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Report: Nearly 1,500 books banned in U.S. during first half of school year

A new report from PEN America shows just how rabid conservatives have gotten in their push to ban books by and about nonwhite and LGBTQ people.


“Walk the corner to the rubble that used to be a library. Line up to the mind cemetery now. What we don’t know keeps the contracts alive and movin.' They don’t gotta burn the books; they just remove ‘em.”

I was listening to that bar from Rage Against the Machine’s "Bulls on Parade" over the weekend thinking of how apt a descriptor it is of conservatives’ present-day assault on intelligence — both academic and emotional. It’s a rapped reminder that ignorance is a valuable tool oppressors can use to sedate and confuse the masses they wish to control. 

The more conservatives try to hide the history of America’s racist past, the more they add to it.

As Republican lawmakers push to ban classroom references to racism, sexual orientation and gender identity, and even look to ban some discussions about mental health and emotions, we can all document — in real time — a rabid movement in the throes of an ahistorical tantrum. And as galling as it is to witness, let's be clear: This is a fight they can’t possibly win. The more conservatives try to hide the history of America’s racist past, the more they add to it. 

So I think it’s worthwhile to note when these efforts to ban socially conscious curricula approach shameful milestones. 

PEN America, a free speech organization, is out with a new report that found nearly 1,500 instances of book-banning across the United States in the first half of the 2022-23 school year.

According to the report:

During the first half of the 2022-23 school year PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans lists 1,477 instances of individual books banned, affecting 874 unique titles. This represents an increase from the prior six months, from January to June 2022, in which 1,149 instances of book banning were recorded. Over 4,000 instances of banned books have been recorded since PEN America started tracking book bans in July 2021, affecting 2,253 unique titles. Overall, the bans impact 182 school districts in 37 states and millions of students.

PEN documented the bans by splitting them into four categories: books banned in libraries and classrooms, books banned in libraries, books banned in classrooms, and books that are banned pending an investigation. 

Although PEN said its data is limited, and claims the true number is “unquestionably much higher,” the organization’s findings show bans have been most prevalent in Texas, Florida, Missouri, Utah and South Carolina. The organization also noted most of the books banned are by and about people of color and LGBTQ individuals.

“In this six-month period, 30% of the unique titles banned are books about race, racism, or feature characters of color," PEN reported. “Meanwhile, 26% of unique titles banned have LGBTQ+ characters or themes.”

Back in February, we launched “Black History, Uncensored” on The ReidOut Blog as a way to honor the work of Black authors and creatives (many of them members of the LGBTQ community) who have been targeted by these GOP-led bans.

As I told my friend and mentor Joy Reid during my appearance on "The ReidOut" in February, these book bans are also a roadmap of sorts, telling us where we can find the knowledge Republicans want hidden. 

When conservatives give us lists of authors they think Americans should not read — what better to do than the exact opposite?