Home Written work School book bans catch fire. Black writers say the uproar is not about the students.

School book bans catch fire. Black writers say the uproar is not about the students.


Almost six months ago, famous black children’s book author and illustrator Jerry Craft received a message saying some of his books were being pulled from a school library in Texas.

“I was caught off guard,” Craft, author of the 2019 Newbery Medal-winning graphic novel “New Kid,” told NBCBLK. “I felt bad for the kids because I know how much they love ‘New Kid’ and ‘Class Act’. I know what my school visits are doing. … I felt bad if there were children who couldn’t enjoy it.

The person who sent the message to Craft is from Katy, Texas, a town near Houston that has been criticized for trying to limit public access to books that teach racism. In October, the Katy Independent School District made headlines for temporarily withdrawing two of Craft’s books, which tell the stories of black boys experiencing racism in schools, school libraries, and postponing its virtual tour. A now-deleted petition with over 400 signatures showed parents calling for Craft’s visit to be canceled.

At the time, Craft tweeted that he was shocked by the accusations.

“Apparently I teach critical race theory”, Craft wrote in response to a parent confused about the ban, citing the decades-old academic and legal framework that teaches racism in America.

Jerry Craft’s “New Kid” and “Class Act”.

As the Texas School District reinstated the book and postponed its visit, Craft is among dozens of black authors whose works are being removed from school libraries on the pretext that they teach critical race theory. (Most of the books covered by the bans do not teach critical race theory, but are written by and about people of color.) The American Library Association said its Office for Intellectual Freedom reported that 273 books were affected by censorship attempts in 2020, many of which had content highlighting race, gender and sexuality. Since September alone, there have been at least 230 challenges, the organization said in an email.

Tiffany D. Jackson, author of the 2018 novel “Monday’s Not Coming,” about Missing Colored Girls, is embroiled in a similar controversy. At a school board meeting in Loudoun County, Va., Parents called for Jackson’s work to be banned for “sexual content,” the Loudoun-Times Mirror reported. In an email, Jackson, who is black, said the book is about friendship, dyslexia, community, healing and mentions sex, although there was no comment on it. ‘action.

Fight for Schools, a local advocacy group calling for the removal of critical race theory from school curricula, posted on twitter several clips of outraged parents at a school board meeting reading short passages from “Monday’s Not Coming” containing sexual situations.

Jackson said the attacks on his job were painful.

“It’s hurtful to go through this, to be seen as such a monster, allegedly bribing children,” Jackson wrote in an email. “I had to go back and re-read my own book to determine if we’re reading the same story. MONDAY is not about sex. … Reading is fundamental, but context is essential, so it’s sad to see these schools and parents caught in a phone game.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said many of these book challenges are driven by social media and target stories about people of color.

“We are discouraged that there is this organized campaign to remove the voices of marginalized communities from the shelves of school libraries,” Caldwell-Stone said. “We are particularly discouraged that elected officials who have a duty to uphold the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are also continuing their efforts to suppress these books. “

These challenges also constitute a violation of First Amendment rights, she said.

“Using censorship as a tool is a denial of this freedom, especially the freedom of young people who are targeted by these book bans,” Caldwell-Stone said.

Critical breed theory

At least nine states in predominantly Republican regions have passed bills prohibiting educators from teaching racism in the classroom, and many parents and school boards in those states are stepping up efforts to remove books that tell the stories of children. LGBTQ people and communities of color from local and local communities. school libraries.

Nora Pelizzari, communications director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, an organization that campaigns against censorship on all media platforms, said the challenges are “harmful for all stakeholders.” Pelizzari said educators are forced to comply or face consequences for protesting, while students are denied stories that reflect their real lives.

“When the vast majority of stories that are censored and labeled as ‘dangerous’ tell stories of historically marginalized communities, this reflects directly on students,” Pelizzari said. “That their own stories and their own lives are not suitable for consumption either. ”

In the fall, Texas State Representative Matt Krause, a Republican, published a list of about 850 books that he said “make students uncomfortable” because of their content on race and sexuality. Krause urged school libraries in Texas to report if they own any of the books, including titles such as Mikki Kendall’s 2020 fiction book “Hood Feminism,” Kalynn Bayron’s 2020 young adult novel “Cinderella Is Dead” and Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely in the 2015 young adult novel “All American Boys”. A San Antonio school district cut more than 400 books that were on Krause’s list last month. In a statement, the school district said it was reviewing content to “ensure books are accessible based on age.”

Mikki Kendall.Patrick Epaissin

Jonathan Friedman, director of free speech and education at PEN America, said he expects to see even more calls to ban books on diversity or featuring original characters. various in 2022.

“Anytime you give in or respond to these requests to take books out just because someone objects, it turns into a snowball effect,” Friedman said. “What is so alarming is that we would see books possibly containing black protagonists or written by LGBTQ authors especially come under closer scrutiny.”

Kendall, whose book “Hood Feminism” sheds light on the issues facing women of color, said the bans did not prevent students from sharing her book with others.

“There is nothing more attractive to a child than a forbidden book,” Kendall said. “I watch the kids respond by saying, ‘Well, I read the book to see why they were so upset. “”

Kendall called the bans a “ridiculous publicity stunt.”

Kalyn Bayron.Courtesy of Kalynn Bayron

“It’s spreading and all it’s going to do is undermine the education of children who are unlucky, who don’t look for risk enough, who aren’t prepared enough to seek the information out of them- same, ”she said.

Bayron, whose book “Cinderella is Dead” is about a black queer girl, said the bans covered a much broader topic.

“I don’t see these challenges in my job as a badge of honor,” she said. “These things are a testament to the level of fanaticism that still exists, especially within our public education system.”

Jason Reynolds.James j reddington

More than half of book challenges in the United States are started by parents and clients, compared to just 1% of students, ALA reported. Amid the national outcry, Reynolds, the co-author of “All American Boys,” which is one of ALA’s most banned books, said he was not backing down.

“I have never met a young person who was afraid to read my work,” Reynolds said, adding that naysayers “are doing all they can to protect young people from the things that scare them, not the things that scare them. children “.

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