Following news that the state of Florida has banned certain books in school libraries, here is writer Alex Noel on why she shares Pink’s view that book bans are a danger to freedom of speech and self expression.
The singer, Pink made headlines in November - on tour in Florida she gave away 2000 copies of books banned in the state. At her concerts she distributed Beloved by Toni Morrison, Todd Parr’s The Family Book, Stacia Deutsch’s Girls Who Code and The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman.
Known for her philanthropy and activism, Pink had teamed up with PEN America to draw attention to censorship and highlight the value of literature that is representative of people’s experiences.
Like Pink, I’m a “voracious reader”. Having benefited from reading widely, I share her viewpoint that book bans infringe on freedom of speech and self-expression. And while the guidance of those charged with our care is essential, no-one should be censoring the books we read. Under Republican governor Ron DeSantis - who has referenced his Catholic faith, Florida now accounts for more than 40% of documented bans (according to PEN America) - the highest in the US.
Having benefited from reading widely, I share her viewpoint that book bans infringe on freedom of speech and self-expression.
Books are often removed from school libraries on the basis of just one or two complaints. It results in entire perspectives being lost - disproportionately affecting underrepresented voices; and suppressing Black and other marginalised histories.
One such book which has impacted me personally is Beloved. I read it at school in the UK and it made a lasting impression on me, inviting me into Toni Morrison’s personal experience, and discovering the trauma and havoc wrought by slavery on countless African-American families.
A book that is not banned in Florida is the Bible. Despite representing Christian morality, the Bible is nothing short of eye-popping
But it also educated me on the skill of the writer to tell complex stories in ways that lead the reader into empathy and understanding of others’ experiences. It is full of vivid passages, and uses literary devices to full effect. I still remember the feeling evoked in its pages. More recently I was moved by Amanda Gorman’s reading of her poem ‘The Hill We Climb’ at Joe Biden’s inauguration in 2021. It gave voice to one of many African-American journeys since slavery, and offered a vision of ever-increasing equality, harmony and unity.
A book that is not banned in Florida is the Bible. Despite representing Christian morality, the Bible is nothing short of eye-popping - its pages feature stories of sex, violence and gruesome deaths. Nonetheless its writing has inspired its readers to fight oppression and injustice; it empowers the outsider, the downtrodden and the marginalised. It is the ultimate truth-telling book; it doesn’t edit itself to appear more palatable or persuasive, but shares shocking family histories, emotive poetry and personal experiences with absolutely honesty. For me, this epitomises freedom of speech and self-expression. Within that the Bible contains a powerful message too, the influence of which is perceived as such a risk to some societies that it is currently banned in 52 countries.
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So by all means provide age-appropriate guidance but please don’t ban books. If we want to read books like the Bible, we must allow access to other ones too, even if we disagree with them. If we want to be free to voice our beliefs, we can’t restrict others from doing the same. Outdated attitudes or inflammatory content speak for themselves, and an educated reader can judge and make decisions accordingly. So why not focus on education?
We need to learn from authors’ experiences; and what their books might include, omit or miss altogether. Whether it’s censoring, banning or just editing books to appeal more to modern readers, it denies us this important opportunity. And that of exercising our own critical thought rather than becoming numbed and dulled. Reading widely generates greater understanding, empathy and respect for everyone.