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Opinion

Opinion: The problem of banning books that highlight the harsh realities of racism

Attempting to erase racism by censoring material in school is a misguided effort that overlooks all the past injustices that minorities have faced.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/elisepark0adcdfe183/" target="_self">Elise Park</a>

Elise Park

January 12, 2023
In my English class last year, I studied what is now one of my favorite books, “The Nickel Boys” by Colson Whitehead, which details the tragic events of two boys as they navigate the hardships of being African-American in the 1960s. One of the reasons it is so impactful is because of the outright violence and racial slurs enacted against the protagonists, things that we would by no means consider politically correct in modern society.

That said, recently American schools have made an effort to censor books due to offensive language, attitudes, and characters, all in the name of “political correctness.” In October 2021, the current governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, ran an ad featuring a mother who pushed for the banning of Toni Morrison’s novel “Beloved” within the Fairfax County school system after her son was instructed to read it for his AP English Literature class. She felt that the themes in the book, which centralized abuse, slavery and violence, made students too uncomfortable, and her son claimed that it was “disgusting and gross.”

On the contrary, novels like “Beloved” and “The Nickel Boys” are the exact things students should be reading in order to fully grasp and challenge their perception of society. As difficult as it is to admit, racism is deeply embedded in our country, and it persists today, resulting in modern movements like Black Lives Matter. Attempting to erase racism by censoring material in school is a misguided effort that overlooks all the past injustices that minorities have faced. It is vital that students are exposed to all parts of history, including the horrors and atrocities that make them uncomfortable.

Although it can be controversial to discuss these topics in class, the new generation should know and understand the real history from real writers in that time period,” said Madeline Sie, a world history teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. “We need to teach students not to just shy away from and ignore our past mistakes but to learn how to acknowledge them, learn from them, and move forward.”

Knowing how people communicated in the past, including all the offensive racial slurs, helps students to understand what to avoid in the present. Emma Park, a history major at Stanford University, said, “People empathize best with individual stories over large-scale statistics. I find an accurate dialogue between two individuals in a novel is the most engaging way to understand intergroup relations from the past.”

Studying books that expose the harsh reality of racism is one way to engage in meaningful discussions in classroom settings and broaden our perspective on people and the world around us. It’s time we embrace these books for shedding light on the world’s problems rather than banning them and glossing over a long history of abuse, racism, and violence.