“Happy Black History Month — now let’s ban a book that says racism is wrong,” Tallulah Brand, a middle school student in Sarasota County, exclaimed in a meeting. This was after an all-white board in Florida started debating the fate of a Black-written book about racism and antiracism in American history.
The debate started after Allison Euker, a parent to a Venice Middle school kid, filed to challenge “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You,” a book by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. The literal masterpiece gives students (6th to 12th graders) a glimpse into the history of racism in the U.S.
However, per the HuffPost reports, Allison claimed the book promoted “critical race theory and told white children they were inferior because they were white.” It does not “protect their feelings and instead makes them feel guilty and uncomfortable.”
In separate decisions, Venice Middle School and the District declined to scrap it off the shelves, but after Allison appealed the District’s decision, the board kicked off the debate.
And while they ultimately voted to keep “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” in schools (with the condition that it would require parental notification for a kid to check it out), this crackdown on Black Thought was just the tip of the iceberg.
As part of Florida Gov. DeSantis’ Stop Woke Act and the Parental Rights Education Law (dubbed by detractors as the Don’t Say Gay Bill), which aims to restrict classroom topics revolving around race, gender, and sexual orientation, many Black-written books are being banned from school shelves.
Some of these include Biographies of Black and Hispanic historical figures, Books about historical Black and Hispanic athletes like Robert Clemente and Hank Aaron, and several Black-women written literature, including:
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
What does the school board have against Ms. Maya Angelou’s chef-d’œuvres? She is a literal genius, a “wordsmith goddess” to any aspiring author, but she’s also the most banned author in the U.S. (by over 30 states – 30!!!).
Her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, has frequently been challenged and pulled off school shelves, supposedly for vulgarity and sexually explicit material. The book covers numerous topics deemed “unbefitting” for young minds, including racism, sexuality, sexual violence, and teen pregnancy.
But you know what? Despite being banned in almost every state, Maya Angelou’s works remain poetic and powerful and will continue to touch hearts and change perceptions (and lives) for as long as we shall live.
Sulwe – Lupita Nyong’o
Seriously, do we have something against kids finding their identity and voice now? Because Sulwe is about that.
Creatively written by Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, the book is about colorism, self-esteem, and learning that beauty comes from within.
Sulwe, who’s darker than everyone in her family, just wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mom and sister. Then a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything. It’s a whimsical and heartwarming read that inspires kids to embrace their uniqueness, so we don’t understand why it’s part of the banned books list.
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
Yahp! Alice Walker’s masterpiece is also on the list. The Color Purple (riveting, btw) is a 1982 epistolary novel that takes place mostly in rural Georgia and focuses on the life of women of color in the 1930s. It addresses numerous issues, including classism, racism, bigotry, and violence, which is why school boards are placing it in the “not suitable” for kids’ reading itinerary.
But while Color Purple appears on the American Library Association List of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books, it has a film and musical adaptation and earned Ms. Alice Walker a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction.
Beloved – Toni Morrisson
Like Maya Angelou’s books, Toni Morrison’s works of literature are no strangers to bans and “school board reviews.” This particular one is a novel inspired by the true story of Margaret Garner, an enslaved woman who murdered her own daughter to spare her from the tribulations of slavery. It offers a harrowing look at slavery and its lasting impact on American culture.
The book’s intensely shocking and moving narrative (depictions of slavery) and the way it addresses some of the darkest days in American history triggered some critics. As a result, Beloved has been placed on the “to be purged” list.
But even with the ban at play, one can still learn much about slavery and American history from Beloved through its 1998 film adaptation (which starred Oprah Winfrey). The film captures Toni Morrison’s beautiful language and intense imagery, so it’ll be just like perusing through Beloved’s pages.
Black Looks: Race And Representation – Bell Hooks
Black Looks: Race and Representation is a brilliantly-authored collection of twelve essays by Bell Hooks. Hooks interrogates old narratives through her razor-sharp pen and percipient mind and argues for alternative ways to examine Blackness, Black subjectivity, and White Supremacy.
The feminist icon focuses on spectatorship – particularly how Black femininity and the commodification of Black culture is experienced in literature, music, TV, and especially film – and aims to create a radical intervention into how people talk about and view race and representation.
It’s one of the most eye-opening pieces of literature. It can be especially crucial in helping people learn and relearn misguided misconceptions about race and Black culture, but nooo…the administration said it gotta go.
Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
One of the most brilliant pieces of writing of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God breathes life into a Southern love story with the wit and pathos only found in the works of Zora Neale Hurston.
And while it faced rejection because of its “strong black female protagonist,” the book shows us how to embrace autonomy as a Black woman without ever losing sympathy for those who don’t know how to lead independent lives.
Nikole Hannah Jones – The 1619 Project, A New Origin Story
This highly-acclaimed book in the canon of African-American literature reframes American history and places slavery and its legacy at the center of the national narrative. The 1619 Project is such a phenomenal masterpiece that it helped spark conversation surrounding the vitality – and accuracy – with which race is discussed and taught in schools.
But now, in a move to not “make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex,” the project and subsequent lesson plans have been banned and facing attempted bans in 14 other states.
Grown – Tiffany D. Jackson
Award-winning author Tiffany D. Jackson gifts us a riveting, ripped-from-the-headlines book that exposes blood-curling secrets hiding behind the limelight and helps young women embrace their voices.
It dives into the pattern of excusing grown men for their behavior while faulting teenagers for their “missteps.” It tackles the blatant shitty standards of society, where girls who were victims of manipulation are criticized rather than shown compassion.
It emphasizes the need to hold the right people accountable for their crimes and not praise firms that silence victims and continue profiting off the monster they helped create.
It’s about individuals shouldered with the responsibility to protect and serve, yet ridicule victims in their moments of bravery. It’s about young women trying to defend themselves against the world and understanding that there’s always a possibility of facing similar issues…even girls from stable, two-parent households.
It’s about female empowerment, yet it’s also been pulled off the shelves of Florida’s libraries. It begs the question, are state governments really that threatened that they’d rather erase racism, gender violence, and misogyny from existence than teach their kids how not to fall into the same patterns as us and those before us?
It’s sad times we’re living in these days. And unless we all stand up and do something about it, we’ll be doing an injustice to future generations.
To quote Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it!”