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 —

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.

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