Ray Bradbury wrote “Fahrenheit 451” as a response to the McCarthyism of the 1950s.
The novel is about a future America where books are illegal, and workers known as “firemen” have the job of burning any that are found.
Celebrated as a signature example of Dystopian literature, the novel serves as a cautionary tale of what could be.
Today, seven decades after this novel was published, the premise remains to be not so far fetched. Hard to believe that there continue to be books that are banned in places throughout the United States.
In York, Pa., last month, a group of high school students got together to save “anti-racism” books that parents of other kids in the Central York School District had protested. These were “children’s tomes that celebrate the lives of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, as well as an autobiography of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, a ‘Sesame Street’ town hall on racism, and a few dozen other books, many written by Black and brown authors,” Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch wrote last month (“In Central York, kids rose up to save books on MLK, Rosa Parks from their parents,” Sept. 21).
The district’s action to remove these books from school libraries and curriculums was called a book “freeze,” not a ban, and aimed to protect students from “dangerous ideas.”
Christina Ellis, a Central York student, said to Lancaster, Pa.-based WGAL at the time: “We believe this is wrong. We believe that this shows discrimination, in a way, for banning 80% to 90% of books that are from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) authors,” she said.
The students’ protest led to adults joining their ranks and resulted in many Little Free Libraries around the city of York to stock and make widely available, for free, the books that were on the school’s restricted list.
Students and “pro-book” parents protested the list outside a September school board meeting. And they won.
The school board reversed the book ban and made a statement that included the following, “The Board embraces diversity in its many forms, including diversity of thought. We have always welcomed myriad quality diversity materials embracing differences and fostering equality, tolerance, inclusiveness, communication and kindness.”
The students’ fight garnered national attention. This happened just before Banned Books week, observed from Sept. 26-Oct. 2.
Bunch wrote, “Arguably, the high schoolers of York County have taught us a lesson, by reminding us that the vast majority of Americans — especially schoolchildren but also most parents — support ... classrooms where anti-racism is taught as part of the American story. In fighting against a narrow-minded minority, these kids learned and then illuminated something equally important: How to beat back bullies.”
Such a protest, you would think, could easily have happened during the McCarthy Era, but in 2021? It seems unthinkable that there are still banned books in this country, which holds First Amendment free speech rights as gospel (as I do).
Another book that published a few years after “Fahrenheit 451,” Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” (a favorite book of many), made the American Library Associations’ 2020 “Top 10 Most Challenged Books” list. The 1960 novel was “banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a ‘white savior’ character, and its perception of the Black experience,” the ALA wrote in a recent news release.
The ALA list is comprised of the “most challenged” books tracked by the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom. The office tracked 156 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2020. A total of 273 were targeted.
Pulitzer Prize-winning “To Kill a Mockingbird” is “one of the most frequently challenged books in the U.S. due to its themes of rape and use of profanity and racial slurs,” states the website of The Banned Books Project based at Carnegie Mellon University.
I don’t dispute that there’s language and situations in the novel that make a reader feel “uncomfortable.” But isn’t that where learning happens, when you’re considering new ideas that may take you out of your comfort zone?
Says national columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. in his Sept. 29 column, “It’s easy to see why they consider books dangerous”: “Indeed, the ALA’s list of banned and challenged books reads like a roadmap to the backroads of our national psyche, the prudishness, small-mindedness, fear, hypocrisy, ignorance and intolerance.”
If you’re like me, you might consider the list a “must-read” list to see for yourself why these books are labeled “dangerous.”
The real danger, I think, is in any group or groups deciding which ideas are too divisive to even think about.
A quote that is attributed to 19th century playwright George Bernard Shaw sums it up, “Censorship ends in logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that nobody reads.”
Editor of this publication and the other three Pikes Peak Newspapers weeklies, Michelle Karas has called the Pikes Peak region home for six years. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.