After mounting pressure, including a student protest, a school district in York, Pa., has reversed a controversial book ban. But the fact that this ban was implemented in the first place means the conversation about book banning is far from over. Titles that were targeted include I Am Malala, Hidden Figures, and Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History. The main thing those books, and almost all of the books that were banned, share in common: they are about, or written by, people of color.
As an African American woman in publishing, I fear for my voice and the voices of my authors. Will my authors be turned away in libraries and school systems? Considered “too political” by parents?
Wise Ink is one of the few publishers led by a Black woman, cofounder Dara Beevas. Beevas, who has also written the Li’l Queens picture book series about real-life Black and brown queens, says, “For African American children, a lot of our stories are rightfully about our oppression. But there are other stories, too. And a lot of those stories are stories that I feel like have been suppressed on purpose.”
Whitewashing race in education isn’t a new concept. When I attended high school in Conyers, Ga., we rarely discussed African American history. But, luckily, I did have access to resources that taught important history, and our summer reading requirements often included diverse characters. It cannot be stressed enough how important it is for kids to have access to these stories.
Since last October, educational institutions have canceled diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in response to orders against teaching “diverse concepts” and the public backlash against critical race theory. This year, Texas passed a law aimed at restricting discussions of race and history in schools. Politicians and nonminority officials seem to be trying to eliminate Black history and discussions surrounding race altogether. Sure, students could have these discussions outside of school, but why exclude the one place they congregate for most of their day? Banning books and resources that are connected to people of color and racism not only ensures the embedding of white-centric thinking in a new generation of children, but it ensures censorship of minority stories and voices.
“Resisting telling the truth is not ever a path that is going to get us closer to the kinds of healing, the kinds of interdependence, the kinds of relationships that we want to be in,” Trina Olson, cofounder of Team Dynamics and coauthor of Hiring Revolution: A Guide to Disrupt Racism & Sexism in Hiring, states in the podcast she cohosts, Behave.
Young people today are fighting for a better, more comprehensive education and their right to express their feelings and opinions about the current racial issues happening in the world around them. During the protest, Central York High School student Christina Ellis told reporters that the book and media ban tells her that they, the school board, are okay with silencing her voice. For so long, children of color longed to see images and stories of people that looked like them in books, magazines, and television. Now we finally have more content from diverse authors and directors, as well as organizations like We Need Diverse Books championing representation in publishing. It has been hard work to get to the point where minorities can see, read, and hear stories from people of color, and attempts to silence these voices should not be taken lightly.
According to Jane Johnson, the president of the Central York School Board, the fact that all the banned materials were by or about people of color was just a coincidence. Is it a coincidence? The ban targeted books on social justice, race, and history. There is no more “coincidence” when it comes to race, and these officials and politicians have to admit it. “They’ve identified that publishing is part of the revolution,” Wise Ink cofounder Amy Quale says. “They’ve seen how authors are using books as a way to make their mark and write history. They see it and they’re scared. And what they’re scared of is losing power.”
It’s important that diversity is available in written narratives for all students, but it goes beyond the classroom. Books play an integral role in recording history and will shape cultural narratives for years to come. By banning these books in schools, the district was trying to dictate who gets to write history and whose perspectives matter. Ultimately, this was a failed attempt to manipulate our true history for future generations. Make no mistake: books are power, and this ban is a fight over who gets to hold it.
Nyle Vialet is an editorial project manager at Wise Ink Creative Publishing.