This week begins the annual “Banned Books Week” which lasts through October 2. The yearly event is sponsored by the American Library Association and promotes literacy, free speech and a free press. It’s the regular battle against the self-styled, self-appointed overlords of what is supposedly proper and improper for everyone to see and read. I’ve always believed this should be a year-long event, as free speech and free press are under constant threat – not just in, but in totalitarian regimes, like North Korea, but even in open societies, such as the United States.
Keep writing and keep fighting!
The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 156 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2020. A total of 273 books were targeted for removal, but here is a list of the most challenged, along with the reasons cited for censoring the books. Some are familiar classics, while others are new arrivals.
George by Alex Gino Reasons: Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community”
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds Reasons: Banned and challenged because of author’s public statements, and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now”
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint and it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author
Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin Reasons: Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote anti-police views
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas Reasons: Challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message
Overall, it appears that some of them are designed to oppress the basic human and constitutional rights of certain groups. The Texas State Legislature meets every two years and, in 2019, their principal goal was to loosen gun restrictions even more than they already were. Those of us who aren’t obsessed with firearms (meaning we don’t suffer from Pencil-Penis Syndrome) wondered how much more lax these rules could become. Stupidity never ceases to amaze me, and conservatives in the Texas State House always deliver.
This year’s session, though, has raised eyebrows and tempers across the nation – and mainly because of two of those 666 laws in particular. One deals with voting and the other with abortion. Abortion has always been an open wound for social and religious conservatives. To them it’s worse than the growing economic inequalities in the country, the prescription drug epidemic, or the fact that so many children in the U.S. live in poverty. Pro-life conservatives are “pro-life” – up to the time that baby is born. Once it pops out of the placental oven, it’s pretty much on its own.
Known as the “fetal heartbeat” bill, it is the most ardent assault upon reproductive freedom since the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. It bans abortions no matter the circumstance (including rape, incest and danger to the mother’s life) after the sixth week of pregnancy, which is usually before most women learn they’re pregnant. It bears that moniker because an embryonic heartbeat allegedly can be detected at the sixth week. In reality, the heart hasn’t developed by that point; only the muscles that eventually will become the heart have formed. The term is misleading. The sound of a heartbeat is generated by the opening and closing of the heart valves. Those valves haven’t formed yet at 6 weeks. When someone detects this so-called “fetal heartbeat”, it’s the sound generated by the ultrasound machine. But self-righteous conservatives in the Texas State Legislature don’t see it that way. It doesn’t conform to their narrow view of reality. In other words, a group of (mostly male) politicians have decided they know more about human development and reproductive health care than actual medical professionals.
But the “fetal heartbeat” law goes even further – allowing anyone who assists in an abortion after that sixth week to be held liable as a criminal accessory and sued for up to $10,000. This isn’t aimed strictly at those in the medical industry. Giving a woman a ride to an abortion clinic, for example, opens them to criminal charges under this law; which means cab drivers are subject. Perhaps comforting a woman after the abortion could be considered criminal. Would a plumber who repairs water pipes in a women’s health clinic be deemed a criminal? It’s not the state that would bring the charges; the $10,000 penalty is for any individual who files suit under the law. Thus, if someone is upset (gets their feelings hurt) because of an abortion, they’re entitled for up to $10,000 compensation.
I’m upset there’s so much stupidity in the world. Where’s my financial compensation?
The other new law gaining notoriety is Senate Bill 1, which targets the voting process. SB 1 limits the early voting period and bans 24-hour and drive-through voting. The drive-through voting idea was proposed last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 elections. Perhaps the most alarming feature of this law is that it allows poll watchers greater access. Voter intimidation is not just rude; it’s felonious. But don’t tell that to Abbott and the rest of the Republican mafia in Texas who symbolize ongoing efforts by conservatives nationwide to undermine the right to vote – the very genesis of democratic societies. It’s something we’ve tried to instill in other countries, such as…well, Iraq and Afghanistan. But, just like the World War II generation moved Heaven and Earth to stop fascism in Europe, yet did nothing to end it here in the U.S., conservatives want people in developing nations to be able to vote in clean and fair elections – without putting the same amount of effort at home.
Like most of the nation, Texas is still in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic with a resurgence of infections and increasing hospitalizations. This past February the Texas power grid system almost completely collapsed with the onset of Winter Storm Uri. Scores of people died. Much of the rest of the state’s infrastructure – mostly roads and bridges – are in dire need of repair or replacement. And, of course, all those children in Texas and across the nation who are uninsured…doesn’t pro-life also mean taking care of them?
The new gaggle of laws has a few other gems – good and bad. HB 1535 allows people to utilize marijuana for medicinal purposes. SB 224 simplifies access to the Supplemental Assistance Program for older and disabled citizens; individuals can forgo the normally required interviews and have a shortened application process. Now this measure is what I would deem pro-life!
On the other hand, we have HB 2497, which establishes an “1836 Project” committee produce educational materials dedicated to Texas history. In 1836, the Battle of the Alamo launched Texas’ separation from México. It’s in contrast to the “1619 Project”, which examines U.S. history from the arrival of enslaved Africans.
Moreover, HB 3979 limits teachers from discussing current events and systemic racism in class. The bill also prevents students from receiving class credit for participating in civic engagement and – wait for it – bans teaching of the aforementioned “1619 Project”.
I attribute these social studies bills as efforts by White conservatives to undermine the true history of the United States; that Native Americans were more civilized and intellectual than many realize; that the “founding fathers” weren’t devout Christians; and that the Civil War really was about keeping an entire race of people enslaved and not states’ rights. Like the presidency of Donald Trump, it’s a strike back against decades of progressive thought and ambition.
I never know what to think of these right-wing fools in elected office. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to put up that sign on my front lawn offering free rides to abortion clinics.
“[The new administration] wants to jack up taxes in order to nudge families toward the kinds of jobs Democrats want them to have, in the kinds of industries Democrats want to exist, with the kinds of cars Democrats want them to drive, using the kinds of child-care arrangements that Democrats want them to pursue.”
A school principal shared some thoughts with Betsy Devos, U.S. Secretary of Education, in a video shared by Bored Teachers. The 2-minute video synopsizes the heroic efforts that teachers took on when the pandemic hit and how Devos needs to “sit down somewhere” and just listen. In fact, that’s the best advice we can give to any political figure – especially those like Devos and others in the Trump Administration who sit in their gilded cages in the ivory towers of wealth and privilege; far removed from the chaos and drama of REAL lives.
Teachers like this gentleman stand at the front lines in the brutal world of education and are now faced with the very real threat of illness and death, as the Trump gang threatens to pull education funding from states that don’t open their schools next month for the start of the new academic year.
“Of course it can. All great literature makes us uncomfortable, because it addresses what makes us fully human. That includes our worst traits, like hatred of those who are different from us. So if your goal is to shield kids from discomfort, you’re going to have to censor a lot of really good books.”
“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge’.”
Once again, it’s time for “Banned Books Week” – the annual event where we free speech advocates and other enlightened souls are forced to counter the anger of the holier-than-thou crowd who somehow feel imbued with the power to tell everyone else what they can read and see. Help support literacy and education. It’s they’re the best tools against ignorance and arrogance. This is a battle we’ll never win. But it’s always worth fighting!
This is something I scribbled down on night in the spring of 1985, shortly before college spring break. That year would turn out to be the single worst in my entire life to date. Just about everything went wrong. It was already starting to go wrong when I wrote this. I was failing academically; trouble with a stupid fraternity; problems with my parents; and a dog in faltering health. For me, the only good thing about 1985 was that it ended.