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Book Sales, Promotion, and Donations Don’t Solve Censorship: This Week’s Book Censorship News, February 4, 2022

After last week’s news broke of the McMinn County School Board banning Maus, discussion of censorship and book challenges hit a fever pitch in the media and general public. This is great — if a little overdue.

The problem is too much of the discussion is focused on the book itself, as well as efforts to buy the book and others that have been challenged or banned. There are screen shots of social media posts floating everywhere, one in particular show a display of banned books on a Barnes & Noble table with the words “what every bookstore should be doing right now.” Bookstores are sharing on social media that they have the books being challenged and there’s no better time to buy them. In editorials across the media, writers wax poetic about how this is just building their own reading lists.

All of these miss the point entirely.

The Streisand Effect won’t change the reality of censorship. It doesn’t create a movement to protect First Amendment rights. It’s consumerism, packaged neatly as intellectualism and moral superiority. The real attack on legal freedom granted by the U.S. Constitution is downplayed by efforts to sell the books, and while it might put the books on bestseller lists, it doesn’t fix the problem.

Because this isn’t about the books. They’re just the tools.

It doesn’t matter how many copies of a banned book are donated to a school or public library. It’s flashy and it’s something I’ve certainly helped do to make a point. The world we’re in now, though, needs more than that — it needs people on the ground doing something to ensure intellectual freedom remains a cornerstone of American rights.

That’s not to say there’s not good intention behind it. Unfortunately, good intentions don’t make change when the eye of the hurricane is already here. The reality is those most hurt by these book bans and challenges are those young people we see, as well as those we don’t, can’t, and refuse to see. A book being pulled from a school library does have a tremendous impact on kids who don’t have money, transportation, or the ability to be openly themselves or openly curious about the world. They can’t simply buy the book or go to a public library. To think or say as much comes from tremendous privilege.

What will make change is showing up. Write the letters. Call the administration. Run for board seats. Vote in local elections. Be aware of legislation in your community and state, speak up about it to your elected officials, then follow the money. This is a coordinated attack on intellectual freedom, funded significantly by efforts to dismantle public education (and public libraries, though less so in this particular moment) more broadly. Book challenges are a tremendous waste of time, energy, and resources and create a distraction while even more damaging efforts are employed.

The money speaks loudly, but not because you’re buying Maus or The Bluest Eye or Gender Queer. It’s money coming from political action groups and organizations with tremendous legislative pull and hordes of followers eager to identify and align with an ideology.

Keep an eye on a forthcoming Supreme Court case as it plays out in the next couple of weeks. Carson v. Makin is a potential watershed moment for groups working to push school choice, voucher programs, and homeschool agendas.

In the mean time, take action with this toolkit for how to fight book bans and challenges, as well as this guide to identifying fake news.

Book Censorship News: February 4, 2022

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