The people of the United States justifiably take pride in their constitution, particularly free speech. The recent rash of book banning, especially those whose content concerns marginalized communities, threatens our democracy and harms both the reader and the banner. Books discussing gender identity, sexual orientation, slavery, and the Holocaust are being scrapped from school courses or removed entirely from town libraries.
Maus, an award-winning tale describing a family’s experience during the Holocaust, was banned in McMinn County, Tennessee. The author depicts the horrors families had to endure by using cartoons of cats and mice representing Nazis and Jews. Those who banned the book due to “inappropriate graphics” are fostering a less empathic and more ignorant community. Tennessee’s banning of Maus recalls the in Nazi Germany that burned books by luminaries like Einstein, Hemingway, and Dos Passos. Not only are books vital to prevent future repetition of tragedies, but they also inform the reader that there are others beyond their community who may be suffering hardships similar to their own. Books also provide a window into experiencing how one lives even if their situation is dramatically different.
Within several small counties in Texas, there have been multiple bans on books discussing gender, sexuality, and the African American struggle. The hope that history can be erased and feelings of guilt prevented fuels the prohibition of these works. It is crucial that students be shown that we as a society acknowledge the horrible mistakes of the past, and that we will move forward to form a more unified community. Not teaching these issues will appear as foolhardy to future generations as the Catholic Church preventing Galileo’s teaching of the solar system and the discoveries of Copernicus seems to us.
Throughout history, book-banning has foreshadowed the later deterioration of the nations in which corruption takes root. By withdrawing these books from libraries, and disallowing discussions of these books in the classroom, the state and local legislatures are preventing students from having important conversations that will expand their worldview.
Whether it be Imperialist China, or the Age of Slavery in the deep south, book banning has been a destructive policy that has not worked anywhere it has been attempted. In 259-210 BCE Shih Huang Ti buried all the books in his kingdom except for one copy of each hoping it would appear history began with him. These efforts failed.
The growing movement to ban books can be considered the tip of a greater iceberg that limits free speech. As I and the rest of my generation tackle issues of vital importance such as racism, LGBT rights and economic disparities, it is mandatory that we can use lessons derived from history and consider different perspectives. Therefore, all books must be accessible in order to create an informed society that will participate in energetic, productive debate and enable citizens to feel connected to their local communities and their country