“Black authors have spoken up about having their books banned and pulled from library shelves over fears from the Republican party over critical race theory (CRT), which examines the ways race and racism intersect with politics, culture and the law.
CRT is the academic framework that racism has existed in many structures and systems throughout American history, including in the justice and political system. However, Republican lawmakers appear to have given the term a broader meaning, applying it to any education that involves teaching about race and intersectionality. Dozens of bills are in motion or have passed that prohibit the theory from being taught in schools and Republicans have also cracked down on texts they deem as too controversial to be taught or read.
A disproportionate number of authors who appear to have been impacted by these moves are writers of color and authors from LGBTQ+ backgrounds.
In October 2021, Republican Texas state Rep. Matt Krause released a list of about 850 books that he claimed "make students feel discomfort" due to their content about race and sexuality. Krause urged school libraries to report whether they had any of the books.
He did not explain what the next steps might be, but his request mentioned several pushes to remove books from libraries and classrooms if they center on issues from transgender identity to critical race theory.
Among the books, was Mikki Kendall's non-fiction book Hood Feminism, and Kalynn Bayron's 2020 novel Cinderella Is Dead. Ovidia Molina, the president of the Texas State Teachers Association, decried Krause's move, calling it "disturbing and political overreach into the classroom" and potentially illegal, at the time, according to a statement.
Speaking to Newsweek about Krause's clampdown on books about race and sexuality, Kendall said: "I spent exactly enough time figuring out that the people calling for these book bans have largely never read the books and ceased to take them seriously as critics. Like Krause, many of the people pushing for these bans are running for local office and have nothing of substance to say so they've chosen to attack books in hopes no one will notice they're hacks running a political con job in hopes of winning an office."
Hood Feminism argues that mainstream feminists rarely talk about meeting basic needs as a feminist issue and that white feminists can sometimes be blind to how race, class and sexuality interact with feminism.
Kendall said that many of the people who accuse her of writing about CRT don't understand the theory or know where it's taught—primarily in college and law school.
"Children who can think for themselves and analyze information are the biggest danger to bigots who are trying desperately to cling to an imaginary past," Kendall said. "As for the idea that I can be accused of teaching critical race theory, it's not a crime to have information or to share it."
She said that America has always struggled with the idea of free speech for marginalized people, but it's just more visible now in the age of social media.
"This is an old fight, and I certainly don't intend to lose it. More importantly I certainly don't intend to only rely on school libraries. Kids use the internet so I'll talk about these concepts on Twitter, TikTok, in talks at schools and bookstores."
Asked whether she plans to appeal her books being removed, Kendall said: "I'll join a lawsuit with the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] or other such body if it becomes necessary but I'm not asking for kids to be given access to education. I'm demanding it.
"Whether it is my books or anyone else's that actual experts who have read the books and whose job it is to set curriculums have chosen to include in a school library, I don't think one whiny parent or political hack should ever have the right to curtail access to information for all the kids in a district."
Bayron found out that Cinderella is Dead was on the list on social media late in 2021.
"I read through the list of 800+ books that Krause was targeting and realized that this wasn't specifically about critical race theory, but about racism, homophobia, and misogyny. Stories began to trickle in of my work being removed from libraries across Texas and in some other states as well," Bayron told Newsweek.
Addressing critics, she said would challenge them to define to her the ways in which CRT is applied to her work.
"I would ask them if they know who Kimberlé Crenshaw [CRT pioneer] is and if they can cite her. Many people supporting these bans do not have a solid understanding of what critical race theory actually is and how it is applied. They use the term as a dog whistle," Bayron said.
She added that the removal of the books set a "terrible precedent," but that she did not fear "willful ignorance."
"It directly harms young readers by narrowing their world view. Not everyone in this world is white, straight, cis [cisgender] and heterosexual. You can cultivate empathy and compassion by fostering a learning environment that is rich in inclusion. Isn't that what we want? To allow our children to be compassionate and helpful and genuinely interested in the well-being of others?
"The fear and ignorance driving these efforts is based solely in white supremacy and patriarchal ideologies that have dominated our social and political landscape for generations. It's hurting me as a creator, yes, but it's also hurting young readers and that, in my mind, is absolutely unacceptable."
She is working with her publisher to address the removal of her books.
"I am concerned that people will give in to the pressure being applied but I'm much more concerned for my young readers who are looking for depictions of themselves in the books they read. I understand what it's like to search for yourself in the pages of some epic adventure and find nothing. It's an incredibly isolating and disheartening experience.
"If I had my way, I would never allow another single young reader to feel the pain that deliberate exclusion based on race, gender, or sexual identity brings. I will continue to advocate loudly for my readers and the librarians and educators who support them."
Tiffany D. Jackson, who wrote the 2018 novel Monday's Not Coming, faces a similar predicament. At a school board meeting in May 2021 in Loudoun County, Virginia, parents demanded that the author's book be banned for "sexual content," according to the Loudoun-Times Mirror.
The book touches on friendship, dyslexia, healing and mentions sex, though it is not acted upon, she said.
Jackson told Newsweek that her book had been "on the hit list for a while now," but in May 2021 she chose not to speak about the school board reaction because she was grieving the death of her aunt.
She said that many people who accuse her of teaching CRT do not even know what the theory is, and "that seems to be the biggest problem."
Jackson said that her accusers likely haven't read her book, which she says is about shining a light on missing Black children.
"It barely fits the qualifications of actual CRT. So one would assume the only reason it's being banned is because it features Black children living in our current society. And that makes these parents' silent racism incredibly loud."
She has no plans to appeal the school board's decision.
"My next book The Weight of Blood talks about microaggressions, racism and segregation. It'll probably be banned as well. I have a long hard road ahead of me as a Black author."