Banned Books: The Culture War Raging in US Schools.

The culture war is also being waged in US schools. Over the last year, more than 1,600 books were banned from thousands of schools, thanks in part to the efforts of organizations linked to conservative groups.

The Arlington Public Library (Virginia) has said enough.

"I certainly respect a parent’s right to say ‘Not for my child, this.’ What I don’t respect is the right of a parent to come and say ‘Not this, for anyone"explains to Efe Diane Kresh, the director of libraries in Arlington County, a small urban enclave separated from Washington by the waters of the Potomac River.

Kresh attends Efe on the occasion of the Week of Prohibited Books, an annual celebration that this year serves as a response to the recent wave of parental censorship in the country, directed, above all, towards stories of racial theme or with LGBT characters.

As part of the celebration, the Arlington Library encourages its readers to check out a book that is banned or challenged in American schools. texts like "The bluest eye"by the Nobel Prize for Literature Toni Morrison, or "Gender Queer: A Memoir"by Maia Kobabe.

The message seems to have caught on: this week, all the books "prohibited" from the library are on loan.

NOTHING NEW

In many cases, school book bans are encouraged, promoted or executed by conservative politicians, like the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, or that of Texas, Greg Abbott.

Although it has intensified in recent years, censorship linked to the defense of morals has always been a source of controversy in a country where words "We trust in God" they adorn dollar bills, public buildings, and even schools.

According to data from PEN America, an NGO that fights against book bans, 40% of those over 1,600 censored volumes in American schools during the last course they have protagonists or secondary characters who are not white.

THE CRITICAL THEORY OF RACE

For Nikole Hannah-Jones, a journalist for The New York Times and author of The 1619 Project, a literary project on the history of slavery and its contemporary echoes, vetoing books is a practice that is always associated with some kind of repression.

"Reading is liberating. Reading opens your world and your perspective, and leads you to question the existing hierarchies in a society"explains the writer to Efe, minutes before participating in an event at the Arlington Library.

Hannah-Jones’s project has been challenged practically since it was born.

It began to be published in 2019 in the pages of The New York Times, and immediately attracted criticism from the then president, Donald Trump, who came to order an educational commission to develop a "patriotic resume"in reaction to schools beginning to use the journalist’s work to teach American history.

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Some states, such as Florida or Texas, have passed laws that prohibit the text from being taught in public schools.

At the center of the controversy: critical race theory, a kind of wild-card label that is applied almost automatically to any historical work that examines the role of slavery and racism in the birth of the country’s institutions.

"Would anyone have thought two years ago that the ‘critical race theory’ was something?", Kresh wonders, half incredulous, half joking.

The term, which few people know how to define exactly, has become a constant in debates on education and indoctrination, and is continually used by conservative media and pressure groups to single out teachers who deal with racism in their classrooms.

"teachers in the United States is 80% white women. It defies logic to think that white women are teaching white children that they are oppressors"says Hannah-Jones.

A STORY OF RESISTANCE

The history of challenges to reading in America is inextricably linked to slavery and racism. the southern states slaves were not only forbidden to read, rather, they prevented abolitionist literature from being published, preventing whites from being exposed to anti-slavery ideas.

Similarly, the history of African-American resistance is inevitably linked to the struggle for the rights of minorities, both racial and sexual and gender.

In her book, Hannah-Jones argues that the example set by the civil rights movement paved the way for gay rights in the country.

When it comes to book bans, a lot of it has to do with the portrayal of LGBT characters in children’s reading.

According to PEN data, the most banned book this year in American schools was "Gender Queer: A Memoir"an exploration of the author’s gender identity from adolescence to adulthood.

Perhaps that is why the Arlington Public Library has decided to celebrate Banned Books Week with two events that celebrate this history of African-American resistance. The first, a talk by Hannah-Jones before an amphitheater that erupts in cheers every few sentences.

The second, a performance by Jubilee Voices, a group of Afro-American singers who recover songs and stories from the days of slavery.

"No more book bans"they sing, in a updated version of the anthem "oh freedom", while the public claps and accompanies them with words of freedom written more than a century ago by the slaves freed after the Civil War.

Despite the pleas, it looks like the bans will remain as American a reality as the references to God on dollar bills. Meanwhile, in Arlington, the drums beat, and the battle rages on.

 

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