By Sereka Barlow/Alexsandra Annello
“Beloved.” “Huckleberry Finn. “The color violet.” “The best of worlds”. “Maus.” “Are you there, God? “It’s me, Marguerite.”
If we were to ask you what these books have in common, you could say that they have all been loved by generations of readers. That they were all written by award-winning authors. Maybe they were assigned to read for you at school.
But these books, and dozens of others, also share a darker kinship. They are on the list of books that have been banned from schools and pulled from library shelves in the mistaken hope that not talking about uncomfortable topics will make them disappear.
Now, a joint project between the YWCA El Paso del Norte Region and the City of El Paso is embracing and elevating the stories others want silenced. Together, we’re working to create a banned books section in every public library in El Paso so everyone can access the books that represent them – and so everyone has the chance to learn more about the people, communities, and experiences different from theirs.
Unfortunately, efforts to ban books are all the rage. In Texas, school libraries are reporting a record number of book removal requests. Last year, a state official came to national attention when he published a list of 850 books that “could cause students to feel discomfort, guilt, anxiety or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex”. We find that books that fit this description tend to be those that give visibility to people of color and LGBTQ+ people, both in fiction and non-fiction.
It’s not just Texas. During Virginia’s gubernatorial race last year, one of the candidates embraced an attempt by parents to ban “Beloved” from school curricula – no matter how lyrical and devastating its portrayal of the legacy of slavery. helped its author, Toni Morrison, win the Nobel Prize for Literature. . Two school board members recently suggested that it was not enough to remove the books – they should also be burned. And earlier this year, a school board in Tennessee banned the graphic novel “Maus” for its depiction of historical facts around the Holocaust (when book burning was last in vogue).
As these examples illustrate, book banning efforts frequently target publications that illuminate the lived experiences of individuals and communities who are too often excluded from standard history textbooks and curricula: Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, and Asian authors and members of the LGBTQ+ community. , books that embrace a diversity of perspectives and experiences, books that make marginalized people feel seen and heard.
As we seek to build a more equitable and understanding world, diverse stories like these play a vital role in giving us a common language to speak about difficult topics with nuance, grace and empathy. It’s hard to have those moments of connection where thoughtful, honest narratives are censored.
In honor of National Banned Books Week, we invite you to visit www.ywcaelpaso.org/ywca-banned-books to learn more and support these efforts. And don’t forget to plan a visit to the nearest library to check out a banned book and see what it’s all about.
Sereka Barlow is the YWCA’s interim CEO and town representative. Alexsandra Annello represents Central El Paso.