POV: Books are banned across the country: Here’s what’s really at stake | UB today

The literature that allows us to see ourselves – perhaps for the first time – deserves to exist, to be read, to be discussed.

I don’t like pizza. I know this sounds off topic, but come with me here a minute. I don’t understand why heating tomato sauce to a billion degrees and then using cheese for its insulating properties to keep the sauce at mouth tissue scalding temperature is such a popular culinary event.

But, as much as I hate – and I hate pizza with the power of a thousand hot suns – I never considered it my job, my duty, my place or my responsibility to prevent someone else to eat it. I’ve never stood outside a pizza place and knocked slices out of people’s hands. I don’t throw road spikes in front of cars delivering this carb mess! Instead – and I know this is going to sound crazy, so you might want to sit down for a second – I don’t order or eat pizza.

That’s it. This is the extent of my action. I don’t like it, so I don’t ingest it. If someone asks me if I recommend they try the pizza, I might scream about the unworthiness of it all., but I’m not going to get in their way.

So why am I talking about pizza?

Well, in many ways, pizza is like books about subjects, stories, topics, and ideas that people may not like. There are lots of books. Some are poorly written or have dragging plots and unimaginative characters. Some are filled with racist, sexist or ableist portrayals. Think of them as the Hawaiian pizza of literature.

There are also books that possess a magic that allows readers to explore ideas, events, realities, and experiences outside of themselves. And there are books that allow us to see ourselves – perhaps for the first time – and make us feel seen, loved and worthy. Some books even scare us, as readers, as children, as adults.

All these books deserve to exist. They deserve to be read, critically examined, discussed and evaluated. But that’s not what’s happening. There is a distinct subset of books that are challenged and banned in school districts across the country. They are removed from the shelves of libraries and classrooms. They are taken out of the hands of students trying to understand the world.

The books that are removed are overwhelmingly written by and about marginalized individuals and communities. These books are stories and experiences told by those who have had their history erased, their voices stolen and their beauty denied. They center a reality that frightens and intimidates those used to power and privilege. Here are some examples:

  • The proudest blue, by Ibtihaj Muhammad and SK Ali, about a young woman who decides to wear the hijab and how her choices affect and influence those around us.
  • Ruth and the Green Book, by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, Gwen Strauss and Floyd Cooper, and Separation is never equal: Sylvia Mendez and her family’s fight for desegregation, by Duncan Tonatium, which provide historical contexts of racial segregation in American history.
  • And the tango makes three by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell and Henry Cole, and Melissa, by Alex Gino, children’s books that offer ways to view the multiplicity of the LGBTQIA+ community.
  • Finally, for a healthy dose of triumph in worlds not meant to love and support marginalized people, enjoy Jerry Craft’s graphic novel new child, Lupita Nyong’o and Vashti Harrison’s Sulwe, and Kevin Noble Maillard and Juana Martinz-Neal’s fry bread.

There are literally hundreds of books banned and challenged in schools across the country – in Pennsylvania, Kansas, Texas, Rhode Island, Virginia, New Hampshire and every point in between. The anti-criticism of race theory movement is coming for books written by and about marginalized people. The books pulled from the shelves and challenged by community members are books about love, trauma, blame, joy, mystery and pride that are not centered on the white, male, cis, straight, capable, Christian, middle class who has for too long been the normative lens of storytelling in education.

People who are afraid to see stories are also afraid to recognize our present. We are a country that is on the verge of having no clear racial majority. We are a country that must come to terms with our past in order to have a future that includes us all.

Maybe that’s the difference between pizza and books about marginalized stories, people and events.

I fear no pizza.

Laura M. Jimenez is Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at BU Wheelock School of Education & Human Development and Lecturer in Language Education and Literacy; She can be reached at jimenez1@bu.edu.

“POV” is a review page which provides timely feedback from students, faculty, and staff on a variety of issues: on-campus, local, state, national, or international. Anyone interested in submitting an article, which should be approximately 700 words, should contact John O’Rourke at orourkej@bu.edu. BU Today reserves the right to reject or edit submissions. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and are not intended to represent the views of Boston University.

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