George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue, a coming-of-age essay collection about growing up Black and queer in New Jersey, was reportedly removed from four high school libraries in North Kansas City, Missouri last week. The decision followed an objection from Jay Richmond, president of the Northland Parent Association, a nonprofit organisation “trying to make a positive impact by protecting our children’s education experiences and fighting for American freedom in the classroom.” 

“I’m shocked and absolutely aggravated at what is in our school systems, what’s in our school libraries and what is available to these students,” Richmond said during a recent North Kansas City Board of Education meeting. “If I were to hand this material out to a minor … I would be charged with solicitation of a minor. My first question to you guys is, why is that any different for you?”

NPA is known for protesting everything from Kansas City’s new mask order to “inappropriate” learning material. But as the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom states, “Ultimately, no book is the perfect fit for every reader, especially works that tackle difficult topics reflecting real-world circumstances.” And ultimately, stripping students of access to books that speak to real-world circumstances that reflect their experiences, especially Black and LGBTQ experiences, can be damaging.

And it’s also damaging to the authors publishing these necessary stories. Johnson took to Twitter upon hearing the news on Friday, sharing that people have been leaving negative reviews about All Boys Aren’t Blue on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads, referring to the book — an Amazon Best Book of the Year, Indie Bestseller, People Magazine Best Book of the Year, and soon-to-be television show optioned by Gabrielle Union — as “porn.” Moms for Liberty, another nonprofit organisation with a mission of “fighting for the survival of America by unifying, educating and empowering parents to defend their parental rights at all levels of government,” is also attempting to take the ban of Johnson’s book nationwide. In addition to Missouri, the book has been removed from schools in Pennsylvania, Florida, Iowa, Arkansas, Kansas, Virginia, and Texas over the last few months.

“The book really is just my journey through figuring out what was going on inside of me, learning language, finding agency, and fully coming into my Blackness while starting to learn how to explore my queerness in a society that was intent on harming both of them,” Johnson recently told Marc Lamont Hill. In one chapter of the book, they bravely detail the sexual abuse they experienced around 12 years old with an older cousin. “But that chapter is discussing consent and how children can recognise agency and recognise when they are being violated and what to do when that happens,” they said. Johnson’s ultimate mission was to give Black, LGBTQ youth a “resource guide” so they can avoid the situations Johnson had to navigate as a youth. 

This recent book ban follows a ceaseless trend of banning Black literature, despite educators pushing for more diverse texts in classrooms. Books like Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming and Robert Coles’ The Story of Ruby Bridges have been challenged by parents in recent months amidst the ongoing battle to control how race is taught in schools. In November 2017, MK Asante’s BUCK was removed from Baltimore City School classrooms for “inappropriate” content. Angie Thomas’ debut novel The Hate U Give — which was a New York Times number one bestseller and earned a National Book Award Longlist nomination — was banned by a Texas school district that same year. In 2016, Republican senator Richard H. Black called Toni Morrison’s Beloved “smut,” and urged state legislators to pass a “Beloved Bill” so parents could stop their kids from reading the “sexually explicit” novel. The list goes on.

While parents and school boards may think they’re doing their students a favor, they’re ultimately doing more harm than good.

“My one book is not what is going to harm your child. It is the fact that you are not allowing them to understand the world that they live in that is ultimately going to harm your child,” Johnson recently told Advocate. “At the end of the day, they do not have the right to deny me my truth; they don’t have the right to deny anyone their true story. And there will be more books like [All Boys Aren’t Blue] coming out, because there will be more stories that need to be told.”

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