This past week September 18-24, has been Banned Book Week in the United States; a week when those of us who stand for the First Amendment take note of the thousands of books that have been targeted for banning across this country. This past week has been meant to celebrate the freedom to read, draw attention to banned and challenged books, and highlighting persecuted individuals.
It’s been forty years since the awareness program began because it appeared necessary to point out that there are those in this country for whom banning books is acceptable. Sponsors include the American Library Association and Amnesty International.
At the moment, there are more than 2,560 books that have been banned in this country, by conservative school boards, right-wing religious groups; dropped from use in curriculums, forced off shelves in schools and public libraries by conservative groups that fear the book, the author, or simply the words on the pages. Often it isn’t like these groups have even read the books they seek to ban; they fear the thoughts expressed, or have been told they should.
What we are seeing at this moment in this country is an organized ideological movement. It isn’t so much a content issue as a “backpack issue,” designed to rial people up under the guise of parents rights and make this another devisive issue prior to the elections. Frankly, this isn’t just recent; it represents a segment of our fellow Americans who are pushing back against the demographic trends which are gradually making us a more diverse, younger and more urban population.
Banning books — indeed burning books — is not a new phenomenon. As long as there have been printed books, including Gutenburg’s first effort, which happened to be the Bible, some people, in some places have objected to seeing the words, having been told that it was up to the clergy of the one, true church to tell people what it said.
In 1933 as the Nazi Party led by dictator Adolf Hitler rose to power, it famously burned novels and plays, poetry and paintings — any and all work deemed dangerous to the Reich. While their first target was the creative product of Jews, the attacks grew to include works by scientists, inventors, novelists, and artists — anyone who represented a threat to his goal of world domination and the complete destruction of the Jewish people who he blamed for everything.
The banned list includes an over-representation of books by minorities and those of the LBGTQ community. That the books are Pulitzer Prize winners, Pen America Awards, Nobel winners, does not seem to matter. For instance “Beloved” a biography by Toni Morrison, and “The 1619 Project” (which describe the arrival of the first ethnic-African slaves in the Americas), are banned in many places and have been repeatedly attacked by public figures trying to make political and “cultural” points.
One of the latest banned books in some Texas school districts: the graphic novel version of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” the diary of a young, Jewish girl in hiding in Holland from Hitler’s extermination of the Jews during World War II . It is a coming-of-age book of a doomed young girl; a vivid insight into the horrors visited upon the world by a power-crazed man who murdered millions of those who didn’t fit his dreams of Aryan domination.
Here in Chaffee County as well as in Gunnison county, people have walked into public libraries and complained about books on the shelves, and it appears that so far, our public library officials have sensibly declined to remove them.
Wouldn’t the most logical response be “if you don’t want to read the book — don’t read the book,” instead of attempting to control what the rest of us read?
This week in metro Denver it progressed from those choosing to rail against specific books, to violent threats to public libraries and a few schools; which this week shut down the entire Denver Public Library System and the Adams County School District.
“There are actually processes for banning books, said the Director of Penn America Suzanne Mossell, who explained the review process involving authorities on topics. But she says that at this moment there are all sorts of attempts to just pull entire categories of books off shelves because a person or a group of “like-minded people” say that the books make them feel”uncomfortable.”
“Discomfort is an important part of the learning process,” said Mossell. “Children need to be exposed to a breadth of narratives.”
“Reading opens the world,” she adds, “books can be lifesavers for children and teens who don’t know where they fit and conservatives who say they are First Amendment protectors, seem to conveniently ignore that this stance is anti-First Amendment.”
Featured image: A few of the books currently banned in some places across the U.S. Image courtesy of the Witchita Beacon