By Ennie Conner and Joanna Reid
There are books that have been banned by lawmakers, schools and libraries all over the United States. Created by activist Judith Krug, Banned Book Week is held annually to combat censorship and promote the right to reading. This year, Banned Book Week took place from Oct. 1-7 with the American Library Association announcing the theme of “Let Freedom Read.”
Recently, there has been an increase in the banning and disapproval of books for a slew of reasons. Books like Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” “The Diary of Anne Frank” and even the dictionary are being banned for purported reasons like “graphic language” and “violence,” even though they’ve been generally approved of for years.
There seems to be no actual reason for the books that are banned to be banned — except for that, oh, they talk about gender, sexuality, race and identity. It’s understandable that some books should be and are banned in many cases — “Mein Kampf,” for example — but these recent bannings aren’t like the others. Here’s what we think.
Joanna: Would you agree that books should never be banned? In my opinion, no matter the subject material, they shouldn't be banned. To use your example of “Mein Kampf,” despite the fact the book is entirely made up of anti-semetic propaganda, I think it's still important to have that information be accessible because it can educate people on Hitler's harmful beliefs. And it definitely gives people an insight to history and what it was like to live during World War II.
Ennie: I think that some things might need a little bit of censoring, but not banning entirely. More like they need to be put into context. When someone is reading “Mein Kampf,” they would need to be educated on the history behind why it was written and who it was written by to truly understand it, just like any other book, but with added measures that make the reader understand that the material is controversial and, in this case, offensive and quite frankly, evil. bad. What do you think about the recent bans, though?
Joanna: I think a huge part of the reason books are banned is because people are hateful and they want to shield others from constructing their own beliefs. More often than not, books that explore themes of race and sexuality are the ones being banned. For example, according to Pen America’s most recent banned book list, the state of Florida has banned a long list of books.
One of these is a personal favorite, “Wayward Son” by Rainbow Rowell. This novel has multiple gay characters; however, the book is not sexually explicit in any way. It’s interesting to me that “Wayward Son” is banned but the other two books in the series are not, despite featuring the same gay characters. In my opinion this shows that books are just being used as political pawns and the people passing legislation to ban these books haven’t even carefully done their research. And I think that this shows the motive for banning books mainly stems from ignorance.
Ennie: I agree! A lot of the recent bannings do stem from people’s own prejudice and a lot of them make little to no sense. It’s not a far stretch to say that the people banning these books have a very similar mindset, and that within that, they’ve determined that everyone else in the world needs to think like them. It’s scary.
Another thing that the book bans do is take away the understanding that these stories provide. A particularly good example, “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” by Betty Smith, written in 1943, was just recently added to some lists–even though it’s 80 years old. It deals with issues like poverty, class and most prominently, sexual assault. It’s not anything graphic at all,but the looming threat is there — just as it is in real life. By taking this book off the shelves, you are taking away a safe way for people to learn about real threats.
Joanna: I feel as though banning books is a limitation on free speech, which is protected under the First Amendment. Unfortunately, legislators get away with this time and time again. Oftentimes for a book to get banned it has to go through a hearing in which the person/group who has issue with the book has to explain why they found the book to be problematic. Before this hearing can be held, the person/group has to read the book in its entirety. Despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that schools are not allowed to restrict books under freedom of speech and press, states are allowed to make their own laws about banning books. Technically, this is how legislators are able to get around this law.
Ennie: Wow, that’s a complicated process. It’s horrible; imagine the toll on the author as well. This book that you’ve written is being deemed as “offensive” to the general public. It’s one thing to be told by a single person that your book is offensive, but to be told that your book is banned in schools and libraries across the country must feel horrible.
Author Maya Angelou said, “I'm always sorry that people ban my books. Many times I've been called the most banned. Many times my books are banned by people who never read two sentences.” A lot of the people that are looking at these books and finding fault in these things are not reading the whole books, not getting the whole picture and still banning them regardless.
Not only are they stripping the First Amendment away, but they are taking the voices away from the people that are speaking up.
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