You Can’t Erase Our Stories: Six States Ban BIPOC Books From Schools
Mina Himlie, online publishing coordinator
School is a major place where we are socialized into our world. A place where we learn how to interact with others, how to read and write, how to do math, and what to think about day to day issues. Schools shape our children, who in turn shape our future.
So it’s concerning that as of June 2021, six states are going so far as to ban content in schools that challenges the white-centered, white supremacist narrative that is currently being pushed, especially since K-12 schools don’t teach anything about BIPOC history to begin with. Why are white, Republican legislators so fired up to ban something that barely even exists in schools?
The nice answer is that they have some misconceptions about what Critical Race Theory (CRT) is. The real answer is that they feel threatened. They feel threatened by the idea that white children will be taught information that challenges their previously unquestioned power. They feel threatened by the idea that BIPOC will finally get the platform to tell their versions of history, and once the other versions are out there, it will become apparent how distorted the current version is.
Teaching children that there are multiple realities based on what race you are isn’t an agenda; it’s the truth. The America that Black people experience is much different from the America that white people experience. Or that Asian or Latine or Native people experience. Even within each racial category, there are a multitude of experiences based on other social identity categories such as gender, sexuality, religion, (dis)ability, and more.
The proponents of the bans say that teaching about racism and CRT is teaching our children to hate each other. I say that by not teaching those things, we are teaching our children to continue hating each other. Kids see race whether adults acknowledge that fact or not. They will copy the behavior that they see adults engaging in and internalize the beliefs that adults express. If they are not taught about the racism that abounds in our society, how will they ever see that it still exists and that they are perpetuating it?
And this isn’t a problem just in the history classroom. This problem extends to the English classroom and even the library. On September 24, Asian-American author Kelly Yang posted on her Instagram account about her children’s book Front Desk being banned from an elementary school on Long Island. The ban ended up being challenged and revoked, but it’s still distressing that it was nearly implemented.
I have not read it, but Front Desk is about a Chinese immigrant family who moves to America for a better life. Instead, they find themselves working low-paying jobs and eventually wind up living and working at a motel. The main character, a ten-year-old girl, aspires to win a writing contest in order for them to get their own motel and not work for someone else.
Though this book is fiction, it is based on Yang’s own story as a Chinese immigrant. She writes on her website that Front Desk is “60 percent real and 40 percent made up.” And that just makes this even more heartbreaking. The school wasn’t just banning the book. It was banning the author’s personal experience. It was banning the experiences of everyone like her.
Banning CRT and the discussion of reality as marginalized groups experience it effectively sends the message that people of color don’t matter despite all of their contributions to our society. It is to uphold and perpetuate white supremacy, an ideology that has lasted far too long. This is not the message we should be sending with our children into the future. If we want to build a better future, we need to center and value BIPOC stories in our schools, not ban them.