Whether it's CRT, BIPOC, or LGBTQ, the Right continues to rally against representation

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Image courtesy of American Library Association
Image courtesy of American Library Association

It's 2022, and conservatives across the United States continue their battle against learning materials they deem inappropriate and divisive. The trend amped up in mid-2021, as students returned to schools, and parents began to question "critical race and ethnic studies" in public schools.

"Disguising hate" quickly became a dog whistle for right-wing correspondents like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham who liken the understanding of the ways historical and systematic oppression have led to advantages for some and disadvantages for others to racism in itself.

Carlson, in particular, has become famous for inflammatory statements. "When you hear people ascribe blood guilt to a specific racial group, when you hear them talk about the sin of 'whiteness,' what you're watching is the death of our future as a country," he ranted in 2021.

"Kids come home from school with assignments to talk about how all races are in fact, not equal, that some races are guilty or innocent, that some groups are oppressors, inherently, and others are inherently oppressed," Carlson said, flipping the script and making it seem like educating youth about the oppressive history of Western civilization is racist in itself.

Language like this is powerful. He purposefully uses evocative words and phrases such as "blood guilt" and "sin" to trigger those already uncomfortable with the topic of critical race theory. They then associate their discomfort with personal victimhood instead of a lack of understanding of the subject matter.

Furthermore, tying in their sense of victimhood with a nod to Christianity evokes even more emotions and a sense of persecution that conservatives often ascribe to their identities.

Statistics from the 2020 Gallup poll and Grinnell College show that conservative-minded Americans are less likely to have more than a high school diploma. For most of these people, critical race theory — which is a popular theory in universities — is a new idea they never encountered in a classroom.

Carlson is aware that his viewers may not have an accurate understanding of CRT. He even explains that the phrase is based on theories from higher education, saying on his show, "In the universities, this is called 'critical race theory,' so that's just the term we go with."

Critical race theory is not what has conservatives up in arms, though, as it is not what's taught in public schools. Instead, what is being taught is a less white-centric, more historically accurate, and empathetic version of history. Children are now learning history that, like science, has evolved and changed since the 1960s.

Children in the 21st century are learning about race, gender, and sexuality in new ways, as society begins to accept that previous narratives around these topics were wrong. Schools no longer celebrate Columbus Day, they are open to the idea that families can have all sorts of parental makeups, and that sometimes our genders do not match up with those we were assigned at birth.

These are the lessons conservatives are fighting tooth and nail to abolish in public school systems. They are adamantly against their children learning anything different than what they did.

The controversy has engulfed not only topics of race and ethnicity but also conversations about gender, sexuality, and ability.

The war on books for youth
Despite the classic adage by philosopher George Santayana, "those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it," conservative news outlets are determined to undermine educational practices grounded in accurate depictions of world history.

Conservatives oppose CRT with faulty equivocation fallacies, fearing a shift into oppression for the historically privileged class.

Carlson has gone so far as to disavow the term "reverse racism" when discussing the topic.

"It's not critical race theory, it's racism. Not neo-racism, not reverse racism. Those are meaningless terms. It is race hate," he said in a June episode of his show, proving once again that those accustomed to privilege often see equality as a form of oppression.

The idea that advanced social theories with evidence grounded in psychology have somehow infiltrated the minds of America's youth, and that this is to the detriment of our society, has caught on with "concerned parents."

Asra Nomani, a mother from Virginia taking up the fight against CRT in schools, appeared on a recent CNN segment to discuss what she believes to be the greatest threat to American children.

"Schools should be teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic," said Nomani. "They should not be radicalizing our kids, and unfortunately schools are now radicalizing our kids."

Later in the segment, Nomani held up a law school textbook on CRT and compared it to popular children's and young adult literature. "It is trickling down into little books for children like Woke Baby and Gender Queer. In it, there is, unfortunately, a very graphic symbol of pedophilia and pornography," she said of the latter title, the autobiographical graphic novel by Maia Kobabe.

Despite Woke Baby and Gender Queer both having white characters and the latter centering around the experiences of a white, gender-nonconforming protagonist, all books peddling a modern idea of equality and equity are now lumped under the catch-all of "CRT."

