Banned Books are Just A Tool
Recently, two things came together. A wonderful Mississippi author and friend recently won a prestigious award. Congratulating her, I mentioned I was going to the Mississippi Banned Book Festival. Then I thought: oh, lord, have your books been on those lists? She didn’t know, but her books, which include Civil Rights truths, experienced a drop in sales when the banned book wave began.
Then I attended the festival. I heard Angie Thomas, Dr. Ebony Lumumba, Julia Wright, Ko Bragg, Kiese Laymon, Jesmyn Ward, and more. For four hours, they talked banned books. I learned so much. And as they talked, I kept thinking: this drive to ban books was predictable.
Enter: Banned Books
When major publishers began actually squeaking open gates that had been chained shut, publishing more than one “Black book” a year, white folks panicked. Look at all these Black books! They’re everywhere! All over TV! In the magazines! Winning all the awards! And these stories they’re telling—they aren’t about us. In fact, they’re airing all our dirty linen. They’re making us feel bad. Feel ashamed. We gotta stop that shit.
So the book-banners came up with a surefire tactic: our children are in danger. Let’s claim we have to protect our (white) children from these books. Hardly a stretch to believe Black writers—and gay writers!—are out to hurt our (white) children. Sure they are.
And thus an age-old cycle resets. Black folks succeed, whites howl in protest. Black authors succeed and whites explode into banning their books. A Black man wins the presidency and white voters explode into a racist white president. Black organizers turn out the vote, and white legislators explode in voter suppression. Religious folks begin ordaining gay priests and straight folks flee from centuries-old denominations. When anyone other than white straight able-bodied folks succeed, we cannot have it. Book banning is just another tool of suppression.
What to Do about Banned Books?
I’ve read a lot of articles about responses to the banned book wave (of course, I have.) Some actions include stuffing Little Free Libraries with banned books. Or operating banned book mobiles. Or attending school board meetings and public library hearings on books. We each have to figure out our own thing.
Here’s what I did.
I called up the Black bookstore on Farish Street in Jackson. I asked if I could order 20 copies of my friend’s book. Then I contacted a group that hands out free books to kids in Clarksdale. I asked if they could use 20 copies of a Middle Grade book by an award-winning author that deals with the time of Emmett Till’s murder. They said yes. So I’m buying my friend’s book from a Black bookstore to send to kids who might not otherwise have access to a book that talks about a crucial moment in Mississippi history. It hits all the feels for me.
And the kids are gonna get a great book.
(I hear all the time that personal reparations “isn’t just about writing a check.” No. But sometimes it involves writing a check.)