I Read Banned Books by Oak Park Public Library. Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

By Steven Monacelli

All across the state of Texas, conservative parents are seeking to ban books from public school libraries that they believe are inappropriate for their children. Most if not all of these challenges feature books from a list put together by Republican state representative Matt Krause, which includes just over 850 books across a range of topics. 

Parents typically justify their calls to ban certain books by citing material they deem sexually inappropriate. The most salacious examples are pulled out and used to paint the entire lot with the same brush. But upon closer examination, their concern about sexualized content appears to be an overblown pearl-clutching distraction for a larger push to ban material that is deemed outside the accepted bounds of conservative political ideology.  

Take what’s going on in McKinney for example, a suburb just a short 30 minutes drive north of Dallas, where conservative activist parents seek to ban some 282 books from the school district’s libraries. If you were to take the word of the parents leading the charge, these books are not fit for children’s impressionable minds. “The books are not appropriate for any K-12 students,” the two activist parents from McKinney wrote. “Please adhere to the request to remove all of the 282 books from the McKinney ISD school libraries.”

What wasn’t listed in the complaints or in the early reporting of these challenges is that at least one of the two parents challenging the books is a long-time Republican activist who recently managed the campaign for an anti-mask school board candidate and has publicly endorsed candidates who want to ban so-called Critical Race Theory (CRT) — a watchword that has come to mean any teaching of history that acknowledges the reality of systemic racism and its persistent effects.

That should tell you almost everything you need to know about the motivations behind the latest push to ban books. But while we’re here, we might as well dig into the books that they don’t want children to read to get an even better understanding of why they want them removed from the shelves.

An analysis of the 282 challenged books in McKinney these parents are seeking to ban shows that the bulk seem to be fictional books, the contents of which some parents may have some reason to argue is not age appropriate for their kids — such as teen fiction novels exploring dating, regardless of their sexual orientation. 

But some seem more politically motivated, such as a graphic novel adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, a fictional novel detailing a Christian fascist dystopia where women are considered property. And what’s more, 58 of the challenged books appear to be nonfiction related to a variety of issues such as race and abortion. Indeed, at least 23 of the challenged books appear to have nothing to do with sexuality and everything to do with race and civil rights, such as books about indigenous history, slavery, and the terrorism conducted by the Ku Klux Klan. 

Another 26 books on the list include ones about Roe v. Wade, transgender rights, LGBT activism, and puberty. One of these challenged books is simply titled “Teen Legal Rights” and is designed to provide teenagers an understanding of their own rights under the law. It is a baffling inclusion that signals to this author that the right-wing desire to prevent students from accessing certain books is more so about maintaining power and control than it is about matters of decency or protecting the minds of children.

Why else would Republican lawmakers seek to ban books condemning the deeply racist Jim Crow policy of “Separate but Equal” that formalized a racial caste system after the end of slavery? Why else would books about the Black Lives Matter Movement be in the crosshairs of parents who claim their main intent is to protect their children from lewd material? In this author’s mind, it seems that conservative activists who failed to purge books about anti-racism from public schools during the height of the CRT panic are now seeking to leverage a second panic to achieve the same goal. 

This time around, the right wing crusade against reading has expanded from the realm of race to the realm of gender. It is occurring in parallel with a statewide push to cast the parents of transgender and non-gender-conforming youth as child abusers, just as the crusade against so-called CRT coincided with a push to effectively ban the teaching of the history of racism in public schools.

So, if you’re a parent who finds themselves reading the news and wondering if you should be concerned about what books your child has access to, be sure to look into these calls with skepticism. That doesn’t mean that all challenges to books in schools are illegitimate. Just that those calling to ban large numbers of books appear to be pursuing a cynical political agenda, and if they act unopposed, they very well may get their way.

Steven Monacelli is an independent investigative journalist based in Dallas. He has been contributing to Dallas Weekly since 2021. He is also the publisher of Protean Magazine, a nonprofit literary publication.