Images courtesy of the publishers  

The claims made by "concerned parents" further prove that they have little idea of what they are actually protesting. Not only does Gender Queer focus on the experiences of a gender-nonconforming person, it does not go into any further detail about race or ethnicity. I have since reread the graphic novel and can also confirm that there are no images of pedophilia.

The arguments coming from conservative parents are founded on fear alone, proven by the fact that they cannot even bring themselves to read the books or understand the theories that they are trying so hard to shield their children from.

Even though their arguments are not founded on much logic or research, "concerned parent" groups are effectively challenging and banning LGBTQ books like Gender Queer under the guise that they perpetuate the dangerous ideology of CRT. Voices like Nomani's and Carlson's are leading school administrations to pull LGBTQ and BIPOC novels off shelves in droves.

In fact, in 2020, 8 in 10 of America's "most challenged books" were LGBTQ titles. According to the 2021 "State of America's Libraries" report, the most common reason cited for a request to pull a book from the shelves was LGBTQ content. The report also showed that 50% of all challenges of books came from concerned parents.

Banning LGBTQ books
The most recent report shows that the number one banned book in America continues to be George, a children's book about a Trans child. Rounding off the list in 2021 was a myriad of books banned for "inciting anti-police sentiment" and discussing race and racism. The list of banned books include The Hate U Give, Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism and You, All American Boys, and The Bluest Eye.

Despite many of these titles being praised by critics, readers, and librarians alike, parents —indoctrinated by emotionally charged messages, such as Laura Ingraham's take that "reading assigned to our children associates the white race with the devil" — continue to challenge them.

The results of censorship of literature can be very detrimental to children and young adults. For LGBTQ children growing up in unaccepting environments where internet access is often limited or monitored by parents, literature is the best way to learn about gender and sexuality.

According to a recent poll from the Trevor Project, 20% of Transgender and Nonbinary students had attempted suicide in the last 12 months. In schools where resources, such as books validating the experiences of LGBTQ+ youth, are available, the numbers were much lower.

While theories on the systemic oppression that has shaped our country and its institutions are taught at most colleges and universities, this knowledge is vital to forming empathy and understanding in our society, and therefore is especially important for young and impressionable minds. Reserving discussions and lectures on class, race, gender, and sexuality for only the highly educated reinforces harmful practices. Hoarding knowledge prevents those who are sometimes the most oppressed from learning about the systems they are actively fighting against their whole lives.

Regardless, conservatives like Carlson and Ingraham continue to call on their viewers to protest literature that promotes views different from their own and go so far as to demand parents pull children out of classes that address racial oppression.

"If your children's school teaches this nonsense, demand that your son or daughter be permitted to opt out in favor of, oh, I don't know, those unaccomplished writers like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, or other great American writers," said Ingraham. "But remember, the goals are always shifting for the diversity, equity, and inclusion crowd."

Images courtesy of the publishers  

Seattle protects readers' rights
Despite the numbers of book bans increasing nationwide, Washington remains one of the most progressive states for readers, with only 14 titles banned in the state over the last two decades.

Some of the most banned titles in the state include The True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Snow Falling on Cedars, Soul on Ice, and A Prayer for Owen Meany, all books that concern race and sexuality.

Of all the books currently banned somewhere in Washington state, none are from Seattle or King County.

Seattle's public libraries are committed to remaining safe spaces for learning, expression, and the preservation of history. The Seattle Public Library catalog includes a section on banned books in stock and always offers them for checkout.

The SPL also recognizes that some of the books conservatives are waging war against might be vital for young readers. For titles like Alex Gino's George (which the author has requested all readers rename Melissa's Story with "sharpie activism"), the library does not even require a library card to check them out. An orange sticker on the front of these books indicates anyone can take them home, just as long as they are willing to return them once they are done reading them. This allows children with parents who may not be accepting of them to still have access to books that affirm who they are.

While conservatives continue to promote their fight against certain literature, readers must protect their access to knowledge by supporting local libraries and Queer authors. An increase in banned BIPOC and LGBTQ titles makes it harder for these authors to continue to find publishers willing to take on their stories. However, these stories can often mean the difference between life and death for the young people who need them.