By Priya Mullassaril
The age-old idea of American superiority which primarily rests upon the belief that we bear no resemblance to autocracies like Russia and China is long overdue for a paradigm shift. America scorns the aforementioned countries for practicing the suppression of speech, and in the same breath, she silences marginalized authors by removing their books from circulation. Much to the chagrin of our founding fathers, the chasm which separates this country from authoritarian regimes is gradually being doctored due to America’s despotic implementation of censorship. Republican state representative Scott Cepickey recently introduced a state-wide bill in Tennessee attempting to ban in-school reading materials that grapple with grave topics, such as prejudice and religious intolerance. Large parts of the conservative movement and its leaders have sought to prevent the youth from learning about pervasive interracial and interfaith schisms, leading members of the group to challenge and ban books such as Maus, All Boys Aren’t Blue, and Lawn Boy on the basis that they make students feel uncomfortable. These books delve into Jewish trauma resulting from the Holocaust and anti-semitism, the ostracization of black queer Americans, and the myopic lens used to view Hispanic people, making it imperative that these authors have a platform on which their voices can be heard. By no means do these books broach a level of impropriety that makes them unsuitable for younger readers. They are simply honest accounts of what it is like to grow up in a country that has misconstrued what it means to be a “true American”.
While this country grants numerous benefits to its citizens, its downfalls must also be taken into account in order to initiate growth. For decades in America, the microphone has, for the most part, been handed to men unaffected by the injustice which lurks beneath the red, white, and blue flag we so proudly wave. To learn from the experiences of marginalized authors at a young age is a stepping stone to cultivate the social conscience of Americans, and cleanse them of their predetermined prejudices. It also gives future generations an opportunity to show more amiability towards minorities than their ancestors did. Education is the only way our country can hope to deconstruct its prejudices which have been inculcated into us at birth, which is why the expurgation of material that sheds light on inequality in America is a senselessly cruel act.
Prohibiting these books from libraries is not only antiquated and representative of a dysfunctional government, but it is also discriminatory. This country has repeatedly shown jaundice towards minorities, what with the Indian Removal Act of 1830, and Japanese internment camps in 1942. Our history is scarred by our ignorance and inability to listen to others. To repeat this mistake by silencing BIPOC and ethnic groups is to say that their issues are not worth our time- that the injustices they suffered at the hands of our country should be forgotten in the name of preserving the innocence of our youth. This is an eminently prejudiced take because it exacerbates the divide between white and non-white Americans by belittling minority struggles. Change will never be possible if we are unwilling to face the demons of our past and how we were responsible for unleashing them, meaning we must open up discussions about race and prejudice instead of shutting them down.
The First Amendment grants citizens the right to publish reading material freely without fear of censorship. To trample this right of certain authors because they expose America’s tainted past is a direct violation of human rights that allows only a select few to control the narrative of what this country’s history should entail. Like any other country, America has made its mistakes- some more egregious than others. However, if children are never taught about how America strayed from the path of morality during its darkest hours, they develop the mentality that this country can do no wrong. This type of thinking engenders bigotry and xenophobia, leading future generations into treacherous territory.
Moreover, it is of the utmost importance for children to learn about injustices that plague this country because of their growing minds. Studies show that at age 12, kids start to become increasingly influenced by social factors. By sheltering white children from serious topics, namely racism and discrimination, their ability to develop empathy for people of color will be hindered. If they are not educated about such matters at a young age, their ignorance will lead them down the wrong path, and it is infinitely harder for them to unlearn prejudice when they are much older. A child’s formative years is a period when education and learning should be maximized; not restricted. What's more, adults often underestimate how much adolescents and teens are able to handle. Children watch movies with profanity, play video games consisting of killing, and are taught about war and 9/11 in school- they are more than capable of learning about America´s pejorative history towards minorities. If it is taught correctly, then there would be no problem with allowing reading materials which deal with America’s treatment of marginalized groups to be freely accessible in school libraries. And if it brings such a degree of wariness for conservatives to teach their children about America’s history that they resort to censorship, perhaps our nation needs a significant amount of change before it can be one we are proud to call home.