There is a lot of talk these days about cancel culture. That talk mostly comes from the right and it’s directed at “woke” leftists. But, at least when it comes to the time-honored tradition of banning books, the right still holds the cancel culture crown.
Don’t get me wrong. I am very concerned about illiberal liberals as is the likes of Barack Obama, who was among the first to decry left-wing intolerance and online mob tactics. I’ve written about this pretty extensively.
But it’s not like the left has cornered the market on self-righteousness. Conservatives can still hold their own.
The American Library Association just issued their list of the most controversial books of 2020. These are books that were the subject of attempts to ban or otherwise restrict their availability. A look at the list of the ten most often challenged books suggests that eight out of ten were attacked from the right.
To quote the Association’s report:
The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 156 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2020. Of the 273 books that were targeted, here are the most challenged, along with the reasons cited for censoring the books:
- George by Alex Gino
Reasons: Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community”
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
Reasons: Banned and challenged because of author’s public statements, and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people
- All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now”
- Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint and it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author
- Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
Reasons: Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote anti-police views
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Reasons: Challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message
Of these, only To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men appear to have been attacked from the left. I suppose you can make the case that those two are classics of American literature while the others are just topical releases that will have a brief shelf life.
But, still, when you look at those eight titles, it’s mostly stuff that challenges the status quo when it comes to acceptance of racial or sexual identity. I’m not totally on board with identity politics either, but I’m never in favor of shutting down the conversation.
If we’re liberal — in the classical sense — we should be for maximum free speech. Society only moves forward with a strong and respectful exchange of ideas. Shutting down thought is always a horrible idea.
So, when conservatives go on about cancel culture, they need to examine what their own side wants to silence.