Every day, we’re hearing of more and more books being banned from the shelves of school libraries and educator classrooms across the United States. In fact, PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans lists 2,532 instances of individual books being banned, affecting 1,648 unique book titles between July 2021 to June 2022. And more than 42 states have gone further to propose or implement legislation which would ban or restrict what educators can and cannot teach in classrooms, specifically targeting the teaching of racism in U.S. history.
The proposed or passed laws claim that lessons on racial history can be "divisive" or “controversial”. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has gone further to declare a “war on woke” and, just days before Black History Month 2023, announced plans to overhaul Florida’s state university system including banning schools from “supporting campus activities or programs that promote “divisive” concepts like DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) and CRT (Critical Race Theory)”.
This is not the Governor’s first attack on Black and queer people in the public education system. Last year, the passage of the “Stop Woke Act” prohibited educational institutions and businesses from teaching students and employees anything that would cause anyone to “feel guilt, anguish or any form of psychological distress” due to their race, color, sex or national origin.
Educators teaching people’s history argue that a fuller history empowers students to learn about rich, diverse and persevering movements to end racism, such as the Civil Rights movement.
“Banning books and classroom teachings about racial injustice are not new ideas, they are the latest tactics to prevent social progress from eliminating structural inequalities. Book bans are our wake-up call that we are tilting away from multiracial democracy and towards an authoritarian state where partisan politicians decide what we can read, what we can say and what we can think." - Sumi Cho, Director of Strategic Initiatives at The African American Policy Forum
We asked Sumi for recommendations of essential African American history books threatened or banned under the attacks across the country:
- “Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement” by Kimberlé Crenshaw, et. al., eds. First published in 1995, this foundational anthology critically examines the relationship between race and law. Since 2020, the “CRT” label has been strategically manipulated by right-wing propagandists to demonize any and all forms of antiracism, including restricting teaching of race and sex related concepts in schools and employee trainings.
- “Between the World and Me” by Ta-nehisi Coates. Banned by district administrators in Texas and Pennsylvania, Coates’ award-winning book is written as a letter to his teenage son about the feelings, symbolism and realities associated with being Black in the United States.
- “Sister Outsider” by Audre Lorde. Banned by administrators in Tennessee due to LGBTQ+ related content, this collection of essential essays and speeches written by Audre Lorde focuses on the particulars of her identity—Black woman, lesbian, poet, activist, cancer survivor, mother and feminist.
- “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison. The ALA’s eighth-most banned book of 2021, “The Bluest Eye” tells the story of an 11-year-old African American girl who is convinced that she is ugly and yearns to have lighter skin and blue eyes. The ALA describes it as “banned and challenged because it depicts child sexual abuse and was considered sexually explicit.” In the past two years, Toni Morrison’s classic novel has been banned by administrators of school districts in 13 states.
Honoring the sacrifice and commitment of the Freedom Riders who risked their lives in pursuit of civil justice, The African American Policy Forum champions Freedom Readers through the #TruthBeTold campaign, which co-hosts the Books Unbanned: From Freedom Riders to Freedom Readers Book Clubs.
Creating a long-lasting impact to build open and inclusive learning communities that together will shore up the foundations of multiracial democracy.
Want to get involved?
Learn more about censorship and anti-CRT activity in your state on the AAPF’s interactive map that lists enacted and pending bans in your state. Contact your local and/or state officials to demand repeal of these anti-CRT/anti-LGBTQ+ censorship laws and book bans in your state or locality. Demand that your elected officials invest in and celebrate our country’s diversity as a strength.
Become a Freedom Reader
Just as our Civil Rights heroes resisted the indignities of segregation by becoming Freedom Riders and opening Freedom Schools, we must become Freedom Readers to resist this attempt to relegate our history, stories and knowledge to oblivion. Register today to join the AAPF’s book club Books Unbanned: From Freedom Riders to Freedom Readers.
Donate to the African American Policy Forum
The AAPF is bringing together academics, policymakers, artists, politicians, activists and stakeholders to promote frameworks and strategies that embraces the intersections of race, gender, class, and the array of barriers that serve to disempower those who are marginalized in society. Donate now to support their vital work in creating a more just future through inclusive and truthful education.
Book bans are severely restructuring what educators can and cannot teach in classrooms—we must come together to help defend educators and librarians under attack. Support Black-owned book stores, proudly read banned books and stay loud as we fight for the truth to be told.