The 850 Books a Texas Lawmaker Wants to Ban Because They Could Make Students Feel Uncomfortable

“Who’s afraid of crit­i­cal race the­o­ry?” asked lawyer, legal schol­ar and Har­vard pro­fes­sor Der­rick Bell in a 1995 essay. Bell helped pio­neer the dis­ci­pline in the 70s, and until recent­ly, it remained most­ly con­fined to aca­d­e­m­ic jour­nals, grad school sem­i­nars and the pages of pro­gres­sive mag­a­zines. Now the phrase is every­where. What hap­pened? Did rad­i­cal schol­ars force third graders to read foot­notes? Or did con­ser­v­a­tives show up fifty years late to a con­ver­sa­tion, skip the read­ing, and decide the best way to respond was to lash out indis­crim­i­nate­ly at every iden­ti­ty and civ­il rights issue that makes them uncom­fort­able, start­ing with kinder­garten and work­ing their way up? Maybe Bell’s ques­tion has answered itself.

In the recent moral pan­ic over CRT, the term has become a denun­ci­a­tion, a shib­bo­leth that can apply to any his­to­ry, civics, or lit­er­a­ture les­son broad­ly con­strued, whether taught through cur­rent events, fic­tion, poet­ry, mem­oir, non­fic­tion, or any mate­r­i­al — to use the lan­guage of the “anti-CRT” Texas House Bill 3979 — that might make a stu­dent “feel dis­com­fort, guilt, anguish, or any oth­er form of psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tress on account of the individual’s race or sex.” Con­nec­tions to Bel­l’s crit­i­cal race the­o­ry are ten­u­ous, at best. As Allyson Waller notes at the Texas Tri­bune, that aca­d­e­m­ic dis­ci­pline “is not being taught in K‑12 schools.”

This fact means lit­tle to right wing leg­is­la­tors, school board mem­bers and par­ents’ groups, who have found a con­ve­nient boogey­man on which to project their anx­i­eties. What the Texas bill means in prac­tice has been impos­si­ble to parse. Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union lawyer Emer­son Sykes filed a fed­er­al suit over a sim­i­lar law in Okla­homa, argu­ing that it’s “so vague,” as Michael Pow­ell reports at The New York Times, “that it fails to pro­vide rea­son­able legal guid­ance to teach­ers and could put jobs in dan­ger.” A Black prin­ci­pal near Dal­las has already been forced to resign in the anti-CRT pan­ic, for writ­ing a pub­lic let­ter after George Floy­d’s death that declared, “Edu­ca­tion is the key to stomp­ing out igno­rance, hate, and sys­temic racism.”

In anoth­er part of the state, a dis­trict-lev­el exec­u­tive direc­tor of cur­ricu­lum has rec­om­mend­ed teach­ing “oth­er per­spec­tives” on the Holo­caust to meet the bil­l’s man­dates. Teach­ers and admin­is­tra­tors are not the only ones tar­get­ed by the bill and its sup­port­ers. “One minute they’re talk­ing crit­i­cal race the­o­ry,” says mid­dle school librar­i­an Car­rie Damon. “Sud­den­ly I’m hear­ing librar­i­ans are indoc­tri­nat­ing stu­dents. One library in Llano Coun­ty, about 80 miles north­west of Austin, shut down for three days for a “thor­ough review” of every chil­dren’s book. At the statewide lev­el, Texas Repub­li­can State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Matt Krause launched an anti-CRT witch-hunt, in advance of a run for State Attor­ney Gen­er­al, by email­ing a list 850 books to state super­in­ten­dents, ask­ing if any of them appeared in their libraries.

The list, writes Dani­ka Ellis at Book Riot, is “a bizarre assort­ment of titles, for­mat­ted in a way that sug­gests it’s copy-and-past­ed from library list­ings.” It includes books about human rights, sex edu­ca­tion, any and every LGBTQ top­ic, race, Amer­i­can his­to­ry, and polic­ing. Iron­i­cal­ly, it also includes books about burn­ing books and bul­ly­ing (a prob­lem caus­ing stu­dent walk­outs around the coun­try). The books range from those for young chil­dren to mid­dle and high school stu­dents and col­lege-aged young adults. Most of them “were writ­ten by women, peo­ple of col­or and LGBTQ writ­ers.” It also includes “a par­tic­u­lar­ly puz­zling choice,” writes Pow­ell (prob­a­bly a mis­take?): Cyn­i­cal The­o­ries by Helen Pluck­rose and James Lind­say, two authors who have made careers out of expos­ing what they allege are ille­git­i­mate “griev­ances” in acad­e­mia.

You can see Krause’s full list here. The state rep’s “motive was unclear,” Pow­ell writes, but it seems clear enough he wished to flag these books for pos­si­ble removal. Giv­en that crit­i­cal race the­o­ry is not, in fact, a phrase that means “any­thing that makes con­ser­v­a­tives feel guilty and/or uncom­fort­able” but is fore­most a legal the­o­ry, we might ask legal ques­tions like cui bono? – “who ben­e­fits” from ban­ning the books on Krause’s list? Who feels uncom­fort­able and guilty when they read about racist polic­ing, healthy gay rela­tion­ships, or the civ­il rights move­ment– and why? Should that dis­com­fort pro­vide just cause for cen­sor­ship and the vio­la­tion of oth­er stu­dents’ rights to qual­i­ty edu­ca­tion­al mate­r­i­al? How can the sub­jec­tive stan­dard of “com­fort” be used to eval­u­ate the edu­ca­tion­al val­ue of a book?

