Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
After spending the last few years banning Dr. Seuss and literally burning copies of Harry Potter novels in bonfires, and denouncing classic children’s literature like Little House on the Prairie and Mary Poppins as racist, leftists are now accusing conservatives of “banning books”.
When a Minnesota school district removed The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird from its curriculum because it made students “uncomfortable”, the NAACP, which has been trying to ban Huck since at least the 50s, cheered. So did the media which celebrated the effort to remove “racist language” that “triggered students of color” from the classroom.
The removal of Mark Twain’s authentically anti-racist masterpiece was carried out by anti-racists in school districts from Burbank, California to Lawrence, Kansas. In 2016, a Virginia school district, now at the center of media fear mongering about book bans after parents succeeded in reclaiming schools from CRT bosses, banned both books because of all the “racial slurs”.
Now the censors want to reclaim the mantle of free speech. The media, which described school districts “removing” or “replacing” books on reading lists when leftists were doing it, now calls the removal of books, whether they’re racist critical race theory texts or Maus, as “bans”.
Much like erstwhile liberals went from celebrating Jefferson and Lincoln to toppling their statues, their educational counterparts who had once vocally championed Huck and Mockingbird, and shouted down any effort to keep them out of the classroom, now just as vocally want them out and replaced with the deranged hateful ravings of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ibram X. Kendi.
Yet instead of being honest about that (or anything else), they duck into a phone booth, doff their censor togs and dress up as free speech crusaders, and then rush back and throw off their free speech tights to go back to burning books. Even by the standards of a movement that is so pathologically Orwellian that it describes protests against vaccine mandates as “authoritarian”, this is a bit much. But the only books they believe should be in school are those whose politics they like, at any given moment, before deciding that they’re hate speech and purging them.
Removing books from a school curriculum isn’t a ban. If it is, then lefties have been banning books forever. It’s not just Huck Finn, there’s hardly a single classic book that hasn’t been denounced for thoughtcrimes. The Wind in the Willows? Rarcist. Narnia? Islamophobic. The Lord of the Rings? Also racist. Any book written by a white man? Systemically racist.
Recently, a university added a trigger warning to 1984 by George Orwell.
The worst offenders are the proponents of critical race theory, now suddenly crying about censorship, when they had been urging schools, publishers, and readers to stop buying, publishing, and displaying books by white men in the name of racial and gender equity.
A few years ago they were touting a proposal that every racist illiterate stop reading books by white men for a year. You can still find headlines like, “I Read Books by Only Minority Authors for a Year” from the Washington Post, and more explicit posts at book sites like, “Why I’m No Longer Reading Books by White Men”, “A Year of No White Men”, “The Year I Stopped Reading White People”. The crybullies at Goodreads, which is to young adult books what TikTok is to videos of crying teens changing gender on camera, bullied publishers into canceling books and forced writers to unpublish their own books to the wild applause of the media.
Now lefties are subjecting us to their self-righteous pearl clutching about censoring books.
Parents have a right to determine what their children are reading in school. They have an absolute right to reject the real racism of Ta-Nehisi Coates or Ibram X. Kendi, who dehumanize white people as a group, or, for that matter, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, if they don’t want their children reading racial slurs, or Maus, if they don’t want them exposed to curse words. Parents don’t need a ‘good reason’ to keep a book off the reading list. Being the parents of their children is good enough to give them veto power over what their children are taught.
But there is a world of difference between taking a book out of a school and banning it.
When you harass publishers and authors into removing a book from sale, you’re banning the book. When you pull classic books from sale and then ban their resale, as the Seuss Foundation did, under pressure, and eBay chose to do on its own, that is an actual book ban.
People who believe that men can become women by wishing hard enough have the right to burn their own copies of Harry Potter, but there’s no mistaking the message of hate and intimidation that sends. There’s a reason the Nazis loved burning books. It’s an act of violence that serves as a temporary substitute for destroying the authors and readers behind them.
Anyone can and should be able to read any book they want. The proponents of critical race theory are the biggest opponents of that idea. They don’t just want books they dislike out of schools, but they want them removed entirely from existence. That’s why they don’t just refuse to read them, or even just burn them, they pressure publishers into eliminating them.
They don’t just do this because they hate the books themselves, but as a show of power.
Books have been banned for a whole lot less than racial slurs or accurately describing the world as it was at the time. Beloved classic children’s books like Wind in the Willows had messages read into them. Racial lenses have been placed over classics like Lord of the Rings. And contemporary teen books were forced out of existence for the mere crime of having ‘black’ or ‘slave’ in the title even when they were set in fantasy kingdoms and had nothing to do with race.
This Salem Witch Trial of literature isn’t even about the context of the text, but the hateful power of the social justice censors who are getting high on the fumes from the burning paper.
After all this, the book burners, statue topplers, and crowdsourced censors suddenly want to act like they’re the champions of free speech because parents don’t want critical racist texts, underage pornography, and the other garbage that the Left currently champions (before deciding a decade from now that it also needs to be banned) taught to their children.
The old liberals of the ACLU had some personal credibility when attacking censorship, the postmodern identity politics leftists who live and breathe censorship have less than none.
Much of lefty politics is built on wearing liberal skins and echoing liberal ideas in between illiberal bouts of destroying everything they don’t approve of and demanding that everyone swear allegiance to their politics. Sometimes it fools the declining population of Boomer liberals.
Just ask Obama.
The very last people who should ever don the mantle of free speech are critical race theorists who believe that everything is racist and should be banned unless it was made by them. They are obsessed with “whiteness” in architecture, art, and literature the way the Nazis were obsessed with finding trace elements of Jewishness in Einstein’s theories and Strauss waltzes.
Banning books isn’t just something you do: it’s central to how you think of the world.
Parents trying to determine what books their children are exposed to aren’t trying to control the world, but critical race theory is concerned not with individuals, but all of society. Leftists believe that they should control not just what they read, but what everyone reads and believes.
This is the authoritarian totalitarian impulse that moves them to both ban and compel books.
Reading to them is not an individual choice, but a collective one. The mass production of books and the transformation of reading from a public activity to a private one made individualism possible. Even in totalitarian societies, people smuggled books and read them secretly. In those stolen hours, seeing words by candle light, they won the freedom of the soul.
Today, Big Tech and their Big Publisher allies want people reading on Kindles and on digital platforms where books are not truly owned, but allocated by digital rights management lurking in the cloud which can delete any book at any time, making its words and the ones and zeros behind them disappear. Turning a private act into a public one, controlled by monopolies, and policed by the politically correct is a technosocial ecosystem that destroys individual reading.
Critical race theory proponents are coming for our books, they’re coming for our culture, and our souls, and even as they burn and loot our intellectual heritage, they claim to be the victims.
In a perversity that would have stunned even Orwell and Swift, the book burners claim that they’re fighting censorship, the censors insist that they’re defending themselves against painful words, and the racists declare that they’re imposing racism in the name of anti-racism.
And if you doubt that they’re the victims, they’ll burn you too.