It’s 2022 and book banning and censorship may seem like a thing of the past. We live in a progressive, modern society, no? Well, not really. As was evidenced during the 2020 election cycle, there are pockets of society throughout the entire United States that are desperate to cling on to their white-centered views of culture and so-called Christian values, and they’ll do just about anything to protect them. They may have lost that election, but they haven’t given up. In 2022, book banning is a trending topic that’s risen to the surface for conservatives, and frankly, it’s disturbing.
Three hundred and thirty books were “challenged” in the fall of 2021 alone, according to the American Library Association, which marks a notable increase compared to the past several years. Essentially, these book challenges are complaints by parents, activists, legislators and school officials that suggest that a certain book should be removed from classrooms and libraries. Most often, this is due to language that’s considered, “vulgar.” Recently though, more and more books are being challenged because of “cultural content,” Pura Belpré award-winning Cuban-American author, Meg Medina tells HipLatina. Medina has penned six novels, three picture books and was awarded the coveted Newbery Medal in 2019.
“Reading is such an impactful thing for kids. It gets right into their imagination and their sense of self and it’s really sacred,” says Medina, whose young adult novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, has been the subject of multiple challenges in her home state of Virginia.
Other Latinx authors including, Elizabeth Acevedo, Julia Alvarez, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Esmeralda Santiago and Matt de la Peña, have all written books that have been challenged and outright banned, according to the American Library Association. Not only that, but at least half of the 10 most frequently challenged books in the U.S., were written by BIPOC and LGBTQ authors including Angie Thomas, Toni Morrison and Sherman Alexie.
Medina believes the current surge comes down to the conservative opposition to critical race theory being taught in schools. Civil rights law and policy expert, Bob Kim, defines critical race theory as “a school of thought that explores and critiques American history, society, and institutions of power — including government and legal systems — from a race-based perspective,” according to the organization, Learning for Justice. In essence, it’s the idea of intentionally teaching students about the United States from the perspectives of people of color.
“Critical race theory is not what’s being taught in schools. It’s not what this novel is about. This novel certainly is about a girl considering her Latinidad,” Medina says of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. The novel was initially accused of being vulgar because of its title, and later accused of being Anti-American. “To have the novel attacked as being vulgar was bad enough, but then to have this charge on it was ridiculous. And I make no apologies. Of course it’s about her culture and point of view. Of course it is, because that’s who she is.”
The thing is a book that’s being taught or offered in a school or library can be challenged by just about anyone, which has the potential to significantly impact the choices teachers, librarians and administrators are making. Book banning and censorship are dangerous, because it’s never just about one book. It’s also about the sort of precedent that is set. When those in charge of the choices that are available for our children have to second guess those choices, it could potentially lead them to opting for the perceived safe option. In the case of book banning, that means less representation for our children in the media they are consuming. That’s not to mention the implication it could have on authors, who may end up self-censoring to avoid having their books challenged.
This type of censorship has the potential to go far beyond even that though. There’s actually legislation being proposed in places like Florida and Texas, that attempts to control what is being taught in schools in regard to race, sexuality and other topics that often invite controversy. In Texas, Republican state Rep. Matt Krause` has compiled a list of a whopping 850 books he objects to and has asked schools to report whether they have any of them on their shelves. In just the last few months of 2021, schools in Kansas, Missouri, Florida and Utah, were all pressured to ban books in the wake of ongoing protests by conservatives.
It’s hard enough to get books by Latinx authors featuring Latinx characters into libraries and schools in the first place, In fact, Medina tells us that as few as six percent of children’s books published are by Latinx authors or about Latinx characters. Our kids are already at a disadvantage! So when we have conservatives who want to preserve white supremacy by complaining about books that showcase people of diverse backgrounds and cultures out of fear that people from those groups will be empowered, the issue is compounded.
This type of censorship might not even be legal per the U.S. Constitution, which provides students with First Amendment rights, and indicates that removing books from libraries and schools based on their content—rather than physical condition—may be unconstitutional. The 1982 case of Board of Education v. Pico, actually concluded that “school officials may not exercise their discretion to remove books based on ‘narrowly partisan or political grounds,’ because that would amount to an ‘official suppression of ideas.'” But, if we don’t step up and advocate for our kids’ right to read, book banning will continue to be a problem, and it has the potential to get a lot worse.
Medina believes we’re at risk of our voices and histories being erased. “The bigger issue is, kids’ right to read. And in the case of Latino kids, it’s essential, because when we cut them off from the stories being written by Latinos—by the ‘heroes in their world’ —we’re cutting them off from their own power,” she said. “If we as parents do not fill that void. If we do not fight to make sure that they have access to books that celebrate our families, that celebrate our history, that talk about the difficult intersections, that challenge us…if we don’t do that, what ends up happening is that stereotypes get filled in.”
So what do we do about it? Medina tells us that most schools have a book review policy and a committee — made up of educators, librarians and parents — that reviews any book that is challenged. So the quickest solution is we volunteer. We should also keep reading to our kids and alongside our kids so that school isn’t their only source of exposure to diverse literature. And, never underestimate the power of your own voice. Medina says a letter to your school district, librarian and/or legislator can actually make a difference.