Authors of color denounce efforts to ban race books

At the American Library Association, annual reports are collected to monitor efforts by parents and political groups to ban books from libraries and schools across the country.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the nonprofit ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, has worked with such reports for about 20 years – and she says she has never seen such a widespread effort to remove from the shelves books on racial and gender diversity. the way she sees it right now.

“What we’re seeing right now is an unprecedented volume of challenge reports that appear to be tied to a loosely organized campaign to remove certain books,” Caldwell-Stone said. “Before you could get one or two challenge reports per week and now we get multiple reports per day.”

While reports for 2021 are still coming in, 273 pounds have been targeted in 2020 – and Caldwell-Stone says the number is expected to be higher this year. The challenge reports are based on press articles and voluntary reports sent to the organization. But the vast majority of book disputes go unreported.

The increase comes as controversy over the concept of race in education grows, as states across the country challenge education on racism and discrimination through action legislative.

“In recent months, a few organizations have advanced the proposition that the voices of the marginalized have no place on library shelves,” anti-censorship ALA wrote in a recent statement against the efforts. “By falsely claiming that these works are subversive, immoral or worse, these groups are inciting the elected and the unelected to abandon constitutional principles, ignore the rule of law and disregard individual rights to promote government censorship of collections. libraries. “

In June 2021, about 150 organizations, including the ALA, wrote an open letter against legislative efforts to restrict education and reading about racism and American history.

Now, some authors of color are speaking out, claiming that books are a tool for children and young adults to learn, ask questions, and see new or nuanced perspectives on the world around them.

“The mind of an adult begins in the imagination of a child,” said poet and author Kwame Alexander, whose books addressing racial issues have been challenged in the struggle to ban certain books from educational spaces. “When you talk about representation, you talk about creating a space for literature in a child’s life that encompasses the kind of world that we claim to want for them, that the world is kind of loving, compassionate, and empathetic. “

No Left Turn in Education is one of the groups leading calls against certain books on race and sexuality. Its website has a long list of books, warning parents that they have been spreading anti-police messages, themes of critical race theory and sexuality education.

“These are the books that are used to propagate radical and racist ideologies to students,” read a statement on the website. “They demean our nation and its heroes, revise our history and divide us as a people with the aim of indoctrinating children with a dangerous ideology.”

No Left Turn in Education did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

Focus on the “critical theory of race”

Critical Race Theory, an academic concept that analyzes how racism affects or guides American laws, has become a target of Republican lawmakers in states across the country although the subject is not formally taught in grades K-12. the 12th grade. At least 29 states have introduced or implemented bills to limit lessons about race and inequality taught in American schools, in the name of stopping “critical race theory.”

Proponents say some lessons blame children for the actions of past generations or make them feel guilty for being white.

“We can and should teach this story without labeling a young child as an oppressor or forcing him to feel guilt or shame because of his race or gender,” Oklahoma Gov. Kevin said. Stitt, when he enacted a bill in his own state. in May. “I refuse to tolerate the opposite at a time when we are already so polarized.”

In a statement to ABC News, Stitt said some forms of the program “define and divide young Oklahomans” based on their race or gender.

The language of the law is almost identical to at least 24 other bills proposed across the country. Lawmakers in several states aim to prohibit educators from teaching that “an individual, by reason of race or gender, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” that ” a meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist. , or designed by a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex “and that” this state or the United States is fundamentally or irreparably racist or sexist “.

This push has led to a growing call for school boards and libraries to remove books that deal with race issues in general – a misinterpretation of what critical race theory is, according to Caldwell-Stone.

“There was a real emphasis on books that dealt with the history of black Americans, the experiences of blacks speaking of racism, the history of racism and slavery in the United States, all under the pretext that they were dealing with the critical theory of race, “Caldwell-Peter said.

Many educators, however, say it’s not critical race theory that is taught in K-12 schools, but it’s basic United States history on race issues in America. They argue that anti-criticism laws on racial theory only serve to restrict the conversation about racism and oppression in America.

Encourage diversity of points of view

A wide range of books, say the authors, is a major factor in getting children to discover new perspectives and view society in nuanced or complex ways.

Author and artist Lulu Delacre, who writes multilingual children’s books focusing on the Latino experience, says she turned to books to learn more about people and identities.

“Several decades ago one of my daughters revealed her homosexuality. And for me, I didn’t know how to react to that because I grew up in… an extremely prejudicial family and guess what? towards the books, ”said Delacre. . “The very first thing I did was tell him I loved him no matter what. The second thing I did was go to the library.”

Delacre and author Sheetal Sheth joined the nonprofit Reading Is Fundamental’s “Rally to Read 100” to encourage young readers to embrace literature from a variety of perspectives.

These authors fear that if children do not have inclusive reading materials, they will not be prepared to see the complexities of the world around them. Specifically, they may not be able to understand and deal with racism or discrimination, Alexander says.

Alexander’s book, “The Undefeated” ended up on some lists of banned books. The book of poetry is described as a “love letter to black life in America” ​​and covers slavery, the civil rights movement and more.

Many books on banned lists deal with similar issues.

“Human beings are afraid of things they can’t see, things they can’t imagine and things they have nothing to do with,” Alexander said. “If you look at the track record of one of the people who banned books, I would say there weren’t any Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni poetry books on their shelves when they were kids. no “House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros on their college shelf. “

Foster “cognitive empathy”

A study from the research journal Frontiers in Psychology found that reading books can promote empathy if it highlights the differences between groups of people and seeks to minimize bias between these different groups of people.

He also found that “identifying readers with different characters is the most valuable contribution of children’s story books to cognitive empathy.”

Alexander said a lack of diversity in education has helped shape some of the efforts to ban books now.

“As children, they didn’t have the opportunity to experience the full capacity of the world,” he said. “And so, when they’re grown up, their imaginations are so limited, all they can see is what they know. And so they’re afraid of things that they don’t know. So it might. be slavery. This could be the tragedy and triumphs of black people in America. It could be the LGBTQ + experience. “

Caldwell-Stone says the organization is also seeing a growing number of challenges for books on LGBTQIA topics amid a wave of anti-transgender legislation.

The authors urge parents and educators to promote banned books and literature despite appeals, in the hopes of preparing children for an increasingly intense social and political climate.

“It’s a product of the political climate we live in,” Sheth said. “The idea that you would take a book where they could see each other or be able to have a conversation or be it a window for them or a mirror for them – if you want to teach our children empathy, kindness and love. , the best place to start is in the books they read. “

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