By Mikhail Razzak, age 13 and IndyKids staff
The number of book challenges in the United States rose from 156 in all of 2020 to 330 in just the fall of 2021, according to a new American Library Association report. Since January 2021, more than 30 states have introduced classroom censorship laws which regulate discussions and literature, according to PEN America.
Republican lawmakers and some parents have begun challenging books that introduce topics such as race and LGBTQ+ issues, which they argue are “controversial” and “divisive subjects.” In particular, discussions regarding systemic racism, white privilege and male privilege have been targeted, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. State legislatures have claimed that these books cause students to feel guilt or shame over their race or sex.
The students represented by these so-called divisive books are often left out of mainstream media and made to feel like their existence is unimportant. For Black, Hispanic, Native American and LGBTQ kids, it can be validating to see themselves within literature. According to the National Education Association (NEA), these books are referred to as “mirrors”—as marginalized kids feel represented—and “windows”—as it’s equally important for all kids to understand the experiences of those outside of their communities.
“These texts inspire conversations around ‘uncomfortable’ subjects,” high school student and advocate for young people in politics Jack Lobel explained to Parents magazine. “When these texts aren’t taught to us, we’re losing out on conversations that have the potential to inspire real positive change in our communities.”
According to the NEA, by banning these books, school boards and state legislators are communicating to marginalized kids that their experience doesn’t matter. The Economic Policy Institute found that 70% of Black students attend segregated schools, so it’s still hard for kids of different races to connect and care for each other. Diverse books teach empathy, says Erika Long, a school librarian in Tennessee. If white kids lose these books, they lose the window to be able to see what their peers experience. If they can’t see it, the NEA says, they can’t help stop it.
“You only want to give white kids books about white kids and white experiences?” asks teacher and author Torrey Maldonado. “How are we ever going to build empathy?”
Divisive: Causing disagreement
Systemic racism: Racist policies and practices that exist throughout a whole society or organization
White privilege: The set of social and economic advantages that white people have by virtue of their race in a culture characterized by racial inequality
Empathy: The ability to understand and share the feelings of another