Like so many things in our nation’s history, this is rooted in 1619. From the very moment that Africans were forced to come to the colonies in North America, Black Americans were put on a path to have to fight each and every day to hold our nation accountable to the words of our Declaration of Independence — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Black Americans were never seen as equal. Three-fifths of a person was the compromise that white men decided would best serve their interests. And the fight for freedom and equality has now passed through generations. A quick glance at the news or your social media accounts and you can see that this struggle is far from over. It touches all parts of our society and is likely coming to a school board meeting or classroom library near you.
Book Bans Are Nothing New
One of the more despicable ways that our nation used to keep power over those who they believed should always be enslaved, was to ban anyone from teaching a free person of color or a slave to read, write or spell. This movement to deny literacy and education for Black Americans was taken to new levels across the South after Nat Turner led a slave rebellion in August of 1831. It still lingers with us today.
The abolitionist movement used books to engage the American public about the evils of slavery and helped set in motion a political movement to end the practice of slavery in the United States. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” were just two books written and published during the 1840s and 1850s that fueled the abolitionist movement campaign across the nation.
Even after the Civil War, our nation’s different levels of government used laws and policies to restrict Black students’ ability to receive a quality education. From separate and unequal policies to deliberately designed curriculum that downplays the historically significant roles people of color have played in building our nation, education continues to be the battleground of those fighting against social justice movements.
With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013, came the emotional response from those who are unable or unwilling to accept a society that embraces equality. The historic journalistic work of Nikole Hannah-Jones on the 1619 Project was met with disdain and a movement to not only attack her personally, but also to outlaw the teaching of the truth the 1619 Project shared with our nation. It was the most recent example of those who hold privilege once again injecting that privilege into our education system and forcing policies and laws that would censor and ban the teaching of historical truths.
More recently, we’ve seen the rise of anti-critical race theory movements that purposely mislead the public about a legal academic theory and use fear to enrage parents across the nation. Parents then show up at school board meetings and yell and threaten elected officials to get CRT (and anything even remotely related to race and equity) banned in their local schools. This hate-driven action has culminated in specific national news, catching actions like the firing of Grapevine Colleyville Independent School District Colleyville High School Principal Dr. James Whitfield.
At the same time, we have also seen the latest wave of the traditional attacks on literacy and books as part of this orchestrated effort against social justice movements. In Katy, Texas the Katy ISD gave in to screaming parents who demanded that the award-winning works of author Jerry Craft, “New Kid” and “Class Act,” be removed from school libraries and that the school district cancel Mr. Craft’s upcoming virtual event. “New Kid” is a critically acclaimed work that won many awards including the 2020 Newbery Medal.
In Southlake, Texas Carroll ISD also revived the use of book banning when they recently announced a crackdown on the in-classroom libraries that teachers keep. This was driven by a complaint against a teacher by one family of a fourth grade student who noticed the teacher had a copy of Tiffany Jewell’s “This Book Is Anti-Racist” in her classroom library. The family stated that the book violated their family’s “morals and faith.”
For Generation Z, attacks on teachers and banning books were topics we thought we would only discuss in our history classes. It was those grainy black and white photos of Nazi Germany burning books that made it seem so long ago and something confined to the world’s past.
Our formative years that have shaped our values as a generation happened during a time of hope where a truly diverse America seemed possible. We were on a path to finally embrace that all people are created equal and we overwhelmingly believed in the vision of America that President Obama offered us. And we are taken aback by the continued willingness of older Americans, especially our elected public school board members, to try to take us back in time to an America that was never great, but based on hate and disdain.
At the same time, we are also amused that these same older Americans seem unwilling or unable to understand that Generation Z and Generation Alpha — America’s first majority minority generations — will be tasked with writing future history books and developing curriculum. It’s with these new texts that we will teach our children and grandchildren about the deliberate actions taken by many today to ban books and outlaw the teaching of our true history.
Are they really so oblivious to the fact that, with social media platforms, their actions and the actual truth about what they are doing — the truth about our country — will live on and be available for decades and centuries to come?
Do they not see a future where their hate-driven testimony provided at a small suburban school board meeting will someday be part of a multimedia-driven future textbook and their name, image, voice, and words will be used to point out who they really were?
In 2019, the amazing author Angie Thomas expressed her thoughts on attempts by some parents and adults to have her book “The Hate You Give” banned in schools. She shared her powerful insights on Twitter in this thread.
As Thomas suggests, book banning has never truly been as successful as those who attempted it thought it would be. In most cases, it just brings more attention to the book or person being banned. With the rise of social media platforms, younger Americans can quickly share the news of what is happening and drive more of our peers to read the exact book that they are attempting to restrict. In fact, after Southlake Carroll ISD’s decision to attack “This Book Is Anti-Racist,” I quickly went to Amazon and ordered a copy. I had it in my hands in less than 24 hours.
So, let’s keep reading — and writing — the books that make them uncomfortable.