Texas’ Attempt to Ban Books Backfires After List Publication Sparks Buying Spree
23:11 GMT 11.11.2021 (Updated: 13:26 GMT 06.08.2022)
After conservative Texas politicians attempted to get a list of over 800 books banned from state schools, the backlash over censorship aroused greater interest in the books on the list, helping to drive up sales.
It’s a classic Streisand Effect situation: trying to hush up talk about an event accidentally causes it to become even bigger news than before.
According to Houston-based cultural publication Chron
, award-winning author Jerry Craft has seen a spike in sales after four of his books appeared on a list of more than 850 titles that Republican State Rep. Matt Krause is seeking to get banned. Craft’s books follow the life of a Black seventh-grade student at a predominantly white private school, but got pulled from two Texas districts’ shelves over what conservatives have termed “critical race theory.”
"I don't think that the people that banned it actually read the book," Craft said. "What has happened is so many places have sold so many copies because now people want to see what all the hubbub is. They get it and they write to me and they're almost disappointed because there's no big thing that they were looking for."
One Houston parent, Marty Troyer, told the paper his children couldn’t understand why one of their favorite authors would have their work banned, which led him to encourage his children to read more banned books.
The Houston bookstore Kindred Stories teamed up
with New York-based Astra Publishing House to raise enough funds to buy and distribute 200 copies of two of Craft’s books: “New Kid” and “Class Act.”
Alessandra Bastagli, the publisher’s editorial director, told Chron that her children wanted Texas kids to have the same access to books as they have in Brooklyn.
She said that since they started promoting their program on social media, she’s gotten requests from more than 90 teachers and librarians across the state for books.
Texas Ban on ‘Critical Race Theory’
Precipitating the situation was a move last month by Rep. Krause, who is running for Texas attorney general, to demand information
from more than a dozen state school districts about whether or not their school libraries contained any titles on a lengthy list of more than 800 books he found objectionable.
The books deal with a number of topics, including abortion, feminism, LGBTQ experiences, race and racism, and what it’s like to be a refugee, and are generally geared toward children. Krause said the probe was aimed at ensuring compliance with the state’s new educational policies
intended to curb critical academic examinations of US history and society, which Republicans have incorrectly termed “critical race theory” after a vaguely related philosophical movement.
The term has become a conservative rallying call in the aftermath of the nationwide protests against racism and white supremacy that rocked the United States in the summer of 2020 after George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer named Derek Chauvin.
The protests, which built on the Black Lives Matter movement against anti-Black police brutality and vigilantism, forced a reckoning with many parts of American history that activists claimed continued to enable celebration of the country’s racist legacy, such as monuments to Confederate generals who led a 19th century rebellion aimed at preserving the enslavement of Black Americans that continue to dot American cityscapes.
Texas was one of the 11 US states that attempted to secede from the Union in 1861, precipitating what remains the bloodiest war in American history - the US Civil War.
At its most absurd, the new law mandating both sides of racial issues be taught has led to one school district advising its teachers to offer “opposing” perspectives
on books about the horrors of the Holocaust, the Nazis’ systematic mass murder of peoples their ideology deemed racially inferior, including Jews, Slavs, and Roma people, among others.
In a letter to Texas education agencies on Monday, Governor Greg Abbott urged them to develop statewide standards to prevent public school children from being exposed to books about sexuality and LGBTQ topics, which he called “pornography or other inappropriate content.”
“As you are aware, a growing number of parents of Texas students are rightfully outraged about highly inappropriate books and other content in public school libraries,” Abbott wrote in his letter, according to the Houston Chronicle
. “The most disturbing cases include material that is clearly pornographic, which has absolutely no place in the Texas public education system.”
The letter was addressed to the Texas Education Agency, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, and State Board of Education - three agencies that oversee educational content at the state’s public school system.
Abbott referenced several examples of school districts removing books after parents complained about sexually explicit images in their pages, such as the book “Gender Queer: a Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, which was removed from a high school library by the Keller Independent School District north of Fort Worth, and the book “In the Dream House” by Carmen Maria Machado, which contains a scene of lesbian sex and was removed from a high school in Leander Independent School District north of Austin.
Both books are memoirs by LGBTQ authors and are about their struggles with their identities.
Abbott’s government hasn’t just legislated against so-called “critical race theory,” though: it’s also gone after LGBTQ rights. Last month, the state banned trans girls
from playing on girls’ sports teams in state schools - just one of 76 bills introduced
in 2021 alone aiming to curb the rights of LGBTQ people. Fifty of those bills have targeted trans children in various ways, with others seeking to block trans people from being able to change information on their birth certificates and eight that would legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people in various ways.
Not to be outdone, the Spotsylvania County School Board in central Virginia earlier this week voted to order
county schools to remove what it called “sexually explicit” material from their shelves following a complaint from a parent. The board intends to order a larger review of “objectionable” books in the near future.
Two of the board members said they thought the books should be burned, according to The Free Lance-Star
“I think we should throw those books in a fire,” board member Rabih Abuismail said according to the Fredericksburg paper, with board member Kirk Twigg adding that he wants to “see the books before we burn them so we can identify within our community that we are eradicating this bad stuff.”