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There's a curious commonality among the books that get banned by schools and libraries.

It's Banned Book Week! Hooray for banned books! Er ... wait, no, that's what I —

There's a curious commonality among the books that get banned by schools and libraries.

What would you guess is the main reason why books get banned?

You'd probably think it comes down to sex and swearing; after all, that's how it works with music and movies, right?

But you have to wonder: Are people really getting that upset over some four-letter words and a few racy scenes? Really? You sure that's all that's going on?



Photo by Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images.

Turns out that the majority of books getting pushed out of libraries and schools in America all share a strong emphasis on diversity.

Consider the case of "The Miseducation of Cameron Post" by emily m. danforth, a critically acclaimed coming-of-age novel about a lesbian teenager. Originally published in 2012, the book was banned from some approved summer reading lists in Delaware because of "explicit language."

Something about this didn't settle right with author Malinda Lo, who helps run the website Diversity in YA.

Lo couldn't shake the feeling that "explicit language" was just code for "has homosexual characters."

So she decided to crunch some numbers, based on data from the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom and see if she might find a pattern.

Spoiler alert: She did.


Photo by San José Library/Flickr.

Lo discovered that 52% of the books that were banned or challenged from 2000-2009 contained what she qualified as diverse content — taking on issues of race, sexuality, disability, LGBTQ, non-Christian religions, or non-Western settings.

Like "Cameron Post," most of those books weren't explicitly banned because they had a transgender character (or empathetically portrayed a Muslim or dared to depict a woman enjoying sex, et cetera). But in our current society of cleverly-coded bigotry, you can't help but wonder if it's more than a coincidence.


In terms of this chart, "Issues" are defined as "books that focus on the LGBT experience, and books that are broadly about sexuality and include specific chapters about homosexuality." Image by Malinda Lo/ DiversityInYA. Used with permission.


Image from the American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom. Used with permission.

The numbers start to look even worse when you consider the overall lack of diversity in the publishing industry.

Only 10% of children's books feature multicultural elements despite the fact that nearly 40% of the country identifies as a person of color.


Photo by San José Library/Flickr.

And you know what's even crazier? The majority of those books that contain diverse elements are written by white authors.


Censoring books isn't exactly a new phenomenon.

As long as we've been marking up dead trees with symbols to represent our brainthoughts, people have been getting really upset about books.

Classics like "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "Slaughterhouse-Five," "Invisible Man," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Bluest Eye"? All radically important books that are still being censored in some parts of America.

That's why the American Library Association created Banned Books Week — to celebrate the stories that endured after someone tried to stifle them.

The fact is that we're still living in a time where school administrators, public servants, and community leaders who think there's value in protecting people from ideas or images that they might not agree with.

But they are unequivocally wrong. (I learned that word in a book.)


Photo by San José Library/Flickr.

Books have been scientifically proven to make us better people.

This is partly to do with their supernatural ability to translate ideas and experiences directly into our brains.


But banning books doesn't just shut down ideas — it blinds us from the beauty of the world around us.

As MacArthur award-winning author Junot Diaz once said, "If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves."

Books are powerful artifacts. Stories reflect our lives — and lives, in turn, reflect our stories. Stories make it easier for us to empathize with others who are different from us and help us understand the world we're living in. So let's embrace our own reality and become better people instead of making monsters. I prefer my monsters to stay fictional anyway.

Here's an infographic about banned books from the American Library Association:


Image courtesy of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom. Used with permission.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."