Opinion

NICHOLS: The Same Conservatives Who Complained About Dr. Seuss Getting ‘Cancelled’ Now Want To Ban Books About Race

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Jason Nichols Professor and progressive commentator
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True conservatives have always warned of “slippery slopes” when it comes to our individual freedoms.

They warn that limits put on the Second Amendment could put us on the path to total disarmament. Some believe that vaccine mandates will lead to further losses in bodily autonomy and freedom of movement despite the short term public health benefits. Many have argued that Big Tech and social media policing their content will inevitably result in the erosion of our First Amendment rights to free speech.

I have often believed that their fear of moderate regulations leading to a complete loss of rights was usually overstated, but I simultaneously respected the argument. The irony of today’s new conservatives is that they argue for free speech while simultaneously calling for book bans — particularly on material that addresses race, racism and LGBTQ issues in our country.

Republican Texas State Rep. Matt Krause flagged 850 books that, in his personal opinion, could cause young people in the state to “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race.” I’m a little skeptical as to whether Rep. Krause read all 850 of these books to make this determination. This desire to ban books caught on like wildfire on the heels of Christopher Rufo’s political campaign against what he mistakenly calls “Critical Race Theory.” School libraries are now under attack from Republican officials to ban certain material in the name of protecting children. Instead of giving parents an opportunity to decide if they want their children to consume the material or giving them the option to request alternative assignments or materials, some are trying to bury it, imposing their values on all families.

One can make the argument that controversial materials don’t belong in the classroom or school library. This conversation is a fair and important one to have. There was an uproar in Texas about the book Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe.  The book contains illustrations with nudity and sex acts, and while Kobabe’s intention was to answer questions queer kids may struggle to ask, it is debatable at what age such material is appropriate.

However, in York, PA the discussion about appropriate material amounted to absurdly flagging books about Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai and the Black women astronauts depicted in the film “Hidden Figures.” The issue has moved on and begun its descent down the old slippery slope. Many people in smaller non-urban areas of the country are calling for books to be removed from public libraries. In some cases, books are being removed without serious review or due process, according to executive director of the Texas Library Association, Shirley Robinson.

They are not calling for a parental advisory or warning label that used to go on CDs with adult language and content. That would be an example of a moderate compromise or regulation. They want the books to be snatched off the shelves of public libraries.

Conservatives, both young and old, have rightly complained about how countries like Iran and China put tight controls on the marketplace of ideas as a means of eradicating potential dissent. They despise these tactics intensely, yet they’ve decided to mimic them. Before his sizable defeat in the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump went as far as to create a Commission to promote “patriotic education,” which sounded eerily similar to what the Chinese Communist Party implemented after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. When the Nazis took Berlin in 1933, they burned books they felt competed with their ideology.

There are many dangerous things that are readily available to kids and are unregulated. Fifty-three percent of children have a cellphone by age 11. They have access to the internet and all that comes with it, including social media, cyber bullying, pornographic websites and dangerous political and religious material that can lead to radicalization. Most of the answers to these issues are left up to individual parents to apply controls and locks to protect their children. Instead of a similar approach with books, some have moved directly to bans.

Instead of banning books from public libraries, we should trust parents to make decisions for their children. The same folks who argue against social media bans of people who spread dangerous lies that inspire violence in our nation, want to ban books like Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me.” Those same voices that complained about the absurdity of removing certain books by Dr. Seuss want to ban The Handmaid’s Tale (the irony here is astounding) and biographies of Aretha Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. The same folks who argued against safe spaces, want to convert the libraries into Conservative safe spaces. Parents can monitor what their children are consuming. Banning books sends us down a dangerous path of social control. If you hate it, debate it, don’t ban it.

Jason Nichols is a lecturer in African American Studies at the University of Maryland and the cohost of the Daily Caller’s Vince & Jason Save The Nation.