Book Banning Is Only The Tip Of The Spear
The radical Right is turning to the levers of local government in their culture war for white Christian supremacy
By David Todd McCarty | Tuesday, February 22, 2022
School Boards have once again become the chosen battlefield of conservative activists interested in fighting a culture war at the local level. We saw this in the 80s when there was also a groundswell surge to ban books, music, video games, and movies. Back then, it was less partisan, with elements from both sides of the political aisle worried about the impact of sex and violence on the youth of America.
For years, there was a school of thought that assumed that children would model behavior they saw in the media and would become more aggressive if they were exposed to violent content in television, movies, and video games. The theory does have an intuitive, simplistic appeal and happens to fit well into the narrative put forth by moral advocates. Unfortunately, after decades of study, there is no evidence to support the claim that being exposed to violent entertainment translates to violent behavior. (1)
If you take this same fallacious logic and apply it to the fear that being exposed to stories about LGBTQ characters will somehow turn your children gay, you might consider it equally intuitive, and yet it is still unequivocally false. We don’t choose our sexual orientation purely based on our options. On the other hand, LGBTQ youth who are denied their identity are at grave risk for depression, suicide, substance abuse, and self-harm.
Books about the Black experience in America, specifically ones that try to explain how we got here, can provide greatly needed insight into the Black experience for those who have not experienced it first-hand. For Black students, it can be an enlightening opportunity to understand the systematic nature of racism and how we’ve all been trapped by its evil logic.
The point is that reading a book about someone who is like you could have great benefits, including self-confidence and feelings of acceptance, just as reading a book about someone who is not like you can open up a world of empathy, compassion, and diversity of thought.
It starts with banning books, but the real intention is to control information—to control what is presented as the truth. For centuries, our schools taught a false or whitewashed version of American history. It was so effective that now that historians have begun to unravel the false narratives and look at the reality of what happened, the outcry from the Right is that they’re trying to rewrite history. It would be pretty comical if it weren’t so tragic to realize that those who wish to revisit our understanding of history are the ones trying to get it right, while the groups crying about their precious history are merely trying to maintain the fairy tale.
It’s no accident that simultaneously, Evangelical churches are experiencing falling numbers, especially among young people. The fairy tale is no longer working, and that has the white Christian establishment terrified as they see their power waning, along with their population.
When it comes to book burning/banning, these new radical activists are attempting to use state and local governments to push an ideologically-slanted view of the world in order to restrict what children learn about concerning American history, government, culture, race, and religion. They want to control the narrative.
But it’s not just schools they want to influence. Their efforts are an attempt to legislate a conservative form of ideology mixed with a fundamentalist Christian theology in order to reimagine the United States as a white, Christian state of their own design. It’s nothing more than white supremacy masquerading as morality police, but it is attempting to undo democracy, free speech, and liberty for all.
They’re not alone in the world, these radical warriors. Radical, fundamentalist Islamists have been running this same gameplay for decades. They created madrassas—religious schools that taught a particularly austere version of Islam—and prohibited any education that they deemed to be in conflict with their world view, including educating girls. Within Islam, there is a statement called the Shehada, and it’s the most basic definition of Muslim faith. It says simply, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.”
It’s a message of exclusivity and exceptionalism that should be quite familiar to the radical Christian fundamentalists in America. In the Old Testament, it goes, “I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
But when asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God, answered, ‘Love the Lord your God, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
This would seem to be a decidedly different message concerning what should or should not be a priority in the lives of Christians—literally those who claim to follow Christ. Where is the “love thy neighbor” part, because all I ever hear in these meetings is, “My kid isn’t going to do this or that or be subjected to this or that.” Me, me, me, and mine. No one seems to be worried about their neighbor, unless their neighbor agrees with them.
So what are these books they want banned? What are the subjects they feel are creating such a disturbance in the force that it requires them to mobilize to stop it? Mostly books on race, gender, sexuality, and history. Either they disagree with the premise, or they believe that no one of school-age is capable of understanding the subject matter, a second-grader being in the same boat as a 17-year-old high school student.
The fear is that reading a book might normalize a student’s thinking towards marginalized groups such as LGBTQ persons, as well as ethnic and religious minorities. It’s a gross attempt to maintain white Christian supremacy in America as the dominant cultural force.
They include such books as “To Kill A Mockingbird,” the classic American novel by Harper Lee, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, “George” by Alex Gino, “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie, and “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds.
There are hundreds of other books challenged or banned simply because they discuss race, gender, sexuality, or have characters that fail to exhibit normative attitudes towards gender, sexuality, or race. Everything isn’t about sex, though.
