By Erica McKinley
There are many reasons why books are banned from classrooms and libraries across the nation. The most common objections are to sexually explicit content, offensive language, and violence. While these objections may seem unremarkable, especially given the fact that most are raised by the parents of students or patrons, there’s actually a lot more to the story.
According to the American Library Association (ALA), 52% of books challenged or banned over the past decade are diverse. This number is troubling on its own, but considering that only 10% of all books published focus on multicultural content, it’s downright alarming.
Most often, the objections raised are not directly to the diverse content itself. For example, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, a book that has appeared on the ALA’s top ten most frequently challenged books list twice in the past five years, is often called out for being sexually explicit and containing offensive language. But there are many other books that also contain sex and strong language that are not challenged. It seems the true objection might be to the racial content.
In some cases, the objections are more straightforward. Last year in Duval County, Florida, a group of parents tried to ban Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter, a children’s book that appears on the 2015 top ten list, from the public school curriculum. One of the main objections? It promotes a religion other than Christianity.
Homosexuality is another frank and direct reason given when challenging books containing LGBTQ content. Three of the books on the 2015 top ten list were challenged for this reason, and a fourth, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, though mainly challenged for violence and graphic imagery, also addresses sexual orientation as a major theme.
Though books are often challenged with the intent of protecting people (particularly children) from overexposure to mature topics, the reality is that preventing people, children or adults, from reading material that is diverse or challenging promotes ignorance and perpetuates intolerance. It is important for everyone to have access to a wide array of material by authors of all races, genders, sexual orientations, and religious faiths so that they can make informed decisions and engage in thoughtful and constructive dialog with one another.