POV: Books Are Being Banned across the Country: Here’s What’s Really at Stake
Literature that allows us to see ourselves—perhaps for the first time—deserves to exist, to be read, to be discussed
I do not enjoy pizza. I know this seems off topic, but go with me here for a minute. I don’t understand why heating tomato sauce to a bazillion degrees and then using cheese for its insulating properties in order to keep the sauce at mouth-tissue-scalding temperature is a popular food event.
But, as much as I loathe it—and I do loathe pizza with the power of a thousand white hot suns—I have never considered it my job, my duty, my place, or my responsibility to stop anyone else from eating it. I have never stood outside a pizza place and knocked slices out of people’s hands. I don’t toss road spikes in front of cars delivering this mess of carbs! Instead—and I know this is going to sound wild, so you might want to sit down for a second—I do not order nor do I eat pizza.
That’s it. That’s the extent of my action. I do not like it, so I do not ingest it. If someone asks me if I recommend that they try pizza—I might howl about the indignity of it all, but I am not going to stand in their way.
So why do I mention pizza?
Well, in a lot of ways pizza is like books about topics, histories, subjects, and ideas that individuals may not like. There are lots of books. Some are poorly written or have plots that drag and unimaginative characters. Some are filled with racist, sexist, or ableist representations. Think of these as the Hawaiian pizza of literature.
There are also books that possess a magic that allows readers to explore ideas, events, realities, and experiences outside themselves. And there are books that allow us to see ourselves—perhaps for the first time—and make us feel seen and loved and worthy. Some books even scare us—as readers, as children, as adults.
All of these books deserve to exist. They deserve to be read, critically examined, discussed, and evaluated. But that isn’t what is happening. There is a distinct subset of books that are being challenged and banned in school districts across this country. They are being taken off shelves in libraries and out of classrooms. They are being taken out of the hands of students who are trying to figure out the world.
The books that are being removed are overwhelmingly by and about marginalized individuals and communities. These books are stories and experiences told by those who have had their histories erased, voices stolen, and beauty denied. They center a reality that frightens and intimidates those who are accustomed to power and privilege. Here are some examples:
- The Proudest Blue, by Ibtihaj Muhammad and S. K. Ali, about a young woman deciding to wear hijab and the ways choices affect and influence those around us.
- Ruth and the Green Book, by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, Gwen Strauss, and Floyd Cooper, and Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation, by Duncan Tonatium, which provide historical contexts of racial segregation in American history.
- And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, and Henry Cole, and Melissa, by Alex Gino, children’s books that offer ways of seeing the multiplicity of the LGBTQIA+ community.
- Finally, for a big dose of triumph in worlds that are not meant to love and support marginalized people, enjoy Jerry Craft’s graphic novel New Kid, Lupita Nyong’o and Vashti Harrison’s Sulwe, and Kevin Noble Maillard and Juana Martinz-Neal’s Fry Bread.
There are literally hundreds of books being banned and challenged in schools across the country—in Pennsylvania, Kansas, Texas, Rhode Island, Virginia, New Hampshire, and all points in between. The anti–critical race theory movement is coming for books written by and about marginalized people. The books being removed from shelves and challenged by community members are books about love, trauma, blame, joy, mystery, and pride that do not center the white, male, cis, straight, able, Christian, middle-class experience that has for far too long been the normative lens for storytelling in education.
The folks who are afraid of seeing histories also fear recognizing our present. We are a country that is on the cusp of having no clear racial majority. We are a country that must grapple with our past in order to have a future that includes all of us.
Maybe that is the difference between pizza and books about marginalized histories, people, and events.
I fear no pizza.
Laura M. Jiménez is BU Wheelock School of Education & Human Development associate dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion and a senior lecturer in language and literacy education; she can be reached at email@example.com.
“POV” is an opinion page that provides timely commentaries from students, faculty, and staff on a variety of issues: on-campus, local, state, national, or international. Anyone interested in submitting a piece, which should be about 700 words long, should contact John O’Rourke at firstname.lastname@example.org. BU Today reserves the right to reject or edit submissions. The views expressed are solely those of the author and are not intended to represent the views of Boston University.