It’s also about power. Male-dominated, white, Christian power that is restricted to heterosexual marriages and single-family units, and promotes a near libertarian view of the world, where there is little to no government oversight or interference in the lives of its citizens. The irony, of course, is that they wish to use the power of local government to enforce their beliefs over the beliefs of others, a decidedly un-libertarian ideology.
In a rather ironic twist, for the past few years, it’s been the political Right that has been railing against censorship and calling for free speech on school campuses. They claim that social media sites censor political speech by conservatives, for which there is no credible evidence to support. They’ve also been critical of left-wing groups “canceling” conservative public speakers on college campuses—speakers such as Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos—who have messages deemed by many to be hate speech directed at ethnic and religious minorities, as well as the LGBTQ community.
These groups might present themselves as just a bunch of concerned parents coming together to petition their school board, but in reality, these are coordinated attacks, funded by wealthy right-wing donors, designed to alter public education by sidestepping legislative avenues.
In states where Republicans hold the reins of power, they’re also passing draconian laws that prohibit what teachers can teach and what books libraries can purchase. The penalties for falling afoul of these new laws are criminal.
Just because you have a legal right in America to be ignorant does not mean it’s a morally-defensible choice. Choosing to delude yourself into creating your own reality is not intellectually honest—it’s inherently dangerous to freedom of any kind.
There is a house bill that was recently introduced in Florida, which has been dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Under the bill, a Florida school district “may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”
The bill doesn’t specify what constitutes age or developmentally appropriate, but it does give parents the ability to sue school districts if they believe a school has violated any provisions in the law.
What this bill intends is to remove any and all conversations that might legitimize the existence of LGBTQ people, in essence, to deny their existence. It’s not enough not to avoid advocating for the rights of the LGBTQ community, but one must deny they exist, like an ostrich with its proverbial head in the sand as a means of hiding itself. The danger is so prevalent that merely talking about it is enough to cause it to spread.
It should not be lost on us that the radical Right’s warped adherence to anti-intellectualism goes beyond race and sexuality. It encompasses anything that does not celebrate white American history as less than the will of God Almighty Himself.
There is really not much difference between those who want to ban books versus those who want to burn books, except that those who ban books attempt to do so with an aura of legitimacy as concerned parents and educators. But the entire point of censorship is to obfuscate the truth so that people cannot be exposed to it any longer. This is also what genocide is. The attempt to erase a culture from public life and record. Burning books. Destroying art. Ethnic cleansing. Erasing a people. It’s all the same evil.
That’s not hyperbole; that’s history. That’s what has happened time and time again, whenever one group tries to deny the existence of another; the whitewashing of human history, the denial of identity, and the destruction of a culture by erasing any memory of it.
This was the same strategy they tried to use during the pandemic when they chose to deny the existence of science. “If we ignore it, it will go away. If we ignore it, it doesn’t exist. It only exists if we give it credibility by acknowledging it.”
The real wickedness in this protectionist thinking is that it’s all about supremacy: race, religion, political, ethnic, cultural, and sexual. It stipulates that there is a right way to do things and a wrong way. The fact that the groups advocating for censorship have decided they are the hand of God is not relevant, but it is scary.
They preach that being white, Christian, heterosexual, and wealthy enough to be worthy of their own merit gives them rights not afforded to others. It’s a form of supremacy—no matter what the flavor.
It says these books are not about me or mine. They do not represent my history or my worldview. They do not reflect my religious or political beliefs, and therefore, they must not exist. The sheer arrogance of this delusional exceptionalism—in a country that proclaims to celebrate liberty, diversity, free speech, and meritorious reward rather than hereditary entitlement—is simply mind-boggling.
Just yesterday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Lorie Smith, a Christian Denver-based web designer who plans to expand her services to wedding website designs. Smith has said that due to her Christian beliefs, she will decline any requests from same-sex couples to design a wedding website. (2)
The Founding Fathers regarded free speech as so vital to our survival that they took care to include that Right in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson even famously wrote in 1787 that “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” In 1722, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech.”
It’s all well and good for the radical Right to promote free speech when it suits their needs, such as advocating for school prayer or their desire to refuse service to someone they disagree with. But for a group that loves to claim to be Constitutional originalists, their stance is completely incompatible with the founders’ vision for American democracy.
There can be nothing more unpatriotic, more unAmerican, or less democratic than banning books because you don’t agree with what they say, all the while advocating for exclusionary policies that give you and your tribe an unfair advantage. That’s not freedom. It’s not liberty. It’s not patriotic, and there is nothing to be proud of.