Book banning is dangerous for representation

In 2002, “Of Mice and Men” was banned from George County schools in Mississippi because it contained profanity. In 1981, “Lord of the Flies” was banned because it is “demoralizing inasmuch as it implies that man is little more than an animal.” In 1968, New York State English Council’s Committee of Defense Against Censorship identified “Animal Farm” as a “problem book.” The reason cited? Orwell was a communist. 

These are just three of the hundreds of reasons cited by the American Library Association as to reasons why books have been challenged or banned in the United States. When a person, group or institution finds some kind of issue with an aspect of a book’s content, they may “challenge” the book, which leads to a further review of the book. This may or may not lead to the book being banned, which means that no one in that area—usually a social group or school district—may read it. 

Book bans are dangerous because they take away author’s voices and prevent people—especially younger individuals—from seeing themselves represented in literature. During a time in which society is starting to become more accepting and we are seeing an increase in representation in all kinds of media, banning books does nothing but hurt those who oftentimes do not see themselves or their identities represented in media. 

According to an article from the Washington Post, challenged books usually contain one or more of the following: LGBTQ topics/characters, sex, teen pregnancy, abortion, something to do with race or racism, have a main protagonist of color, or deal with history—especially black history. When books containing these topics are banned, we tell authors that their voices do not matter. Furthermore, when we take these books off the shelf, we tell readers that their experiences are not valid; that they do not exist. 

Banning books tells authors that their voices do not matter. It tells them that we do not care about what they have to say and that nobody needs to hear it. This is harmful for any author, but especially those who write from their own experiences. Many authors write about their experiences with exploring their sexuality, gender identity or navigating the world as a person of color. When their books are removed from library shelves, we send the message that what they have to say is not important.

For readers, banning books containing these topics prevents them from seeing that they are not alone in their experiences. When someone feels like they have nowhere else to turn, they can look to literature to see that they are not. Books have so much to teach us, and for readers, they are an invaluable resource in showing that they are not alone. When we ban books on these experiences, we invalidate the feelings of those who have had them. 

One of the biggest issues with book banning, however, is who the bans come from. According to an article from Pen America, around 40% of bans are connected to some kind of legislation or political pressure, and around half of bans during the 2021-2022 school year came from parents and other community groups. This means that usually, bans come from non-minority groups. These books get banned because people without those experiences think that they are inappropriate for children to learn about, when in reality, it is vital that they are exposed to a variety of experiences that they may encounter or deal with themselves at one point or another. 

At the end of the day, book bans do nothing but harm. While a parent has the right to decide what books they let their child read, they do not have that right to make that decision for anyone else. Authors have a lot of important things to say through their writing, and readers can gain so much from their stories. Literature is the mirror to our world, and by stopping book bans and challenges, we can make sure that that mirror represents the diverse society we are so lucky to have.  

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