Welcome to Part One of WWAC’s contribution to our most recent Blog Carnival! Our topic: is there a difference between censures and censors? If so, what? Be sure to check out the accompanying posts from our friends at The Hooded Utilitarian, Panels, Deadshirt, and Paper Droids!
I love banned books. I love that the reading of contested books promotes independence and analysis. I love encouraging people to reach outside their comfort zone and read something that will challenge them mentally and emotionally. For all the time I’ve spent promoting these books, I am thankful that I have yet to encounter the dreaded Contested Book.
I’m always simultaneously tickled and mortified by the American Library Association’s annual banned books statistics. On the one hand, some of the reasons for challenging books are laughable at best (this post from B&N Reads collects a few gems). On the other hand, books have been banned that haven’t even been written yet. People are still burning and destroying books. It’s always the same books, and it’s always the same reasons. Profanity. Sexual content. Poor life choices. Blasphemy.
One thing that never ceases to amaze me is that books are still being banned for promoting homosexuality. In 2005, a mere decade ago, Alabama Representative Gerald Allen even proposed a bill that would prohibit all public schools, universities, and libraries from using public funds to purchase books that “recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle.”
Objection to depictions of homosexuality in literature is commonly filed alongside claims of sexually explicit content and unsuitability for a given age group. And while there are certainly books whose graphic descriptions earn them a place in the adult section of any library, there are many books whose content is not only appropriate, but vital for young readers. After graduating college and looking back at my required reading, I found myself regretting that books like The Color Purple didn’t grace my bookshelves sooner.
And it disturbs me when books about puberty, sexuality, and relationships are challenged on the grounds of sexual content. I struggled with my sexuality and my queerness for most of my youth, and had I been more informed about healthy relationships, queer issues, and my own body, I might have come to terms with it sooner and been better equipped to deal with an abusive and manipulative partner.
Parents want to protect their children. This isn’t a groundbreaking revelation or a new development, and of course is completely understandable. But it’s impossible to censor the world. Restricting their access to books can not only suppress a love of reading, it can also discourage them from seeking out answers to the questions they will inevitably have about sex, racism, religion, and violence. It’s important to remember that challenging a book is a decision that will impact children other than your own. Children have very different experiences, and a text with a plot that centers on abuse may seem graphic to one who has never experienced it, but may give someone else the courage to seek help.
As a teacher, librarian, and formerly conflicted child, I offer the following to parents wishing the best for their children.
A Short Letter to Parents on Banning Books
There are worse things your child could do than read.
Your elementary school children are already familiar with any swears they might find in any novel, comic, or dictionary.
They are also already aware of penises, vaginas, and nipples.
And your high schoolers are definitely familiar with things like sex and masturbation.
Any violence depicted in books is probably not more violent than any other media they are consuming.
That being said, the presence of drugs, alcohol, and violence will not immediately instill in your children a desire to be a part of that life.
Finally, and most importantly:
The best way to protect your child in the long run is to arm them with the knowledge they need to protect themselves.