Perspective | Standing up to the new censorship

On the surface, it appears that book censors and censored writers like me can agree on one thing: books are powerful. Books especially for children and teenagers.

Why else would people like me spend so much time and energy writing them? And why would censors spend so much time and energy trying to keep it out of the hands of children?

In a country where the average adult is studying. Less and less Books, it’s surprising Americans argue so much about them. In this election year, parents and politicians — lots of politicians — are jumping into the fray to say how powerful books can be. It’s true that politicians often magicalize what I do, but I take that as a compliment.

I’ll admit, one of my first thoughts about the current wildfires Attempted censorship. was: How strange. Conservatives seem to be dusting off their playbook from 1958, when the only way our stories reached children was through schools and libraries. While both are still important refuges for readers, they are hardly the only options. Many booksellers provide titles that are taken off school shelves. And words can be shared widely on social media for free. The rest of the internet. If you take my book off a shelf, you keep it off the shelf, but you hardly keep it off the readers.

As the censorship wars have begun. Many communities, by damaging the lives of countless teachers, librarians, parents, and children, it’s beginning to feel less and less strange. This is not your father’s book censorship.

We are no longer talking about the fear of “dirty words”. Early in my career, some adults expressed dismay at the number of F-bombs in my books. I always explained that they were used for precision – “I’m really angry” is different from saying “I’m really angry”. Because I don’t particularly hold the use of f-bombs as a core part of my identity, I don’t take such controversies personally. We were arguing over words.

I really stop arguing over words.

Because now, it’s very personal. The majority of books being challenged today are by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) and LGBTQ+ authors. Censors aren’t just going after freedom of reading. They are trying to erase the entire identity and history. Censors claim to be protecting children from ideology … by imposing their ideology on entire classrooms and communities. Or at least trying to.

Here’s something I never thought I’d be nostalgic for: the Sincerity sensor. When my first novelBoy meets boy.Published in 2003, it was immediately the subject of a number of challenges, some of which prevented the book from hitting shelves in the first place. At this point, a challenge usually means a parent going through a formal process, trying to get a book from a school or library. I often reminded myself to try to find some sympathy for these parents. Yes, they were wrong, and their desire to control what others in the community had to read was wrong – but more often than not, the challenge was coming from fear of a changing world, a real (if false) we. The belief that sexism will lead children straight to ruin and hell, and/or the false notion that if all the books that challenge the (homophobic, racist) status quo disappear, then the status quo will disappear. will remain. It was, in some ways, as personal to him as it was to those of us on the other side of the challenge. And nine times out of 10, the book will stay on the shelf.

Not so now. As I have talked to authors and librarians I have come to believe that. And teachers, is that the attacks on the original books are less and less. We are being used as targets in a huge proxy war. The goal of this war is not only to curtail intellectual freedom, but to destroy the public education system in this country. Censors are scorching the earth, regardless of how many children get burned. Racism and homophobia are still very much there, but it’s also a power grab, a money grab. Many aim for a more profitable, more authoritarian and less diverse culture, in which the truth is what you are told, your identity is defined by your acceptance of it, and the past is a lie that forces the future. goes imitation Politicians who shout and post and draw. List of “harmful” books Actually don’t be afraid of our books. They are using our books to scare people.

There’s a reason this tactic has a chance of working, and why you don’t use adults’ reading choices as an argument for banning books. No one particularly cares what adults read, because the power of reading is not that widespread among adults (sadly).

However, reading power is widespread among children. Many of us know this, because even if we didn’t read much in our youth, it’s good that we felt the magic of reading in our youth: even if it was a loved one who lulled us to sleep. Reads for, or navigates a fantasy. Talking about the whole world to ourselves and then to our friends, we understood that we were in the presence of something greater than ourselves that somehow lived within us.

I laugh when someone attacks one of my books (or any other LGBTQ+ book for children) because it will “make the reader gay.” We are powerful, but we are not. That Powerful The power of our books comes from providing affirmation, confirmation, inspiration, and space for thought, not from creating something that doesn’t already exist. I’ve heard from readers who say that my books and other LGBTQ+ books saved their lives, because the recognition they discovered and the validation they felt brought them back from the brink of despair. And I’ve heard from so many readers that our books help them live better, truer lives by showing them what’s possible, honoring the hard parts and giving them characters who often face situations. As they face. Rarely does a reader write to me and say, “Your book has power,” but what they say is often the same. We are not engines of change. Readers are engines of change. We can sometimes provide them with the fuel they need, often when they need it most.

Censors want to cut off this supply. And once, it can work. But because of the Internet and all the support networks that BIPOC and other targeted youth have established in recent decades, this no longer works.

The censor’s playbook may be old, but that doesn’t make it any less insidious.

A few months ago, I spoke at the American Library Association’s annual convention, an event celebrating intellectual freedom. It was a dark day, and I’ll admit I used a few f-bombs. Roe v. Wade It was reversed this morning. I was wearing a shirt that said “I’ll say gay. Acknowledging the grotesque and despicable attack on queer youth In Florida. Librarians who won awards at the event spoke about how politicians have turned some (not all) of their communities against their libraries. Protesters gave a speech that included a drag queen. And one librarian told us how, when she posted a statement supporting diversity in her library, the local sheriff told her not to bother calling 911 if something went wrong.

There didn’t seem to be any easy answers to any of this. But still we asked each other: What do you hope for?

We all had the same answer, and this is it. no The power of books. It’s the next generation of readers, the same children and teenagers that censors are trying to control in the name of “protection.” The threat to intellectual freedom never comes from children. No educator or librarian I have spoken to can recall a child who has asked to ban a book from the classroom or library. (There are a lot of kids who say a book is useless and shouldn’t be taught; I know, because I was definitely one of those kids.) If a kid sees something in a book is something that scares them or confuses them or makes them nervous. , they can stop reading, but they won’t insist that everyone else be stopped from reading it.

As I told Librarians in June, the censors want us to believe that tigers are at the door. But the truth is that we who value and defend books are the ones who guard the door. They want us to close and lock those doors, to be in a constant state of defense. But we’re here to keep the doors open to anyone and everyone, especially kids of color and LGBTQ+ kids who have been turned away so many times before.

We who value and defend books do not do so because we love books and live better lives because of them, although both of these things are usually true. We defend books because in doing so, we defend all the children represented in those books. Censorship is the antithesis of truth-telling, and although it is exhausting work, we must continue to tell the truth—not just about books, but about censors and what follows them.

David Levithan is the 11th most censored writer in the United States, according to PEN America. His latest book is “Answers in pages

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