The United States is currently experiencing a surge in book bans, with Texas leading the way. According to PEN America, between July 2021 and March 2022, 1,586 book bans took place in school libraries and classrooms across 26 states, with Texas accounting for 713 of them. The books targeted for removal often feature LGBTQIA+ themes and characters, as well as texts dealing with structural racism in US society. While book bans are not a new phenomenon in the US, they have been known to generate a feverish rage that can serve as a distraction from actual societal problems.
One such example is the case of Llano County, where local officials are currently deciding whether to shut down the public library system after a federal judge ordered 17 banned titles returned to the shelves. The titles include books on the KKK, transgender issues, and sexual health, as well as a children’s book series featuring farting leprechauns. This showdown is emblematic of the assault on any lingering sense of community in the US, where the ruling elite profits from the divide-and-conquer approach and the obliteration of any notion of communal solidarity.
This assault on freedom of thought and expression is one manifestation of a simultaneous domestic assault on US society. The Republican-led Texas House of Representatives is currently making headway on a bill to ban materials containing sexually explicit content in public school libraries, while in Missouri, the state House recently voted to cut all funding for public libraries in its proposed annual budget. According to the American Library Association, a record 2,571 unique titles were targeted for censorship in the US in 2022, constituting a 38% increase over 2021. The majority of these books were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color.
A society that bans books has a lot to hide. As we mark World Book Day this year, it is worth reflecting on the fact that you cannot hide systemic rot behind the cover of a banned book. The US continues to devote much of its time and money to destroying other countries, while neglecting its own people’s basic needs such as affordable housing, healthcare, and education. The powers that be pursue a simultaneous domestic assault on freedom of thought and expression, which is one manifestation of the race to ban books.