“You’ve witnessed the storming of the Capitol and the death of civility,” Oprah said to college graduates in a recent commencement address. “You are acutely aware that voting rights are being gutted, women’s rights are being dismantled, books are being banned, and history is being rewritten.”
Like the lines about supposed attacks on voting rights and women’s autonomy, the argument that books are being banned is greatly exaggerated. It has been repeated ad nauseam by Democratic politicians and their allies. And yet, it actually isn’t true.
The idea that books are being banned now more than ever before has been used by Democrats to paint those scary Republican politicians and parents as fascists who want children to grow up right-wing and illiterate.
But the most-banned book of 2022 was Gender Queer: A Memoir, a graphic novel that contains illustrations of sexual acts. If banning pornography from children’s bookshelves sounds like fascism to you, then welcome to the dictatorship, I guess.
Oh no, think of the children and the smut they will no longer be able to read! We’re not talking The Grapes of Wrath or To Kill a Mockingbird here.
Not only are the statistics about banned books being greatly inflated by sexually explicit titles, but they also seem just to be made up.
PEN America’s list of 2,532 books banned in the 2021-2022 school year is “simply false,” according to the Heritage Foundation’s Jay Greene and Madison Marino.
“We know this is false because we examined online card catalogues and found that 74% of the books PEN America identified as banned from school libraries are actually listed as available in the catalogues of those school districts,” they wrote. “In many cases we could see that copies of those books are currently checked out and in use by students.”
So much for the narrative. But scaremongers never let things like facts get in their way.
PEN America recently shared a TikTok showing children being interviewed about supposed book bans.
“Why take away all these excellent books?” asked one girl wearing a rainbow “love” shirt. “It’s like you’re trying to slow down children’s reading. Why do that?”
Again, we’re not talking about Shakespeare here. But this young girl is regurgitating a line that will be very helpful in PEN America’s next fundraising email.
“I noticed that a lot of the black history books are being pulled,” another said.
Does she mean The Hate U Give, the Black Lives Matter-inspired book that Greene and Marino discovered was not all that hard to find? Or perhaps another book for children with themes of Marxism and critical race theory.
The first girl then complained about how “all the award-winning books” have been pulled. It’s true that many of these lightning-rod books have won awards: Gender Queer has two commendations from the American Library Association, Lawn Boy has one from the ALA as well, and Flamer won a Lambda Literary Award.
Unfortunately, a pat on the back from the agenda-driven literati is not necessarily a good sign. In fact, it’s probably a bad one.
So no, Oprah, there is no book-banning epidemic. But there is an epidemic of experts who are supposed to be in charge of guiding the impressionable minds of children instead pushing wildly inappropriate materials in their libraries. Then, they complain when those books get banned — and, apparently, even when they don’t.
Don’t worry. It doesn’t have to make sense. It just has to fit with a broader narrative in which centrist to right-wing parents and leaders are autocrats who want to keep children in the dark. Because if that’s the case, we should probably give the benign leftists a little more power.