The impact of book banning

Opinion

I’m scared.

As a teenager, I worry about a lot of things. I worry about my grades. I worry about my relationships with friends. I worry about the Yankees’ chances of making the playoffs. But I’ve never been worried about a book being banned from my local library. Now I am. I’m scared that students are being denied access to books like “The Diary of a Young Girl” and “Number the Stars” because they’re deemed “inappropriate” for reasons that don’t hold up under scrutiny.  

Book bannings are familiar tools that politicians use to scare voters. By highlighting certain passages out of context, politicians frighten parents into believing those books are “corrupting” their kids. From efforts to censor Darwin’s writings in the early part of the 20th century to current Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin’s attempt to ban Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” politicians attack books to advance their own agendas. Youngkin’s advertisement featured a mother objecting to “Beloved’s” presence in her son’s English class because of its depictions of slavery. The woman’s son found it “disgusting” and “hard for him to handle.” The student is right. Slavery is hard to handle and that’s the point Morrison is making. She’s not here to make us comfortable. 

While many banned books address discrimination against Black Americans, this censorship also has a chilling effect on works about other minorities. As an Asian, I’ve encountered a few books that depict the hardships that we face while living in the United States. While works such as “All American Boys” prompt discussions about Anti-Black racism, Asian communities rarely see their experience reflected in literature. Book bannings will only further stifle such conversations. This erasure of historical issues does not make us think about the problems in society—it just makes us ignore them.

This sort of censorship harms not just racial minorities, but all adolescents. Take the conversation surrounding “The Catcher in the Rye,” which is often banned because of its explicit language. While “offensive,” those words also demonstrate the qualities of a character. Experienced teachers know this. They contextualize Holden Caulfield’s swearing by pointing out that it reflects the troubled thoughts of a teenager. When adolescents are denied access to books like this, they’re prevented from understanding that their feelings are normal. 

Book bannings are an attempt to limit the kinds of truths adolescents can hear. When teenagers only read “clean” white stories, they are denied a sense of the world’s vastness and their place within it is erased. I understand this all too well. At my school, I rarely see others who look like me. In books, however, I can see not only reflections of my own teenage experience, but universal truths we all should wrestle with.