by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
At first glance, the recent criticism that Barack Obama leveled against those in America who are supposedly “banning” books might sound reasonable — if you overlook the characteristic Obama touches of generalities, obfuscations, and euphemisms. “Some of the books that shaped my life — and the lives of so many others,” Obama wrote in an open letter penned in support of the American Library Association’s “United Against Book Bans” campaign, “are being challenged by people who disagree with certain ideas or perspectives.” “It’s no coincidence,” he continued, “that these ‘banned books’ are often written by or feature people of color, Indigenous people, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.” Among the authors that Obama singles out for special praise are “Mark Twain and Toni Morrison, Walt Whitman and James Baldwin.”
And who can disagree with that? Books do, indeed, shape lives. A broad range of ideas and perspectives improves a free country. Mark Twain is a national treasure. Actually banning books is a terrible thing. And yet, when one digs into the controversies that have inspired Obama’s missive, one quickly discovers that it is not so much that “ideas” and “perspectives” are being suppressed in America as that age-inappropriate material is being removed from its schools and, in some cases, from the children’s sections of public libraries. The book that is most commonly described as having been “banned” — by which critics do not actually mean “banned,” but rather “moved to a different section within, or removed completely from, public school libraries” — is Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, a graphic work that, among other things, includes depictions of minors performing oral sex, of male adults having penetrative sex, and of an adult man masturbating a small boy’s penis.