative elders, he decides his loyalty to Jim is worth that fate.
Not surprisingly, not everyone shares my love for Twain’s work, especially Black folks and liberal intellectuals who accuse Twain of stereotyping. But the book touched me years ago when I was a kid coming of age in an even less racially tolerant world than we have today. If Huck could look past skin color to the conduct of his friend’s character, to paraphrase Martin Luther King’s famous quote, so could I.
Conservatives these days like to take that King quote out of context and make it an argument for pretending racism no longer exists. I think they need to read more.
—Email Clarence Page at email@example.com.