According to a research, more than 1,500 book bans have been implemented in US school districts in the previous nine months, an act that has been described as “unparalleled in its severity.”
For its “Banned in the USA” study, PEN America, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting freedom of speech in the United States, examined moves to remove particular books from school libraries. Rightwing politicians and activists targeted 1,145 books, including Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison’s work, according to the group.
The analysis demonstrates the powerful influence of conservatives’ continued efforts to suppress literature in schools. The bans have mostly targeted works that deal with race and LGBTQ problems, with many of the banned books being published by non-white or LGBTQ writers.
In what it called the first “book by book, district by district assessment of what books are being banned, where in the country, and by what methods,” PEN America tallied activities from July 1, 2021, through March 31, this year. There were 1,586 restrictions in 86 school districts across 26 states, according to the study.
“This type of data has never been tallied and quite frankly the results are shocking,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s Free Expression and Education.
“Challenges to books, specifically books by non-white male authors, are happening at the highest rates we’ve ever seen. What is happening in this country in terms of banning books in schools is unparalleled in its frequency, intensity and success.”
The data shows that there was a common thread running across the book bans. According to PEN America, 41 percent of the banned books had “protagonists or important supporting characters” of race.
Approximately 22% of the banned works “clearly address issues of race and racism,” while 33% “explicitly address LGBTQ+ themes, or include LGBTQ+ protagonists or major supporting characters.”
The three most commonly banned novels, according to PEN America, are all about LGBTQ+ people or “touch on the topic of same-sex relationships.”
Maia Kobabe’s memoir Gender Queer: A Memoir has been banned in 30 school districts, while George M Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue and Jonathan Evison’s Lawn Boy have also been targeted.
Out of Darkness, a novel about a relationship between a Black adolescent boy and a Mexican American girl written by Ashley Hope Pérez, has been banned in 16 districts, while Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, a novella about a young Black girl’s experiences in 1940s America, has been banned in 12 districts.
“This is an orchestrated attack on books whose subjects only recently gained a foothold on school library shelves and in classrooms,” Friedman said.
“We are witnessing the erasure of topics that only recently represented progress toward inclusion.”
A surge of rightwing legislation has accompanied the book restriction, limiting what instructors may and cannot discuss in classrooms. Florida approved “don’t mention gay” legislation in March, prohibiting “education” on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
Some states have also made it illegal to mention the modern-day consequences of historical racism in the United States, a topic that has become a political football for Republicans at both the state and national levels.
Conservative organisations tied to wealthy rightwing benefactors have regularly campaigned for censorship. Book-banning initiatives in the United States have been aided by organizations such as Moms for Liberty and Parents Defending Education, which sometimes depict themselves as modest, “grassroots” activities despite having ties to famous, rich Republicans.
However, there is some evidence that efforts to suppress books about racism and LGBTQ problems are having the opposite impact.
“Banned book clubs,” in which children and young adults meet to read and discuss books that have been censored by school districts, have sprung up all over the country, while sales of Maus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, soared in January after it was banned by a Tennessee school board.