You may not be surprised to learn that the American prison system censors the types of reading materials accessible to the incarcerated. Banned books are an unfortunate, but incessant part of American history, and occur in many institutions including public schools, libraries, bookstores, and, yes, prisons. Take a look at the New York Times article below. This article makes a case that these bans are racially motivated. Do you think having access to all books is a basic human right?
“In the eight years since its publication, “The New Jim Crow,” a book by Michelle Alexander that explores the phenomenon of mass incarceration, has sold well over a million copies, been compared to the work of W.E.B. Du Bois, been cited in the legal decisions to end stop-and-frisk and sentencing laws, and been quoted passionately on stage at the Academy Awards.
But for the more than 130,000 adults in prison in North Carolina and Florida, the book is strictly off-limits…..read more
UPDATE: Seems like a line was drawn over the weekend. Simon & Schuster cancelled Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos’ book deal, as debated below.
The following news story from about a month ago (Jan 2017) tackles the argument: do publishers, in this case Simon & Schuster, get to decide what is published despite a clear concern that the book may contain flagrant hate speech? In a university, there are policies enforcing the rights of free speech amongst students and faculty in the classroom to encourage critical nuanced debate. What do you think about the arguments brought up in this article to address this particular situation?
Excerpt from the article:
“Trying to suppress hateful speech doesn’t make it go away,” says [Joan Bertin, executive director of the NCAC]. “I mean, I think the whole idea of free speech requires us to be active participants, and when we hear ideas that we think are bad and harmful, it requires us to say ‘why,’ not just say ‘shut up.'”
But publisher Dennis Johnson says another equally important right is at stake here: The right to protest.
“This is not about censoring right wing voices,” he says. “This is about combating hate speech and its entry into the mainstream.”
There are books that address the experiences of marginalized groups in the US, books that bring to light the stories of immigrants, of the LGBTQ community, of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas, and other non-white race/ethnicities that make up a significant part of our country. Many of these books, especially YA and children’s’ books, unsettle those who don’t affiliate with these groups. In the article below, the author uses statistics from other recent studies to highlight the fact that diverse books are often targeted for censorship. She points to novels such as Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which the library has in the collection (find it on the second floor, PS3551.L35774 A27 2009).
This year’s Banned Books Week theme, diverse books, has been on my mind for some time. As Jamie LaRue, director of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom, has noted, defining diversity is difficult. However, the definition used by the organization We Need Diverse Books is succinct and inclusive: “We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.”
September 22-28 is Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of open access to information and the unfettered freedom to read. According to the ALA and the Office for Intellectual Freedom, which tracks reported challenges or requests to remove books at libraries and schools nationwide, there were 464 official complaints in 2012. Offensive language or sexual content are the most commonly cited reasons given and challenges predominantly occur in school and public libraries. However, from 2000-2009 there were 30 reported requests to remove materials made in college libraries and 114 objections to materials used in college classrooms. Exercise your freedom to read and check out one of these books which made the top 10 challenged list for 2012:
For more information check out these posts about web filtering in schools and the freedom to read.