Over the past couple months, we’ve seen a growing number of legislative efforts towards banning books that focus on LGBTQ+ issues and center the lived experiences of BIPOC folx, most notably in Utah, Texas, and South Carolina. Not shockingly, the states that are pushing the anti-CRT narrative are the same ones calling for these bans. Go figure!
This is nothing more than an executed play from the white privilege playbook. The books in question serve as a major threat to white dominant culture because they provide a portal for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students to enter a world where their full humanity is centered, acknowledged and affirmed. Books also give them the license to nurture their imagination, tap into their creativity, and envision the possibilities of a world where liberation governs their spirits.
In an education system where BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students are either deprioritized within or totally absent from our academic curricula, these books play an integral role in supplementing curricula that have been whitewashed and severely lacking in diverse and inclusive cultural perspectives for as long as I’ve existed on this earth.
Multicultural children’s literature expert Rudine Sims Bishop articulated it best in her acclaimed article, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors,” when she stated that “literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the human experience.” Although Mrs. Bishop was referring to how literature positively impacts BIPOC, I personally believe that she was also sending an indirect message to white folx.
The latter half of the quote, in my opinion, perfectly highlights the irrational angst that so many white folx have towards books that speak transparently about the lived experiences of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people. In many cases, the content in those books that is reflected back to them reveals difficult, uncomfortable, and hopefully sobering truths about the sins of their ancestors. Rather than sit in their discomfort and process what they’ve read, they opt to play the victim card and make erroneous claims that the books teach children to hate white folx, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
Simply put, the banning of these books is just another way for politicians and parents, mostly right-wingers and conservatives, to continue policing the spirits of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students. When they ban these books from our schools, they are not only sending the message that the humanity of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students doesn’t matter, but they are also engaging in curricular gatekeeping, a fact that activist Peggy McIntosh confirmed three decades ago in her article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”, when she asserted that she “can be sure that her children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.”
As ABAR teachers, all we want for our BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students are books that testify to their existence, empower them to advocate the right to belong in any space they enter, and make them more visible than the whitewashed curricula they’re being fed in their schools. Why is that such a crime? Why is the demand for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folx to be fully humanized in the books shelved in classroom libraries more of a threat than crazy young white folx entering their schools with loaded guns and murdering innocent victims? I really need someone to help me make all this make sense.
Curricular gatekeeping is symptomatic of white privilege and continues to pervade our education system to this day. Curricular gatekeeping is essentially the main reason why more states are pushing for the inclusion of ethnic studies in their schools, as well as why more and more BIPOC and LGBTQ+ authors are publishing books that authentically and accurately speak to the lived experiences of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ individuals. It’s also the reason why ABAR grassroots literature movements such as #DisruptTexts, Social Justice Books, and American Indians in Children’s Literature exist today.
How can a parent or an educator who is in support of these book bans proclaim to be a proponent of social-emotional learning when they are so adamant about maintaining the dehumanization, marginalization, and purposeful invisibility of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people in academic curricula?
As a Black man, the sheer fact that one individual or a group of individuals believe they have the power to invalidate or control the narrative of my humanity has never sat well with me. As a father, I want my son to be exposed to books that not only feed his Black joy and imagination, but also teach him to see the humanity in people from all other walks of life. I want him to model empathy and compassion to his peers and teachers. I want him to know that he is enough, always will be enough, and does not need to seek permission from others to share his story to the world.
In the end, this relentless pursuit for the humanity of Black and brown people to matter within an education system that consistently tells us that we don’t matter, in no way, supplants the humanity of white folx. It never has and it never will. I just want my Black son to matter just as much as his white peers. It’s really that simple. As Black and brown people, that’s all we’ve ever asked for. That’s what our ancestors and greatest revolutionary leaders fought so valiantly for.
Even if the dominant culture tells us that we don’t matter, it’s more important for us to discover that greatness and pride within ourselves. Books that speak to us, for us, and are about us provide us with a pathway towards self-love and liberation because they shine a light on our qualities and the overall value that the greater society fails to see in us. As a result, we must do everything possible to ensure that these books remain in our schools and libraries.
If using children’s literature to teach our children how to be empathetic, compassionate human beings to people, irrespective of their racial, cultural, and gender identities, is considered a crime, then I guess I’m guilty as charged and will gladly serve that life sentence.