It’s not a week of news in the book world without headlines about censorship. Whether it’s a bookstore dropped after the author was racist on Twitter or a trans kids book that was banned from the story, there is always someone claiming the culture, the censorship, or violations cancel the first change. So who is right? What counts as censorship?
When you read the news and commentaries, you think censorship was whenever someone refused to read or store a book. The truth is that there are too many books for a bookstore, library, or book collection in the classroom to keep each title. There has to be some kind of curation. The same applies to deciding which books to teach or which manuscripts to publish. There are many ways to make these decisions, and taking the book’s social implications into account when making the decision is not censorship. Nor can I say that someone who chooses all the white and even books to read or read to their children is censorship, even if I deeply disagree with that.
In order for something to be censored, it must be imposed on others. It means preventing someone else from expressing ideas or having access to them. The ACLU defines censorship as:
[T]The suppression of words, images or ideas that are “offensive” occurs whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by both the government and private interest groups.
However, there are many points where the line becomes fuzzy. It’s pretty easy when a librarian is no longer able to put a picture book read aloud into the rotation because a parent has vetoed it because it contains weird content – but what if that librarian, fearful of it, decides to to read it at all? Setback? Many books are never banned or challenged just because they haven’t had the opportunity: teachers, librarians, booksellers, and publishers may choose to share a book because they don’t want to deal with the consequences, even if they personally support it Message.
Teachers also have the right to consider the messages of the books they assign and the impact they have on students – in fact, it would be irresponsible not to do so. When these decisions are in line with our own beliefs, we are much more likely to say they have good judgment or even improve the lives of their students. However, if they decided against Huckleberry Finn or taught The Hate U Give, it’s much more likely that we named one of these grades because of our own politics.
Given how nebulous this concept can be, I think it’s the perfect concept to tackle in a quiz. You are given a scenario and then have to vote: Is it censorship?
Would you like to refresh your knowledge of censorship? Start here:
- The statistics of censorship
- Weeping Censorship: The Ethics of Publishing the Problematic
- Why and How Censorship Thrives in American Prisons
- Book Riot’s Censorship Archive