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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Book banning means limiting perspective, silencing crucial conversations

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My kindergarten teacher was the first to introduce me to the world of books. I have always remembered that first orientation at our tiny public school library, the student ID card that would act as my passport into universes beyond my wildest dreams.

I was awestruck at my ability to conjure up images of people I’ve never met and places I’ve never been from just a few words on a page. The freedom I discovered between the stacks opened up my mind to countless experiences I may never understand otherwise. I found I could travel miles in the shoes of my favorite characters. By exploring their hearts and minds, I came to learn more about myself and the world around me.

Since 2022, a vocal minority emboldened by the state Legislature’s push for parental rights in education are threatening to rip these stories from library shelves. This threat is the culmination of two distinct laws, House Bills 7 and 1069, that embody the dangerously censorious culture wars sweeping the state. A vast majority of those books under threat were written by or about Black and LGBTQ+ authors and experiences. Given the content of the bills, which ban race-conscious instruction and any education deemed “pornographic or obscene,” respectively, it hardly seems like a coincidence. 

Books uniquely show you the world from the inside out, from a new perspective. They seamlessly unite readers with character by wrapping us in the web of reasoning, judgments and experiences that push the plot along. Books can show us what it feels like to be a different person, lead a different life and come away with a more nuanced understanding of the world.

One such story, Angie Thomas’ 2017 novel “The Hate U Give,” has come under fire for this precise quality. It follows 16-year-old Starr Carter, who straddles two worlds: her stuffy private school and her community at home. After she witnesses the police killing of her childhood friend, those worlds crash together as she joins the fight for justice. It is a gripping account of how systemic racism still shapes our lives today — white and Black alike — centered around a young girl’s quest for self-discovery. The book has been pulled from school libraries nationwide for its connection to the movement for Black lives.

I first picked up “The Hate U Give” in middle school. Coming-of-age novels were a major food group in my literary diet at the time, but Thomas’ account stood out among the stories that centered white children like myself. As the sole witness to her friend’s murder, Starr’s decision to speak out and demand justice came at the cost of the comfort she had found at her private school through masking her blackness. As I read on, I noticed all of the ways in which my race had insulated me from making such complicated choices. The book made me aware of my privilege, raising questions about race and racism that my overwhelmingly white community was not prepared to answer.

The fear mongering taking root in PTA meetings from Escambia County to Monroe County is only a slice of the danger posed by these bills. House Bill 7, in particular, promulgates an indefensibly bad-faith reading of Critical Race Theory. CRT is a lens social scientists use when drawing conclusions about the social, political and legal dimensions of race relations given our nation’s history of systemic oppression. Conservative pundits have taken personal offense to this framework, perfectly illustrated by the legislature’s attacks on the mere discussion of implicit biases in classrooms. In effect, this pernicious mischaracterization has become so entrenched as to criminalize any nuanced discussion of American history. 

It is devastating to see a generation of students be denied the same freedom to learn and explore that pushed me down this path for social justice. My favorite books have all stretched the bounds of my own experience, deepening my capacity for empathy, solidarity, and critical thinking. Reading is the only antidote to our digital world of collapsed context and misinformation. Pick up a banned book today!

Amaya Borroto is a UF political science freshman.

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