Missouri Rep. Cori Bush and anti-racism intellectual Dr. Ibram X. Kendi discussed the magnitude of banned books in Washington, D.C., for one of the busiest Banned Books Week observances in recent years.
Holding their conversation at the Anacostia location of the Busboys and Poets bookstore on Thursday, the congresswoman and the author of anti-racist thought focused on the history of banned books, particularly for Black Americans. The event was hosted by The Emancipator, a vertical of The Boston Globe focused on racial justice and equity founded by Ibram.
Earliest censorship in this country began with beating and killing enslaved people for learning to read or being suspected of knowing how to read, they said. That legacy continues with readers now seeing books that share accurate histories and personal narratives of experiences with race and gender being banned, they added.
Banned Books Week is held every year in mid-September, but over the last few years, book bans have been making headlines over more school districts and local libraries removing books, primarily targeted to kids, due to complaints from parents and other adults. Many of these books contain themes surrounding race, gender, and sexual orientation.
Almost half of distinct titles banned are young adult books at 49%, followed by picture books at 19% and middle grade books at 11%, according to PEN America‘s recent report on banned books.
Book bans occurred in 138 school districts in 32 states, meaning 5,049 schools with a combined enrollment of nearly 4 million students have been impacted by a book ban, PEN America found.
Cori and Ibram sat in front of bookshelves with books by authors of color as they emphasized the importance of books giving young people the ability to see worlds different from theirs and how removing access to books is hurting that freedom.
“Some people don’t want to speak about their story, and that’s OK,” the St. Louis congresswoman said. “For those who feel compelled to, when we tell our stories, other people are able to see themselves. Just like you, I didn’t see myself when they made us read Huckleberry Finn. I didn’t see myself when I was made to read The Odyssey, and books like that. I didn’t see myself, and there weren’t books presented before me where I did.”
Cori will tell her own story in The Forerunner: A Story of Pain and Perseverance in America, that will be on shelves Oct. 4. Knopf of Penguin Random House is publishing the political memoir.
Ibram is the author of How to Raise an Antiracist and Antiracist Baby, published by Penguin Random House imprints Kokila and One World. The power of readers seeing themselves in books brings equity in itself, he said.
“Books are treasures. And they’re not just sort of treasures that reveal wisdom,” he said. “They’re treasures for that person who isn’t able to, or doesn’t have the ability to, travel around the world. But they can travel around the world into time through books. It’s a democratizer.
“But I also think as you mentioned that there’s something beautiful about the power of seeing your own story in the mirror through a book, and I also see the differences,” adds the humanities professor and founding director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research. “There’s just something affirming. There’s just this connective tissue that allows human beings to connect.”
The conversation is available on YouTube.