Across the country, the recent uptick in the banning of books written by marginalized people, especially Black queer authors, has never just been about banning books. It’s been about protecting white supremacist ideology and the indoctrination of children in the K-12 system with a false, revisionist history of the U.S. that continues to feed systemic oppressions. Contrary to school board talking points, it is less about protecting the innocence and purity of white children and more about denying and erasing the experiences of other races, genders, and sexual identities as the country’s demographics become more Black, brown, and non-heterosexual.
For Black authors, this is nothing new. Nationwide our writings have continuously been under attack since Phillis Wheatley wrote her first book of poetry in 1773—a book Boston publishers refused to publish in the U.S. Books written by formerly enslaved people, referred to as “Slave Narratives,” faced much scrutiny and denial and even brought potential danger to their authors by those who felt their stories were anti-slavery and anti-American. A fear many of us writers are facing today.
These kinds of books are crucial to young adults’ personal and political development, and banning them prevents young adults from having access to vital information and affirmation of their identities. When white parents and school boards state that a book has subjects that are too “heavy” and “graphic” for a teenager, they admit that they understand nothing about their actual lived experiences in favor of the whitewashed existence and puritanical morality they’ve created in their heads.
According to the 2019 census, Gen-Z is 52% non-Hispanic white, 25% Hispanic, 14% Black, 6% Asian, and 5% other. According to a poll, 15% of Gen-Z identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community. This current data showcases that Gen-Z could be the first generation where non-whites outnumber whites within a few years. These shifting demographics are at the heart of book banning. They are also at the heart of the attacks against voting rights, challenges to abortion rights, voter redistricting, and anti-transgender legislation. Conservatives and certain school boards don’t want books that mirror the current makeup of this country.
For those who benefit the most from systemic oppressions prevalent in the nation, there is an inherent fear of white people losing the majority of the population of this country. That fear is exacerbated by the fact that they might lose their ability to shape student minds through a whitewashed history. As a child, I was conditioned to be grateful to Abraham Lincoln as the white savior who ended slavery. Books like mine and many others tell the truth about these so-called saviors, and they educate young adults with their most powerful tool—the truth.
Our books also share experiences that are non-white and non-heterosexual, giving other young adults their right to read about experiences like—and unlike—their own. No one banning the books seems have any issue with non-white kids being forced to read almost exclusively about the experiences of white children like my family has for generations. At the heart of this is anti-Blackness and anti-queerness, as our stories and experiences are being deemed as potentially “hurtful” to white students without regard for how their experiences have historically and systemically oppressed us.
These bans require a sustained call to action. We must all push back against the conservatives who are trying to remove the books from the libraries. This includes signing petitions, supporting the students who are rallying at school board meetings, and sharing your voice during school board hearings. Conservatives often win by being the loudest people in the room, and making sure that we are in those same rooms sharing our counterpoints is extremely important when decisions to pull books are being made.
Another thing you can do to support an author being harmed by the ban is to buy their books. Higher sales boost our visibility, and visibility helps create more access points. When they are able to remove our books from school libraries, it then becomes on us to make sure they can still get the book at the public library. Or at indie bookstores, Target, LGBTQ+ centers, and grassroots libraries. Sales ensure when there are more places people can receive these books, and even more crucially, when schools deny access, it becomes imperative we teach them at home.
We have reached an unprecedented time where the fear of the majority becoming the minority has reached its boiling point. That fear becomes realized if we allow them to deny us our stories in the same way they have continuously denied our humanity and that of our ancestors. Book bans are about more than removing books. They’re an attempt to remove our existence, and we must fight against them fervently.