What is happening to our culture
You know the headlines: “Book bans are on the rise.” “Schools have banned books 2,532 times since 2021.”
But have you thought about the big picture? What do book bans do to our relationship to reading? And about our relationships with our neighbors? How do they affect our society?
With thousands of books banned across the country — and more than 100 state-level bills that would further censor books, according to the American Library Association — experts are wondering what will happen to our culture of not having access to certain titles, particularly to those focused on people of color and the LGBTQ community.
“The idea that we’re just talking about schools and libraries here isn’t true,” says Chris Finan, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship. “We’re talking about culture and the availability of culture to the general public.”
What is a book ban?
When a book is “banned,” it means that a book has been removed from school and/or public library curricula because an individual or group has objected to its contents.
Attempting to have a book removed is called a challenge. Most public schools and libraries have boards of directors composed of elected officials (or people appointed by elected officials) who have the power to remove books from the schools and libraries they oversee.
These take place across the country and make headlines in states such as Florida and Texas. From January through August last year, the American Library Association tracked 1,651 targeted books and 681 attempts to limit or ban library resources.
This is nothing new; Historically, some groups will back down when they feel society is too advanced (books like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple, and A Separate Peace have all been banned). Today, critical race theory and books about LGBTQ identities have fueled the partisan flames.
“This campaign has been tremendously successful in creating moral panic around these books,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office of Freedom of Thought.
Some media may, of course, be inadmissible for certain age groups. It’s the definition of ‘obnoxious’ where conflict arises.
Book bans ‘tear the community apart’
Book bans create a culture of fear in society, says Emily Knox President of the National Coalition Against Censorship Board.
Teachers become unsure of what to say in a classroom. Writers wonder if they should write about a certain topic for fear of being targeted. “It’s really much more about a deterrent effect,” says Knox.
These problems are exacerbated at the local level: “They’re really, really tearing the community apart. You learn a lot about your neighbor, whatever it may be, and it can be very difficult to keep a community cohesive once there’s a whole rift in the community.”
The cultural impact
It’s expected that whites won’t make up the majority of people in the US by the 2040s, so kids today “need to be able to have a shared identity in our country and an understanding of our history,” says Knox.
We’re in the middle of a debate about what America’s future will be like, adds Bakari Kitwana, co-editor of Democracy Unchained: How to Rebuild Government For the People.
“With this (debate) comes people who are trying to use their power and influence in public policy to shape politics in their own image,” he says.
Vamsee Juluri, a professor of media and Asian studies at the University of San Francisco, fears that if books are banned in schools, students will miss out on important cultural education. “If a book is banned or suppressed, they won’t even realize that something very important is being excluded from them,” he says.
However, what one group considers “important” another might find immoral. Education and community engagement could help foster better relationships between neighbors to quell disputes about what is appropriate.
Either way, our culture is at stake. “Don’t think that this won’t happen in your school,” says Knox.
Find out about the book ban
Insights from students themselves:Books are banned from school libraries. Here’s what that does to students.
What librarians are up to:Preserving Reading Freedom: After 40 years of Banned Book Week, librarians hatch a new plan to fight back
Schools have banned books 2,532 times since 2021. It’s all part of a “full-fledged” movement.
Book bans are increasing.Which books are most banned and why?
Featuring: Barbara VanDenBurgh