Banned Books: The Shift in Censorship, Why it Matters and How to Respond

If you look at the history of banned books, you’ll notice there’s a shift in who is censoring books.

It used to be oppressive governments, religious groups and concerned parents. Now it is merchants.

It matters because freedom of expression is restricted.

We can respond by speaking out, voting with our dollars and getting involved with the books coming into our home. 

Banned Books: The Shift in Book Censorship

The source of book censorship has changed. 

Since the time books have been printed (and even before) there have been powers who restricted book access. Books are dangerous. They hold ideas, they articulate ideologies.

Throughout history, oppressive governments have burned or banned books that propagated Christianity, capitalism or representative government. 

Within the last two hundred years in the United States religious groups, concerned parents and school boards have opposed books with immoral content or obscenity. 

Today, the book censors are merchants. 

They are the ones suppressing the free flow of ideas and ideologies that counter their own. 

The Book Amazon Doesn’t Want You to Read is a case in point. 

When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement by Ryan T. Anderson was published in 2018. 

In March of 2021, Amazon pulled all forms of the book from it’s selling platform. 

Amazon has power because it controls an overwhelming market share of book sales. Dropping a book from it’s online store has far-reaching consequences. 

The National Coalition Against Censorship published a statement about Amazon’s removal of Anderson’s book.

“Amazon is not like other booksellers.  It sells more than half of all print books and a significant share of e-books and audio books in the United States.  This gives the company an outsized role in shaping opinion and discourse.  When Amazon decides to remove a book, it matters not only to the author and their publisher, but to the entire public sphere.”

Banned Books: Why it Matters

It matters because the power has shifted. 

It matters because access to ideologies is threatened and suppression of ideas is not freedom. 

It matters because public opinion is being shaped by those who hold the purse strings. 

At first Amazon did not respond to questions about the reason for removing Ryan Anderson’s book.

The author writes in an article at First Things, “The people who did read the book discovered that it is an accurate and accessible presentation of the scientific, medical, philosophical, and legal debates surrounding the trans phenomenon. Yes, it advances an argument against transgender ideology from a viewpoint. But it doesn’t get any facts wrong, and it doesn’t engage in heated rhetoric. “

When they did respond with their rationale, Anderson took issue with their reason in the article Amazon Breaks Silence.

“Amazon justified its decision to delist my book claiming it has decided ‘not to sell books that frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness,’” he wrote. 

“The only problem here is that my book does no such thing. Nowhere have I ever said or framed LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness.”

In another case, Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced that they will not be re-printing six Dr. Seuss titles because of the portrayal of minorities in those books after a review of educators and experts took issue.

Additionally, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books have been attacked for her portrayal of Native Americans.

In protest to the negative portrayal, a prestigious children’s literary award was renamed to exclude Wilder’s name.

The offensive passage cited from Little House on the Prairie, published in 1935 reads, “There were no people. Only Indians lived there.” Rose Wilder, who helped her mother with the manuscript, admitted it was a stupid blunder and the line was re-written “There were no settlers.” The correction has been in every edition since 1953.

Maureen Callahan in an article for the New York Post concludes, “Laura Ingalls Wilder’s contribution extends to helping establish children’s literature as its own genre — an accomplishment shared with her controversial predecessor Mark Twain. The answer is not to ban books that make us uncomfortable or upset — it’s to teach children how to read and think critically.”

Banned Books: How to Respond

The opponent has changed. 

The power has shifted. It’s no longer oppressive governments, religious groups or concerned parents that are censoring books. It’s the gatekeepers of political correctness and Big Tech. 

What is Big Tech exactly? 

Wikipedia defines it as “the largest and most dominant companies in the information technology industry in the United States” Five companies are usually included: Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Apple.  

The truth is most people don’t question, don’t understand and don’t have the resources to stand up to Big Tech.  

So, how can you respond? 

The first step is to be informed, to know and understand what is happening. 

Join the conversation

You can inform your circle of influence about what’s happening. 

You can make your voice heard on the local level, such as school boards, in regards to required reading and access to books you believe in. 

Choose other retailers besides Amazon

You can vote with your dollars.

Amazon isn’t the only place to order books online. Barnes and Noble, and Bookshop are all great options. Many times, you can also buy directly from the publisher.

Be Proactive about the books in your home

There’s the large scale of joining the conversation, and there’s the small scale of what happens at home with your own kids and family. 

Get involved in your kids’ reading. 

Pick adults you can trust to speak into your kids’ lives and then trust them to recommend books. 

Read book reviews about new releases.

Teach your kids to be discerning readers.

As Maureen Callahan suggests, the answer is not to ban books, but to “teach children to read and think critically.”

Have you wondered why books don’t have ratings like movies? I did a little digging to find out why and was surprised by the reasons.

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