Debates over free inquiry in edu­ca­tion seem nev­er to end. (Con­sid­er that the first book banned in Colo­nial North Amer­i­ca mocked the Puri­tans, who them­selves loved noth­ing more than ban­ning things.) As we approach the ques­tion this time around, it seems we might have learned not to ban books under vague laws that empow­er big­ots to hunt down an amor­phous ene­my so insid­i­ous it can lurk any­where and every­where. Such laws have their own his­to­ry, too, in the U.S. and else­where. Nowhere have they led to a state of affairs most of us want, one free from vio­lence, big­otry, dis­crim­i­na­tion and state repres­sion — that is, unless we need such things to make us com­fort­able.

via Book Riot

Relat­ed Con­tent:  

America’s First Banned Book: Dis­cov­er the 1637 Book That Mocked the Puri­tans

Read 14 Great Banned & Cen­sored Nov­els Free Online: For Banned Books Week 2014

It’s Banned Books Week: Lis­ten to Allen Gins­berg Read His Famous­ly Banned Poem, “Howl,” in San Fran­cis­co, 1956

When L. Frank Baum’s Wiz­ard of Oz Series Was Banned for “Depict­ing Women in Strong Lead­er­ship Roles” (1928)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (7)
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  • Steve Dustcircle says:

    WOW but they love that 66-book anthol­o­gy full of mur­der, rape, slav­ery, and child sex (the Bible).

  • Jonathan says:

    “CRT” Anoth­er scam cooked up and admin­is­tered by left­ist pro­pa­gan­dists.

  • Publius says:

    Yeah, it’s like Open Cul­ture has nev­er heard of Can­cel Cul­ture. Only the “right-wing” boogey­men ever “can­cel” any­thing in their alleged minds. When all over the coun­try school boards refuse to let the par­ents read out loud *the exact words* in books that leftists/fascists want the kids to read, because they’re X‑rated…’nuff said. Bu remem­ber: “Right wing, right wing, right wii­i­i­i­i­i­in­ngg!”

  • Anne says:

    Since when does Open Cul­ture base a report on some­thing like BookRi­ot?
    This is a biased and disin­gen­u­ous arti­cle. If you come across this arti­cle, you need to look at the entire list of the books and judge for your­self.
    A lot of the so-called CRT books on the list pro­mote iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics, which reduce each per­son­’s iden­ti­ty to noth­ing but a few cat­e­gories such as race, eth­nic­i­ty, gen­der, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, reli­gion, etc. A per­son is much more than these cat­e­gories. CRT teach­es you to for­get about the indi­vid­ual, to judge each per­son accord­ing to their skin colour rather than char­ac­ter, to for­get about agency, to low­er stan­dards and expec­ta­tions for peo­ple who are not white, and to see every­thing through the lens of race. That is not good for any­body.
    Many oth­er books on the list are books about trans ide­ol­o­gy and aimed at chil­dren and teenagers. They rein­force gen­der stereo­types, encour­age chil­dren to see them­selves as trans (when they may be tomboys or like things asso­ci­at­ed with the oth­er gen­der), manip­u­late par­ents into accept­ing trans chil­dren with­out ques­tion­ing and with­out voic­ing con­cerns, etc. If you real­ly think about it, how could you hon­est­ly believe that pre­pu­bes­cent chil­dren know them­selves to be trans when they have not gone through puber­ty and do not even know what it means to be male or female in the first place?

  • Tony C says:

    It occurs to me that these pam­pered, shel­tered chil­dren will grow up to be adults who will be inca­pable of deal­ing with life’s rough spots. They will be eat­en alive by those who were raised hav­ing to face life’s ups and downs and who learned to deal with the uncom­fort­able and, some­times, down­right mean rocks that are hurled in real life.

  • Chris says:

    This post is dis­ap­point­ing. Many love this web­site because it cel­e­brates inter­est­ing and thought-pro­vok­ing aspects of film, his­to­ry, art, lit­er­a­ture and music with­out delv­ing into trib­al pol­i­tics. This is noth­ing more than a divi­sive 2021 opin­ion piece that sticks out like a sore thumb in the OC feed. If I want this I’ll go MSNBC, CNN and Fox.

  • Mike Grant says:

    No mat­ter what, you can­not ever make any­one not think. When­ev­er any­one tells par­ents or their chil­dren that the eas­i­est solu­tion for mak­ing all the bad things of life go away is to ban books or using a forc­ing mech­a­nism to not put them on a library shelf to begin with, they are wrong. Free open debate about every­thing in the human con­di­tion must be allowed to flour­ish. Closed minds are inca­pable of seek­ing truth, much less know­ing it when they are con­front­ed by it.
    Book ban­ning must be stopped in any form, in any free and open soci­ety.
    There ough­ta be a law against it. In a repub­lic, it’s an imper­a­tive that the ban­ning efforts be stopped before they start.

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