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Efforts to ban books are working, but why?

An illustration of books being covered in censored tape. PEN America, a nonprofit that advocates for literacy and free speech, found that 1,648 books were banned from schools between July 2021 to June 2022. PUBLIC DOMAIN / ILLUSTRATED BY TIM GIORLANDO

In the past two years, there has been a social movement instigated by lawmakers, right-wing media, conservative parents and Christian nationalists to challenge books that tackle LGBTQ+ issues, racism, race and sexual assault. 

In September 2022, New York-based nonprofit PEN America, which advocates for literacy and free speech, updated their report on 2021-2022 school book bans. They found that 1,648 books were banned between July 2021 to June 2022, with schools removing a whopping 2,532 copies from their grounds.

Even blue New York wasn’t exempt from participating in this wave of censorship. In April, following parents’ demands to remove a book from circulation because of a sex scene, Connetquot Central School District banned non-binary author Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir.” While students can now read the book with a permission slip, PEN America says that books which require a permission slip are still considered banned

One of the ways this movement is taking hold on the community is through organized efforts on social media, such as Moms For Liberty, a Florida-based Facebook group which has over 200 chapters, including ones in Nassau and Suffolk County. This movement is not only growing but it is effective in achieving its goals. As PEN America found, 20% of banned books can be traced back to these groups. 

Their ideology promotes teaching children to essentially be colorblind. According to their website, Moms For Liberty claims their group is “dedicated to fighting for the survival of America by uniting and empowering parents.” It’s an organization that festers off of ignorance by “red-pilling” their members. They’ve made it their mission to take on school boards in their fight against books that they falsely claim to be “critical race theory.”

For example, in June 2021, Commack School District voted to remove Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel “Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood” from its required reading list. The coming-of-age work, whose protagonist is an Iranian girl living through the 1978 Iranian Revolution, was removed due to violent content.

However, to no one’s surprise, the book’s removal caused an uproar among students who defended the book against the complaints from parents that it was “racist.” This led to a debate between parents and students at a Commack School Board meeting over critical race theory curriculum. In an article by News 12 Long Island, Moms For Liberty commented on this incident, reinstating their “colorblind” ideology.

Another way this social movement has been successful in achieving its goal to censor books and learning material is that individuals who share this ideology are in positions of power to act out this agenda.

In June 2022, the Smithtown Library Board of Trustees voted 4-2 to ban all books and displays relating to LGBTQ+ Pride in their children’s section. Their reasoning? According to the individual who made the initial proposal for the removal, Trustee Marie Gergenti, she was responding to community complaints that the pride displays forced children to have discussions about homosexuality when they weren’t at the appropriate age to have those conversations.

This wasn’t Gergenti’s first time participating in censorship. She had previously been an active speaker at the Smithtown school board meetings, where she successfully fought for learning material to be restricted that she deemed offensive, such as when she argued that certain material was biased against conservative thinking and towards the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s easy to speculate that Gerganti had her own motives in following through on these community concerns for her own political agenda, like she did at the Smithtown school board meetings. 

Thankfully, this decision was later reversed in a 4-2 vote after severe backlash and condemnation from the public and government officials, such as Governor Kathy Hochul and Nassau County Legislator Arnold Drucker. However, had this gone unchecked, Gerganti would’ve been able to erase any LGBTQ+ material from the children’s section.

This social movement is so successful because of the organized efforts by parents and those in positions of authority. These coalitions are able to influence their schools to ignore pressing social issues to appease the fears that this curriculum forces division. However, these books are meant to challenge norms and start conversations that may be uncomfortable to have. Instead of a debate where both sides seek a mutual understanding, this social movement has declared war on anything that contradicts its hyper-conservative mindset.

We have reached a point where parents are threatening to burn books — hysteria reminiscent of the McCarthy era where huge numbers of books deemed to be “subversive” were burned at unprecedented rates. 

What these individuals don’t realize is that their fear of divisiveness is causing the division. As these parents fight for their children, they are limiting the voices of children who don’t have representation in the books they read or don’t hear conversations in the classroom about social inequalities that directly affect them. Instead, these parents are perpetuating a system that maintains the status quo and declares them winners of this battle.

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About the Contributor
Sara McGiff
Sara McGiff, Opinions Editor
Sara McGiff is The Statesman's Opinions Editor and a senior journalism major. She currently is an intern at WSHU radio and has written for various local newspapers on Long Island such as the Babylon Beacon, Amityville Record, and the Massapequa Post.
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