When book bans become personal: A list of the twenty-two books I own that have been politically prohibited
“In total, for the nine-month period represented (July 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022), the Index lists 1,586 instances of individual books being banned, affecting 1,145 unique book titles. This encompasses different types of bans, including removals of books from school libraries, prohibitions in classrooms, or both, as well as books banned from circulation during investigations resulting from challenges from parents, educators, administrators, board members, or responses to laws passed by legislatures…The Index lists bans on 1,145 titles by 874 different authors, 198 illustrators, and 9 translators, impacting the literary, scholarly, and creative work of 1,081 people altogether. The Index lists book bans that have occurred in 86 school districts in 26 states. These districts represent 2,899 schools with a combined enrollment of over 2 million students.” – Pen America, Banned in the USA: Rising School Book Bans Threaten Free Expression and Students’ First Amendment Rights
When a friend recently sent me a link to read a comprehensive, detailed account, of book bans around the country, I knew that some of the books I owned would probably be on the list. The extent of the list of banned books did not come as a surprise to me, I’ve been speaking about this infringement of freedom of speech for a while.
It took me over an hour to go through the spreadsheet, looking for familiar books and authors. I might have missed some titles that I own. I’m sure I got most of them though.
Often things in the news seem disconnected from our daily lives. This is one of those times when our personal lives are directly impacted by something in the news that many of us have ignored. If you go to Pen America and look up the spreadsheet, I want you to search as I did for books you own. You might be surprised.
The list of books I own that are banned somewhere in the country includes books I read as a student in K-12 school, books that were in the libraries of schools I taught in, books I was assigned to read in college, and books I have recommended people read to understand systemic racism. The books are being banned from use in classrooms, and libraries across the country.
Several of the books on my list are award winning books. A number of them have spent time on the New York Times Bestseller List. Famous authors like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Maya Angelou, Lorraine Hansberry, Zora Neale Thurston, Ibram X. Kendi, Toni Morrison, John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, and Alice Walker are included in the list of books I own which have been banned. This is just from my list. The full list includes many other titles by famous authors, award winners and best sellers.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison has been banned in 12 schools districts. Only 4 other books have been banned by more districts. Overall, Morrison has had 3 books banned by 13 different school districts.
One of the biggest players in this book banning is the Central York school district in Pennsylvania. They have banned 12 books I own. The database from Pen America indicates that this district has banned 441 titles. According to York Dispatch, “All of these books either include main characters of color or are written by people of color. “
In the Central York school district, nearly 32% of the students are students of color. The district has 7 schools serving 5,739 students. Based on 2017 data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office on Civil Rights, the district has major discipline disparities for Black and Hispanic students. Black students were 8.7% of students, but accounted for 20.1% of out-of school suspensions. Hispanic students made up 21.7% of out-of school suspensions despite being just 10.6% of students. Within the district, 27.6% of students were Black, Hispanic or Two or More races. This cohort were 55.6% of students referred to law enforcement.
Obviously this disparate treatment of students of color is not outside the norm of many school districts around the country. Central York is not an outlier in that way but certainly are when it comes to these book bans. Students and community members have spoken out against these bans in York.
These are school districts across the USA that have banned books I own:
- Central York, Pennsylvania
- North East, Texas
- Bristow Public Schools, Oklahoma
- Edmond Public Schools, Oklahoma
- Virginia Beach, Virginia
- Indian River County Schools, Florida
- Granbury Independent Schools, Texas
- Klein ISD, Texas
- Flager School District, Florida
- Pitt County Schools, North Carolina
- Polk County Schools, Florida
- Birdville, Texas
As these book bans occur in places around the country, Wisconsin has not been left out. According to the database, the Elmbrook school district has banned two books. Both books are written about the LGBTQ+ experience. The two books are, Queer: The Ultimate LGBTQ Guide for Teens by Kathy Belge and and Marke Bieschke, and This Book is Gay by June Dawson. Three other books have been banned in the School District of Cadott.
This is a short list of some of the books I own that are banned:
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
- Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald
- Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism by Derrick Bell
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
- Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire
- A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
- How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
- An African American and Latinx History of the United States by Paul Ortiz
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The people creating various lists of books to ban are intentionally trying to hide many of the stories I feel very passionate about. The stories of the experiences of people of color, are being kept away from children in our schools. It is a blatant attempt to silence the voices of people of color, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ communities.
These are some other book titles that are apparently so “frightening” that people have banned them too:
- Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez
- Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race
- I Am Martin Luther King Jr.
- I Am Rosa Parks
- Peter Pan
- The Handmaid’s Tale
- The Hate U Give
- The Story of Rap
- The Story of Ruby Bridges
- What Were the Negro Leagues?
- Who are Venus and Serena Williams?
- Who is Barack Obama?
- Who is Michelle Obama?
- Who Was Jesse Owens?
- Who Was Lucille Ball?
- Who Was Marie Curie?
- Who was Maya Angelou?
- Who Was Nelson Mandela?
Any popular book that acknowledges racism is on the list. More books are being added in more school districts every single day. Now there is evidence that these bans have now crossed over into public libraries as well.
“…Llano (Texas) joins a growing number of communities across America where conservatives have mounted challenges to books and other content related to race, sex, gender and other subjects they deem inappropriate. A movement that started in schools has rapidly expanded to public libraries, accounting for 37 percent of book challenges last year, according to the American Library Association. Conservative activists in several states, including Texas, Montana and Louisiana have joined forces with like-minded officials to dissolve libraries’ governing bodies, rewrite or delete censorship protections, and remove books outside of official challenge procedures.” – The Washington Post
Additionally Florida recently began to ban math books as well. According to the Huffington Post, “The Florida Department of Education announced Friday it would not include 54 of the 132 ― or 41% ― of math textbooks on the state’s adopted list, citing “CRT” as one of the main reasons.”
It is important that we pay attention to these book bans and call them what they are, “infringements of First Amendment rights.” The winds of change are blowing in the wrong direction in far too many places, with far too little attention being paid to it. Wake up and speak out before your favorite books are banned too.