Banned Books Week: Reflecting on Censorship and Other Dangers

James Mignano—Here’s something I didn’t know until a few years ago: books get banned. Banned from school libraries, public libraries and entire communities.

To learn a little bit more about it, I went to a lecture on campus tonight. The English Department’s Dr. Meg Norcia hosted Reading Dangerously: Celebrate Banned Books Week and the Freedom to Read. 

Brockport Banned Books

The books shown above are just some of the classics that are among the most frequently banned. You may have heard of The Outsiders, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, or maybe The Great Gatsby?

That’s right – all frequently banned books! And for a bunch of different reasons, including these:

  • Racism
  • Anti-family themes
  • Sexual themes
  • Inappropriate for the intended age group

It’s important to remember that when books get banned, they don’t get banned universally. In other words, you can still get your hands on them. Rather, they’re simply banned by a specific town, school district, or library. This explains why we are sometimes so surprised to hear that some books make the list of those frequently banned (even popular modern-day series like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games make it!)

But there are more important implications to books being banned, if you think about it. First of all, we need to consider why we are keeping them off bookshelves in the first place. In addition to the reasons listed above, people are usually trying to protect others. Parents try to protect their children, for example. And that sounds great, sure, but how realistic is it, really?

Consider the perspective of Sherman Alexie, author of a frequently banned book called The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian:

When some cultural critics fret about the “ever-more-appalling” YA books, they aren’t trying to protect African-American teens forced to walk through metal detectors on their way into school. Or Mexican-American teens enduring the culturally schizophrenic life of being American citizens and the children of illegal immigrants. Or Native American teens growing up on Third World reservations. Or poor white kids trying to survive the meth-hazed trailer parks. They aren’t trying to protect the poor from poverty. Or victims from rapists.

No, they are simply trying to protect their privileged notions of what literature is and should be. They are trying to protect privileged children. Or the seemingly privileged.

In other words, real people have lived through the experiences told through the stories in many banned books. So is it fair to keep those experiences off the shelves? What makes those viewpoints and points of view less significant than one that fits the mold, one that is deemed acceptable?

Think even bigger about this issue, though: if certain viewpoints are erased from existence because they can’t be spread through literature, we might not ever hear about them. What originates as an innocent desire to protect children from certain things can very quickly roll downhill and end up limiting our ideas and preventing us from exploring other options.

It can quickly roll downhill and result in censorship. 

That’s the real big picture, here. Banning books and preventing the diffusion of ideas and knowledge leads to a population unable to argue and debate, unable to come to the best possible solution to their issues. And there’s no telling how dangerous that could end up being.

Banned Books Week is celebrated during the last week of September. Each year, remember how important it is to celebrate the freedom to read! And be sure to take advantage of that freedom as often as you can.

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