A youth group is distributing hundreds of copies of Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” and Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” in response to Republican-led attacks on those and other books about racism in schools nationwide.
Voters of Tomorrow, a youth-led political nonprofit, plans to give out about 400 copies of the Pulitzer Prize-winning books to public high school students in Austin, Texas, and Fairfax, Virginia, next week. In time, they are hoping to expand their efforts to other locations.
In a news release Wednesday, the group said it was “fighting back against the far-right’s attempts to eliminate essential pieces of history and literature from our school curricula.” Spokesperson Jack Lobel said the group aims to counter “politicians crusading against students’ right to a well-rounded and accurate historical education.”
Republican governors in Texas and Virginia have supported the removal of books on race and other issues from classrooms.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin featured in one of his campaign videos last year a GOP activist who wanted to ban “Beloved” from the Fairfax school district. On his first day in office, Youngkin issued an executive order demanding the review of materials for public schools “to identify those that promote or endorse divisive or inherently racist concepts” — and defining as “divisive” the idea that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race, skin color, ethnicity, sex or faith, is racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously.”
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott wrote to the state association of school boards last year, warning against “pornographic or obscene” books in school libraries, shortly after GOP state lawmakers targeted books with LGBTQ themes on such grounds. An NBC report found that across the state, hundreds of books had been pulled from school libraries for review after conservative parents and officials pushed to ban books on race, sexuality and gender.
There have been Republican-led efforts to ban books from school libraries across the country.
Last week, a local school board in Tennessee banned “Maus,” a book about the horrors of the Holocaust, citing concerns about “objectionable language” and nudity. Earlier this month, a school board in Missouri removed Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” about American racism in the 1940s, from its high school libraries.
The pushes to ban certain school library books stem directly from Republican-led efforts to prevent students from learning about white supremacy and racism, under the pretense of expunging so-called “critical race theory” from classrooms.
In June, Abbott signed a law broadly seeking to block teachers from talking about white supremacy, racism and privilege in classrooms. The law is vague, and Texas teachers who spoke to HuffPost said they’re unsure of what they can and can’t teach. Months after the law was signed, a school administrator in the state told teachers at her school that, to comply with the law, if they teach a book about the Holocaust, they should also include a book that has “opposing” or “other perspectives.” (The superintendent of that school district later apologized for the administrator’s remarks.)
Other states, including Tennessee, Iowa, Idaho and Oklahoma, have enacted laws not unlike the Texas law in the past year. Republican lawmakers are pushing similar bills in nearly two dozen states.
“It is crucial that young people have discussions on race, racism, gender, and American history in school,” said Sari Beth Rosenberg, a New York public school U.S. history teacher and senior adviser to Voters of Tomorrow, in a release. “These bills function as educational gag orders designed to whitewash history and prevent young people from learning about these topics in school.”