Book Bans are erasing History: Dissecting our privilege to read


Ava Westreich, Contributing Writer

During the school year, I struggle finding time to sit down and open up a book. By the time I return home and finish my homework, my brain has absorbed so much information that it can’t fit anymore in––my elementary school days of reading for fun are largely over. As this academic fatigue recurs, books on my “to-read” list linger on my nightstand. But, one book consistently occupies the top of this menacing tower of literature: To Kill a Mockingbird. 

I was finally convinced to read To Kill a Mockingbird (a coming-of-age story about a girl’s discovery of racial injustice within her community) after repeated mentions of it in my English class this year. In more recent months, however, I have learned that not everyone has such easy access to the book, or even the freedom to mention it in class. The censorship of this novel is due to one reason: book bans.

Book bans refer to any action taken against a previously-accessible book to curb its accessibility. When a ban occurs in a school district, the book could be redacted (certain passages or images marked out), restricted (for example, only available with a permission slip), or entirely removed from a school’s library or class curriculum. These bans can sometimes be extended from a school district to the entire state, placing even more barriers in the way of access. 

There are at least 50 groups, consisting of over 300 chapters, working across the country to remove certain books from libraries, and their influence can be wide-reaching. For example, the Florida Citizens Alliance has a network of more than 250,000 people who flood politicians with letters in support of bans. Parents, state or local lawmakers, and school officials also contribute to these efforts. 

Reasons cited for books’ removal often include “lewd” imagery and language. For example, Maus, by Art Spiegelman, is a graphic novel that depicts the experiences of Spiegelman’s Jewish family during the Holocaust. In the case of Maus, the school board objected to language such as “bitch,” “goddamn,” and one appearance of nudity (a small cartoon image of Spiegelman’s mother in the bathtub after taking her own life). While these aspects may not be ideal for a middle school-aged audience, they seem beside the point in a narrative that bears witness to genocide. 

In the United States, a shocking number of books have faced bans: there were 1,648 individual books banned in the 2021-2022 school year, and so far, in the 2022-2023 school year, 874 individual books have been banned according to PEN America’s recent report. 

The majority of these books focus on themes of sexual orientation, health and wellbeing, gender identity, race, and religion. Books have become targets in a culture war over the issues faced by historically mistreated communities, such as LGBTQ+ rights and racial inequality. Yet, when faced with political pressure and parental anxieties, staff at schools are often told to “err on the side of caution” when deciding what books to make available––regardless of whether they support the bans themselves.  

For minority groups, this representation of past and current struggles through literature can provide a sense of recognition and acceptance. Categorizing books as “dangerous” silences these voices.

Without access to books that portray diverse characters, readers only see a one-sided history. In addition, students who identify with these so-called inappropriate themes or characters may feel as though their identities are not worthy of representation. And while politicians may see book bans as a way to shield students from “controversial” topics, they are instead removing students’ access to the world and its history.  

Sophia Liu/Art Director

It’s important to take every effort against book bans while we can. Although book bans are most prevalent in certain states (specifically states where Republicans and conservatives dominate politics) successful policies and practices regarding bans can be extended to other states or communities across the country by motivated individuals. 

In order to end the discrimination of the past, we must first be aware of it. For children, this is vital. At schools, students can develop mutual respect for their peers as well as other individuals that surround them. 

As we reflect on the recent Upper Division-wide Book Day, we should all recognize the value of books. They have the power to spark discussions and bring us together as a community in a day of learning and understanding. Regardless of whether you read Stories of Your Life and Others or not, the most important thing to remember is that we had the freedom to do so. Isn’t that a freedom worth fighting for?