When I returned to college in my late 40s, I remember walking through Meredith and Duke’s libraries talking about the books. I told them I regretted not being able to read them all, but I thanked them for the knowledge they had and wished I had known what they knew.
Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas was the first church I knew that banned books. I remember images of pyres and flames. Other churches are filling the news today by banning books, like Harry Potter and the Twilight series, because they lead people into the occult and possibly even witchcraft. Ah, witchcraft. Let’s be afraid of the imagination. It can be a dangerous thing. Something about it has the Salem Witch Trials ring. Burn them at the stake. It almost always works.
There might not be a harm in burning books, but there certainly is. Most of the banned books today deal with issues of racism, gender differences, especially LGBTQ and transgender issues, books about sexuality and reproduction. Also books on slavery, racism, the Holocaust, eugenics, apartheid and even the Wilmington riots. Any difficult and embarrassing topic, no matter how illuminating, that might make a few people uncomfortable (mostly straight, white Christian fanatics who thrive on peddling fear) is fair game in the arena of banning books. It’s funny that we can claim freedom of speech until it challenges our notions of what is right and what is wrong.
People also read…
People burn books because they are afraid. Afraid that a bunch of readers will know first-person slave stories. First-person sexual abuse experiences. First-person memoirs of transgender, bisexual, and queer life experiences. There almost seems to be a “let’s keep people ignorant of what’s actually real in the world and in the story, so we can control them”. It is at least a dystopian philosophy.
Do we really think that ignorance will make slavery, gender differences and climate change issues go away? In a June issue of The Washington Post, an article by Angela Haupt reports that “there were 1,586 individual books banned in the nine-month period July 1, 2021 through March 31, 2022. Texas had the most bans, followed by Pennsylvania, Florida, then Oklahoma. A recent report in the Wilmington Star News highlights how this book banning movement is now reaching schools in New Hanover. People show up at school board meetings, and they are not necessarily parents of children in those schools. School board disruptions often make the news and most certainly Twitter feeds. People everywhere are getting upset about something that shouldn’t be a problem in the first place.
In the United States, prohibitionists mobilized Congress to pass the 18th Amendment, which was ratified in 1919. The Temperance League, churches, and other groups like the Anti-Saloon League fought to get the ban” production, import, transport and sale of alcohol”. Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933. Guess what happened during those years? Smuggling. Speak easy. Alcohol sales have gone underground. The “clandestine breweries” ensured that the alcohol flowed freely.
The same happened in South Africa with books that told the story of the oppression and brutality inflicted on indigenous people every day under the heavy hand of the South African government. Uncomfortable truths must be dangerous when discovered. Because when people know the truth, they are empowered to effect change, with justice and righteousness on their side. Too bad change scares so many people.
Sounds like Parenting 101 to me. If I tell my child what he can’t do…like, “Johnny, don’t touch the stove, it’s hot,” what’s the first thing he’s going to do? He touches the stove. That’s like telling someone they can’t do that, that they can’t read that. In a world where social media is almost the Wild West and every child in America has access to it, why do we care about books?
Age-appropriate books from the entirety of human experience (including sexuality), science, medicine, arts, humanities, literature, history, theology and everything else should be read by anyone hoping to become a critical thinker. Ignoring truth and history by banning books will lead us into a great ignorance from which we may not be able to recover. Rethink the book ban. Let’s not go that route.