By Da’Taeveyon Daniels / Project Censored
In the land of the free and the home of the brave, a wave in the politically charged battle for intellectual freedom has peaked once more. Censorship threatens to silence underrepresented communities nationwide, encompassing LGBTQ+ youth, marginalized racial and ethnic groups, and many other facets of social identity. In academic spaces from coast to coast, the increasingly politicized, rising tide of book bans and challenges is washing away voices that need to be heard.
Imagine striving to understand your place in the world as a 16-year-old queer student in today’s America. The journey of self-discovery is challenging enough without the additional burden of denied access to literature that reflects your experiences. Yet, this is the reality that many young people face as a growing number of states and school districts ban books that explore themes related to LGBTQ+ identities, racial diversity, gender equality, and the list continues.
For me and my peers, books are not just stories; they are lifelines. Literature provides us with solace, understanding, and a sense of belonging to a world where our voices matter. When narratives that represent the experiences of underprivileged and underrepresented communities are silenced, the message is clear: your experiences and identity are not valid, and your voice does not matter.
The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom’s latest report shows that the most recent bans on books strike a deeply troubling chord. It is alarming how these banned books overwhelmingly represent the challenges and lives of underprivileged, underrepresented groups. In the eyes of those imposing these bans, any ideas or identity that doesn’t fit the mold of a perfect white heteronormative America should be denied to our youth.
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Recent years have seen Texas leading the nation on this front, with challenges and book bans increasing significantly. In 2023 alone, the rate nearly doubled, and the year has yet to conclude. These bans are not occurring in isolation but are fueled by organized groups, including one that was recently categorized as an extremist organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
This is only one of the more organized groups that constantly try to trump the rights of students and youth across the nation in the name of “parental rights.” However, their day of reckoning is soon approaching because students have rights, too, and deserve better. As more and more groups like Students Engaged in Advancing Texas (SEAT) call out this students’ rights crisis and work with legislators to combat these issues, a powerful movement is emerging.
One leader can ignite a movement in their community, but it is not enough for one voice to rise against this tide. We need a chorus of voices, united in our determination to protect intellectual freedom and diversity of thought. It is time to reject the stifling influence of politics on our education system. We must demand that our schools remain spaces where all voices are heard, and all stories are valued, not where fear and politics supersede our rights.
Whether you are a student, adult ally, policy maker, teacher, librarian, or anything in between or beyond, you can make a difference:
- Stay Informed: Educate yourself about the issues at hand. Understand what books are commonly banned, where, and why. Stay updated on the actions of groups advocating for censorship.
- Advocate: Attend school board meetings, engage with local policymakers, and use your voice to advocate for the inclusion of diverse perspectives in education.
- Support Affected Communities: Offer your support to marginalized communities, including LGBTQ+ youth, racial and ethnic minorities, and others who are disproportionately affected. Amplify their voices and stories.
- Join or Support Organizations: Engage with SEAT and other groups actively working to combat censorship and promote intellectual freedom.
- Engage Youth: If you are an adult ally, engage with young people. Listen to their concerns, empower them to speak out, and provide guidance and support in their advocacy efforts.
- Encourage Open Dialogue: Foster open dialogue in your communities about the importance of intellectual freedom and the value of diverse literature.
- Vote: Use your voting power to support candidates who prioritize education and intellectual freedom.
In the face of this escalating battle for intellectual freedom, the call to action is clear. The rising tide of politically driven book bans and censorship threatens the very core of our imperfect educational system and the values we hold dear. Book bans are a threat to the voices of underprivileged and underrepresented communities of all backgrounds who deserve to see themselves reflected in the literature they read.
Our response to this challenge must be resolute and unwavering. Let our rallying cry be clear: censorship has no place in our classrooms, and we stand united to protect the right to learn and the freedom to explore diverse ideas. The battle is ongoing, but with the growing coalition of advocates, educators, and students, we can turn the tide.
Together, we can ensure that our future generations inherit a society that values humanity, acceptance, and understanding above all else. Let us march forward, hand in hand, knowing that our collective efforts will bring about the change we seek. In unity and mutual aid, we shall prevail against the forces of censorship, for the sake of a more inclusive, empathetic, and enlightened future.
Da’Taeveyon Daniels (he/him) is a high school senior in Fort Worth, Texas. Daniels is the Partnerships Director for Students Engaged in Advancing Texas, the 2023 Youth Honorary Chair of Banned Books Week, and the youngest serving member of the National Coalition Against Censorship’s Advisory Council.