What is a book ban?
A book ban refers to a method of censorship when certain books that are viewed as unfit for the nation or public are made unavailable by either private individuals, government officials, or organizations. These books in question are often up for inspection for various reasons, like the inclusion of graphic violence, disrespect for a dominant code of conduct of an area or place, sexually explicit imagery, evil worship, unsuitable materials for certain age groups, or books that just generally lack any literary merit. Such books are often eliminated from any and all libraries, online or physical, reading lists, or even bookstore shelves. Censorship in this case can occur at any point — at different levels of publication, distribution, etc.
What is its significance in the US?
The United States has book banning as its most prevalent form of censorship. Children’s literature is an especially focused area for working on the bans. This is because advocates for book banning are wary of untoward influences on children's minds, who can be swayed by the book’s content. They fear this will ultimately lead to devastating effects. The primary concern is that publications will insert ideas into people, or incite questioning of structures or even critical inquiry in the child’s impressionable mind, which nationalist political groups or even religious bodies will not be able to address.
Before the 1970s, most censorship centered around books that presented obscenity or explicit sexuality. Some of the books banned were D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover and James Joyce’s Ulysses.
In the US, it is the American Library Association, or ALA, that monitors challenges and bans books or journals across the country for their offensive nature. Lately, the data from the association is alarming. In just 2021, this committee is said to have recorded a whopping 729 book challenges, targeting around 1597 titles. This organization began recording its data in the year of 2000, and the challenged books number was the highest in 2021.
Which books are banned and why?
Fast forwarding from the 1970s to 2021, we see that books that faced the most challenges and faced bans were those that wrote about sexual identity, communities of color, and spoke of the history of racism in America. A bill was introduced in the Senate State of Oklahoma which made it unlawful to contain books centered around sexual activity, sexual identity, or gender identity.
Topping the list of banned books was All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson. This book was targeted for removal in at least 14 US states. Parents also released spreadsheets and filled out forms to recommend its banning. This novel was challenged for its LBGTQ themes, profanity, and sexually explicit content, which drew the rage of school board members. Out of Darkness is another book that faced the wrath of the US community for its themes of racism and classism in American history that were delicately laced within topics of love. Ashley Hope’s book was contested by many parents who thought it was an unsuitable topic for their children. Other books that were banned include The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie; Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews; The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison; This Book Is Gay, by Juno Dawson; etc.
Most of these books have LGBTQ and communities of color characters, as well as depictions and cases of violence that show the true face of American history, which makes them contemptuous. Mostly, such book bans are more for political reasons than for any other reason. The government has an ideal idea of citizens, and books that challenge this idea do not see the face of distribution or even publishing at times. This banning of books is actually a movement or method of allowing American children to be exposed to only certain ideologies of American culture, society, and history. This is reminiscent of a deep conservatism taking root in society. Conservative parents or tutors complain of particular books corrupting the minds of children. These complaints are so as to prevent uprisings of political extremism that can result from books focusing on LGBTQ freedom and expression or other books that freely discuss sex and sexuality.