It's Banned Book Week! Hooray for banned books! Er ... wait, no, that's what I —
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?
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."
Lo couldn't shake the feeling that "explicit language" was just code for "has homosexual characters."
Spoiler alert: She did.
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.
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.
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.)
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.