We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

Book Bans and How They Actively Silence the Voices of Marginalized Groups

Book bans are a threat to our nation, Here’s why.
Three men in the Holland house view the remains of the library after it had been burned down during the 1940 London air raids. It demostrates “the lengths people will go to to keep reading,” noted Dr. Adam Tramantano, an English teacher at the Bronx High School of Science. Photo Credit: Harrison for Fox Photos Limited[1] (collection later acquired by Hulton Archive, subsequently purchased by Getty Images[2]). Image was first released Crown Copyright by Press and Censorship Bureau of en:Ministry of Information (United Kingdom).[2], Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Books bans do not protect children. Instead, they serve the interests of racist, sexist, and homophobic policymakers. 

Within the last year, the United States has seen a massive surge in book bans, particularly in the states of Utah, Florida, Texas, Missouri, and South Carolina. Statistically, the majority of banned books include themes of systemic oppression towards POC and LGBTQ+ communities, with 11/15 of the most frequently banned books in the U.S. concerning these groups; it’s not difficult to recognize a pattern here. Policymakers advocate for education, but it is unclear what their definition of education is. However, what is clear is that policymakers do not want their “ideal curriculum” to include the voices of marginalized groups. 

Books have always been a powerful tool as one of the only inanimate objects that yield the ability to ignite revolutions, wars, and political polarization. Bodies of political power are very aware of this, which is why, historically, they have consistently leveraged book bans as an oppressive political weapon. 

Over two thousand two hundred years ago, in 213 BCE, the ancient Chinese observed the historically horrific event known as the “burning of the books.” At the time of the Qin Dynasty, a large portion of the Chinese population still sustained strong ties to Confucian beliefs, holding onto the Confucian legacy left by the previous dynasty, the Zhou Dynasty. Qin Shi Huang, the emperor of the Qin Dynasty, was a political extremist who advocated for the existence of a singular philosophy: legalism. There was a raging ideological conflict between Confucianists and legalists, as both systems had opposing views regarding the morality of mankind. Confucianism was built upon the basis that humans were inherently good, and yearned to contribute to greater society. On the contrary, legalism stemmed from the belief that mankind was naturally evil, thus explaining its harsh and violent approach to governing. The emperor’s dangerously strong biases toward legalism drove him to go to appalling lengths to achieve a fully legalist society, and ultimately enact the “burning of the books.” During the incident, the emperor ordered the burning of hundreds of Confucian texts and the execution of their authors to prevent people from challenging legalism. Evidently, this is a very extreme version of a book ban, but it exemplifies how much the government is truly threatened by what books have to say. 

These suppressive trends continue to manifest themselves throughout the course of history, notably during the Roman Middle Ages. In 1557, the Pope of the Roman Church established the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a vast list of publications deemed heretical by the Catholic Church. Any publication that challenged the Catholic faith, specifically in the form of Protestantism, was prohibited for Catholics to read. This is another prime example of how powerful bodies have exploited book bans as a way to control populations and censor the ideologies of those who oppose them. 

Although historical book bans are extremely relevant, it’s critical to note that book bans manifest themselves very differently now than they have in the past. We don’t generally see nationwide book bans anymore, but this does not mean that bans on a smaller scale are any less destructive. 

Currently in the United States, there are two key types of book bans: a state-level ban and a district-level ban. District bans are by far the most prevalent. 

During the 2021-2022 school year, more than 1,600 books were banned from American school libraries and classrooms. Book bans implicate teachers and librarians as criminal subjects solely for having certain books in their classrooms. The primary justification for the ridiculous act of villainizing teachers and librarians is shielding children from potentially sensitive or controversial subjects. Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, said in a recent press release, “Parents deserve to know what books are in school libraries. I’m signing a law that gets inappropriate or vulgar materials out of our schools.” The majority of legislators advocating for book bans have similar reasoning. Yet, if we actually look at the books that are being banned it becomes unclear if they’re genuinely vulgar and inappropriate or, perish the thought, express ideas with which legislators disagree. Spoiler alert: it’s the latter. 

The Hate U Give written by Angie Thomas is a novel that is both an excellent and educational book, yet it has fallen victim to suppressive, unjust book bans. The novel details the journey of a young, Black girl named Star after she witnesses her Black male friend being shot by a police officer. As she navigates her trauma, anger, and grief, she begins to understand the complex issues of systemic racism, racial stereotypes, and police brutality in American society. It is a truly beautiful, raw portrayal of the African-American experience. 

