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The Student News Site of Van Nuys High School

The Mirror

The Student News Site of Van Nuys High School

The Mirror

Book bans are hellish weapons of censorship and false narrative building

Book bans have taken a strong hold over much of Texas and Florida, targeting novels centered around LGTBQIA+ and African American characters.
OFF THE SHELVES Florida and Texas have started a new wave of book bans that aim to create a narrative that excludes people of color and in the LGTBQIA+ community. (PHOTOILLUSTRATION FOR THE MIRROR | SAVANNAH MENJIVAR)

Over the past couple of years, a disturbing trend has arisen in some parts of the nation. Texas, Florida and other Republican states all over the U.S. have been removing books about racism, sexuality and gender identity from their public libraries and schools. 

The ALA (American Library Association) says that 2,571 unique titles were banned or challenged in 2022 and according to the ALA president Lessa Kananiʻopua Pelayo-Lozada, there has been an increase of “organized attempts by groups to censor multiple titles without actually having read many of these books.”

Book bans are nothing new. When Mark Twain first published “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in 1884, a book exploring institutionalized racism and prejudice against Black people in America, many libraries across the country condemned it for its explicit language and removed it from their bookshelves. Some local governments took this initiative even further by outright banning “Huckleberry Finn” within their jurisdictions.

The ban of “Huckleberry Finn” that took place so long ago bears a strong resemblance to the book bans taking place today. From July 2021 to June 2022, 40 percent of the banned titles had protagonists or prominent secondary characters of color according to PEN America, a non-profit tracking book ban data.

The reasoning for such book bans is more or less the same: the books contain content that deals with topics that are “inappropriate” for minors in public schools.. 

Books that discuss racial oppression in America, like “The Hate U Give” and “The Bluest Eye,” for instance, have both been banned in Texas school districts for their graphic descriptions of violence and explicit language. 

Books featuring LGBTQ characters have been a target as well. Just last year, the most challenged book was the memoir “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe, which talked about their journey of self-discovery and realizing they were non-binary. Other titles at the top of the banned books list in 2022 included George M. Johnson’s “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” Mike Curato’s “Flamer,” John Green’s “Looking for Alaska” and Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

The majority of Republican politicians and parents pushing for the bans of LGBTQ books cite these novels as being pornographic for their frank discussions of sex and sexuality. But when over 41% of banned titles in 2022 have content relating to LGBTQIA+ identity and themes, it is clear that the reasoning behind these bans goes deeper than just ensuring children don’t read about explicit language and themes – they’re trying to silence the voices of LGBTQIA+ and people of color by erasing their stories and experiences.

Republican lawmakers in Florida expanded the Parental Rights in Education bill, which prohibits discussion and teaching of gender identity in classrooms in all grades. This law was originally passed in 2022 by Florida governor Ron DeSantis and has forced teachers to remove LGTBQIA+ books from their curriculums and classrooms. 

In 2023, the Florida Board of Education approved Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request to expand the state’s so-called Don’t Say Gay law — which restricts the instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity in the state’s public schools — to all grades. Previously, the law only explicitly applied to children in kindergarten through third grade. Texas House representative Matt Krause, meanwhile, has recommended that his state withhold a total of 850 books that address topics regarding race and sexual identity from all public schools.

This charge to censor books, however, has not been led just by politicians. In fact, most book bans are started by parents. These parents try a myriad of ways to ban these books, from lodging formal requests to remove these books from libraries to, of course, appealing to the local legislature to ban the books for them.

Librarians in Texas public schools are becoming increasingly afraid of featuring LGBTQ novels on their shelves, prompting some to stop ordering new ones or removing existing ones from their shelves. A few are even considering resigning from their jobs, in an effort to prevent themselves from being labeled as “pornographers.”

Discussion of these bans cannot happen without acknowledging what the bans are actually attempting to do. All of these reasons to ban these books – explicit language, pornography graphic descriptions of violence – are but blatant excuses designed to silence minority groups who resonate with the stories or ideas being expressed in these novels.

Perhaps a more damaging impact, however, is being leveraged on the young people reading these books. Many kids of color and kids exploring their sexuality or gender find solace in the books Texas and Florida are trying to ban. They see themselves being represented in the protagonists of these novels, affirming their individual identities and making them feel more accepted in their respective communities as a whole.

The politicians and parents behind these book bans are attempting to remove these teens from this place of comfort. By keeping certain novels out of the kids’ hands, the adults in charge can keep them from feeling included, from discovering their true identity, from feeling truly happy. 

What makes these book bans even more despicable is that some are being enforced in disregard of the law. 

Most school districts nationwide have adopted a policy where, if a parent requests for a book to be removed, it must be submitted via a form that passes through a committee of school employees for review, all while the book in question remains available to read.

Yet, certain schools in Texas have sidestepped this process, allowing school administrators to remove books in order to avoid immediate controversy. The Denton Independent School District in Texas, for example, is reviewing 11 controversial books, even though it has only received a formal complaint for one of them. 

The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees the freedom of the press throughout the US. Without it, our government would not remain accountable, and its citizens would remain one-sided and ill-informed.

Thankfully, California has not fallen yet. In late September, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that punishes California schools that censor books discussing race and sexuality. Still, this plague should serve as a sign for Californians to not let their guard down and resist tyrannical censorship.

Yet, it seems almost as if the politicians in Texas and Florida are sidestepping this intrinsic right as well. They are censoring information that gets taken out of context in order to keep some books in schools and libraries and not others. 

This wave of book bans is not, as the politicians and parents claim, a crusade to save children’s innocent souls from graphic depictions of the real world. This is a group of people trying to control the minds of kids by deciding what they should and should not be able to read about and experience. Those leading the book bans want to craft a narrative that excludes some communities and upholds others – all at the sake of millions of kids’ livelihoods, self-esteem and satisfaction.

The abridged version of this article appeared in the Fall 2023 print edition. This is an uncut version.

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About the Contributor
Daimler Koch
Daimler Koch, Online Editor-in-Chief
As the Executive Editor-in-Chief of my own weekly satirical newsletter, I’m always striving to improve my writing skills in all forms. During my first year of Journalism, I was an Arts and Entertainment staff writer and later the editor of the Opinion section. Now, I’m the Online Editor-in-Chief for the Mirror. Outside of school, I’m always either reading, pretending to be four different people for my newsletter, or preparing for my next martial arts belt test. After I graduate high school, I will go to college and study to become an English professor.
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  • C

    CalebMay 27, 2024 at 1:35 pm

    I understand the concerns over this, but the fact is that some of these books have visual depictions of sex in them, and that is a cause of concern. furthermore we have to understand that removing these books from teen libraries isn’t the same as banning them or even setting them on fire.

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