Writing while Black in the United States is not as dangerous as driving while Black, but with the rightwing assault on anything that hints of Critical Race Theory, Black authors are facing censorship and book banning. In Katy, Texas, children’s books by Newbery Medal-winning author Jerry Craft were pulled off the shelves in the school library. Craft was also dis-invited from speaking at the school until the ban on the books, New Kid and Class Act, was rescinded. The books focus on the experience of an African American pre-teenager subject to discrimination at the fictional private school he attends where the student population is overwhelmingly white. According to Craft, the books are based on the difficulties his own sons faced fitting in at a similar school.
A local white parent and school board candidate behind a petition calling for the book banning and canceling Craft’s visit told the Houston Chronicle she “checked all the books out and watched all of [Craft's] interviews and he discusses microaggressions, which is a racial term coined by the conceptual founders of critical race theory. That let me know the ideology of these books.” Apparently she wanted Craft censored because he discussed microagressions, which to her meant he was secretly advocating for Critical Race Theory, which he doesn’t seem to have mentioned.
Jerry Craft responded to the effort to ban his books in a post on the American Library Association Information Freedom Blog.
“Many aspects of my life have changed drastically since my book New Kid became the first graphic novel to win the Newbery Medal. But through it all, what has not changed are my goals for my books: helping kids become the kind of readers that I never was; letting kids see themselves on my pages; and showing kids of color as just regular kids.
As an African American boy who grew up in Washington Heights in New York City, I almost never saw kids like me in any of the books assigned to me in school. Books aimed at kids like me seemed to deal only with history or misery. That’s why it has always been important to me to show kids of color as just regular kids, and to create iconic African American characters like Jordan Banks from New Kid. I hope that readers of all ages will see the kindness and understanding that my characters exhibit and emulate those feelings in their day-to-day lives.
When I first set out to write and illustrate New Kid, I knew there would be giant hurdles to overcome. But I was confident that I was the right person to create this book, for the simple reason that I had experienced many of the same things my protagonist Jordan Banks had. I wanted to illustrate the things that kids like me had to face on a daily basis–like teachers confusing you with another kid of color, or classmates being afraid to come to your house because they assume you live in a bad neighborhood. These things are a lot for a kid to deal with. Oh, and you still have to get good grades! To counteract these stressful moments, I added elements such as strong values, loving families, very supportive friends, and plenty of humor.
I would like to offer a special thank you to the many teachers, librarians, students, and parents who love and champion my books. You have changed my life, in the same way that I hope to have changed yours. And to my readers and fans around the world who tell me how much they relate to my characters, I can’t put into words how much your support means to me.”
Craft is only one of a number of African American authors facing bans because their work touches on the racism impacting on Black children. According to the American Library Association, in 2020, banning campaigns targeted over 250 books, many because they they addressed race, gender, and sexuality. The most challenged books included George by Alex Gino, because it is about a fourth grader dealing with sexual identity; Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds; All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas for supposedly promoting anti-police views; Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson because it discusses rape; Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard; and classics like To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.
Contemporary Black authors under attack include Tiffany D. Jackson, the author of the 2018 novel Monday’s Not Coming. Jackson wrote about a teenage girl of color who disappears and nobody seems to notice that she is missing. At a school board meeting in Loudoun County, Virginia, parents supported by an anti-CRT group Fight for Schools demanded that the book be banned because it contained “sexual content.” Another book being attacked is Hood Feminism, a non-fiction book by Mikki Kendall. In the book, Kendall argues that feminists need to fight for the basic needs and issues that impact on many women of color. These include food security, educational access, a living wage, and safety from gun violence. Cinderella Is Dead is a Young Adult fantasy novel by Kalynn Bayron. It is being attacked for reimaging the Cinderella story from an African American and LGBTQ+ perspective. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely has been attacked for being anti-police. In the book, the lives of Rashad Butler, who is Black, and Quinn Collins, who is white, are changed after Rashad was beaten by police until he was unconscious. The book won a 2016 Coretta Scott King award. The authors, like their characters, are Black and white.
Texas is at the forefront of the book banning campaign because of initiatives by Governor Greg Abbott and state representative Matt Krause. Abbott, who wants to run for President as a rightwing Republican alternative to Donald Trump, is demanding that state education officials ensure that “highly inappropriate books and other content in public school libraries.” Krause, also a Republican, released a list of over 800 books that might “make students feel discomfort” because the discuss race or human sexuality and demanded that school libraries report whether any of the books were in their collections. Krause’s list includes Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron, and The Cider House Rules by John Irving. Coates and Styron are clearly writing about race and racism. Krause wants Cider House banned because it includes references to abortion and child abuse. In compliance with Krause’s request, a school district in San Antonio, “out of an abundance of caution,” pulled over 400 books from its library shelves.
If Abbott and Krause new anything about history, they would know that they campaign puts them in some horrible company. The Confederacy banned Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and other books by abolitionists during the American Civil War. In the United States the federal Comstock law led to bans and Canterbury Tales, books by Oscar Wilde, and James Joyce’s Ulysses. Nazi Germany burned books by Jews and others considered “un-German.” In the modern era China has repeatedly banned books by authors critical of the government. Al-Qaida has also burned books in territory that it seized.
In a 1980 address at the Library of Congress, author Barbara Tuchman explained what happens when books are banned and burned. “Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible.”
The American Library Association sponsors an annual Banned Books Week to challenge the thought police. In 2022 it will be September 18-24.
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