 Regardless of one’s personal thoughts concerning The Hate U Give, the perspective it presents is undisputedly valuable and worthy of acknowledgment. Being exposed to a variety of viewpoints, even those that do not align with your personal biases, is instrumental to developing a comprehensive understanding of society. “The bedrock of American democracy is built upon intellectual debate. Thus, especially in a humanities-oriented classroom, you want to hear a diverse range of perspectives. It’s critical that students be exposed to different works of literature and students with different backgrounds,” said Ms. Sophia Sapozhnikov, an English teacher for ninth and twelfth grade students at The Bronx High School of Science

Despite the novel’s educational and progressive nature, it has been banned in a number of school districts on the basis of profanity, promoting “anti-police” ideas, and teaching “critical race theory.” The term “critical race theory” is thrown around often with too little care, unfortunately diluting its true meaning. The Oxford English Dictionary defines critical race theory as “a set of ideas holding that racial bias is inherent in many parts of Western society, especially in its legal and social institutions, on the basis of their having been primarily designed for and implemented by white people.” 

 All of the reasons for the ban are entirely false, conveying that ultimately “The Hate U Give was banned purely based upon the bias of legislators. 

Although the novel does contain swear words, mainly in the form of common curse words, they are used in relative moderation and add to the weight of the story. Moreover, profanity is extremely common in many widely recommended high school English classroom texts. For instance, Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men, and countless other pillars of high school literature curriculums, contain significant usage of explicit language and have not faced threats of being banned. While we can only speculate why this is, it is undeniable that the discussion of topics relating to race in The Hate U Give separates this novel from the ones listed prior. It is worth noting that policymakers only care about profanity in the book that happens to discuss systemic oppression and racism.

 In regards to advocating for “anti-police” ideals, whoever used this as a justification missed one of the most essential storylines in the text. Starr’s Uncle Carlos is a police officer and is simultaneously portrayed as one of the most lovable and personable characters in the book. Thomas does not attempt to project all police officers as “bad people,” and in fact, by including Uncle Carlos’s storyline, she actively combats the concept that “all cops are bad,” and instead displays the duality of police officers. She simply sheds light on the fact that the justice system has been adapted to target and scrutinize people of color, and that police officers, regardless of whether or not they are good or bad people, inherently contribute to the damage of the justice system. It’s apparent that much of the criticism directed towards this novel is ill-researched. 

The Hate U Give does not explicitly “teach” any “set of ideas,” as critical race theory is intended to do. It is a narrative, telling the story of a fictional teenage girl who undergoes very real experiences, including police brutality and racial prejudice. How people interpret these experiences is up to them, but there is absolutely no denying that the events in the book have indeed occurred in the United States. In fact, Thomas, on her official website, reveals that the novel is heavily inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, which regained momentum from the tragic death of George Floyd, who was brutally shot by a police officer. Drawing the conclusion that racial bias plays a key role in our society’s legal, social, and economic system, would not be an unreasonable conclusion to take from this novel. However, the beauty of writing is that it is subjective. Therefore, one could recognize entirely different themes in the novel. Thomas depicts police brutality and systemic racism in a realistic manner, with the story being told in the form of realistic fiction. If communicating a story about the reality of our society is considered “critical race theory,” then perhaps the root of the issue is how our society operates.

The distorted, untrue nature of the justifications behind the banning of The Hate U Give is a perfect instance of how policymakers will conjure up lies in order to prevent their beliefs from being challenged. 

It is a crime against society for policymakers to continue eradicating diversity in American education.  “The fewer books you read, the less exposed you are to people and experience, and thus the more narrow-minded you become. It is only through different people’s experiences and different works of literature can you see the greater world, rather than the four corners of your own little world,” Ms. Sapozhnikov said. By allowing book bans to continue, our government actively places students at a personal and academic disadvantage, leaving them with a partial view of a vast world. 

By allowing book bans to continue, our government actively places students at a personal and academic disadvantage, leaving them with a partial view of a vast world. 

About the Contributor
Simone Ginsberg, Staff Reporter
Simone Ginsberg is a Spotlight Editor for ‘The Science Survey.' She enjoys composing editorial pieces and prioritizes strong rhetoric and statistics in her writing. However, she also appreciates hard news stories. In addition, Simone thoroughly enjoys writing about foreign affairs and world issues, covering unique angles on global politics. She appreciates journalism that includes a plethora of unique, loaded quotes, strongly believing that quotes are one of the most effective ways to cover a diverse range of perspectives while maintaining journalistic objectivity. Another aspect of journalism she greatly values is photography. Good photography should contribute vitally to the article as opposed to simply supporting it. Beyond journalism and academics, Simone enjoys traveling, shopping, and debating, all of which play a key role in inspiring her writing. Although much of her future remains undecided, she aspires to study economics or foreign affairs in college.