When Anderson Bookstore in Naperville announced on June 9 that someone was ripping books from their displays and hiding them in the store, they did not specify what type of books were taken.
I assumed the hidden volumes were books about queer youth and trans acceptance and the like, the segment of human behavior currently singled out for particular harassment by those who feel entitled to set limits on human nature who maximize their own comfort.
But this is not the kind of book intended.
“Any book with a cover showing a person of color on it is covered up,” said Ginny Wehrli-Hemmeter, director of events and marketing at Anderson’s, one of the largest independent bookstores in the Chicago area.
About 50 books were found hidden behind other books. The police have been notified; a man, caught red-handed, was arrested.
My next thought – that it must be some weird anomaly – wasn’t correct either. Can people really be offended at the sight of a children’s book about Jackie Robinson? In 2022? This must be the work of a lone wolf, hater of the western suburbs, engaging in reparable acts of racism, I thought.
Unfortunately, it is not the case.
While other major independent bookstores in and around Chicago — the Book Stall in Winnetka, Powell’s in Hyde Park — don’t report similar harms, they are endemic to public libraries nationwide.
“The vast majority of targeted books deal with the lives and experiences of LGBTQ people,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the office for intellectual freedom at the Chicago-based American Library Association.
But it is by no means limited to them. Black lives are also given special attention, she added, “under the misconception that books about black people are some kind of ‘critical race theory.’ rhetoric that is used to defame these materials. It is truly tragic.
Caldwell-Stone said that rather than being the acts of isolated vigilantes, these book purges are staged in plain sight. She pointed to CatholicVote’s ‘Hide the Pride’ effort, encouraging people to check out books dealing with gender issues in public libraries en masse to avoid the risk of a child seeing one.
“They have a website, a social media presence,” Caldwell-Stone said. “It’s amazing that they have this idea that public libraries are just for them, and that they should take steps to clean up the library of materials that reflect the lives of gay, queer or transgender people. It is a genuine effort to silence the voices of communities finally finding a place on the public stage in our society so that we can understand the experiences of others.
CatholicVote explains online what it wants parents to do.
“Go to the children’s section and remove all the ‘Pride Month’ books from the displays,” he instructs parents, telling them to check out the books, then “place the Pride books on a shelf outside of reach of children”.
Their website shares before and after photos of library shelves stripped down by parents who, dissatisfied with simply raising their own children, have also appointed themselves as the moral guardians of everyone else’s children, regardless of faith or philosophy. that these parents imagine. free to practice.
Brian Burch, president of Madison-based CatholicVote, estimates that perhaps 50 or 100 libraries have had their books removed by members.
“We have urged parents to show responsibility in their communities to remove what we believe to be inappropriate books from these displays, so that the innocence of children is protected,” he said. “These books spark conversations best reserved for families, when, where, and how parents choose — not libraries.”
Burch said some of these books contain depictions of sex acts and libraries should store them where only adults can access them.
He did not specify exactly what kind of harm these books are meant to cause, beyond noting that their presence in libraries undermines parents’ right to tightly control what their children learn about life. Which prompts me to ask: Should children be taught that gays and trans people exist?
“I think that’s a question every parent should decide for themselves,” Burch said. “We shouldn’t have taxpayer-funded institutions teaching this to children.”
Since any group can put “Catholic” in their name, and with the intention of not letting CatholicVote be the undisputed spokesperson for a great faith, I contacted the Archdiocese of Chicago to find out his point of view on this. They did not disappoint.
“Anything that calls itself ‘Catholic’ is not part of our church,” said Paula Waters, communications officer for the archdiocese. “CatholicVote is not a Catholic organization, it is not part of the church, or sanctioned by the church or has any relationship with the church. He has no status. It’s a CAP that seems to be well funded.
Before we finish, let’s look at the dynamics of bullying. First, bullies must harm themselves. THEY are the victims – or their children, anyway. Thus, their acts of aggression are justified. In doing so, reality is reversed: Books reassuring transgender youth or celebrating black history do not open the tent of acceptance to groups that enemies have abused and marginalized for years. No they are recruitment efforts to steer children away from the haters of what some parents must consider very mild guidance, or make them feel bad, because their ancestors were the kind of people who built up America’s sad racial past for 400 year.
Like voter fraud, the harm done to children by encountering such books is both highly feared and wholly fictional. Leading to a completely upside-down view, where the mighty Catholic Church – as conceived by a certain slice of worshipers – is invoked as a defense against the prospect of a kindergarten child in a tutu reading a book that suggests he could also be a child of God.
Haters succeed to the extent that they get people to consider the merits of a baseless case. I’m sure some black readers don’t want to be grouped with LGBTQ people – completely different situations! They should realize it’s not about them, not really. It’s about the bullies, the insecure people who define themselves by what they’re not, and therefore suppress anyone they can get away with suppressing. The specific victim doesn’t matter and changes like fashion. The key is to choose a group that is large enough to be presented as a threat but rare enough to be unable to offer a solid defense. Race, gender, religion, it’s exactly the same impulse – going after the thing different from yourself, putting it out of sight, because their existence might suggest another path than your own.
But it’s not moral. It’s not defensible. That’s not good parenting. This is the value system of the Inquisition. Jews could find themselves burned in their synagogues, again, if the law did not disapprove of it.
Let’s end with Deborah Caldwell-Stone of the American Library Association delivering the bad news to those who somehow missed the memo.
“Public libraries are community institutions, meant to serve everyone,” she said. “We are a diverse and pluralistic society. We should hold our public institutions accountable for this diversity and ensure that everyone is included in the library. Everyone should find books that reflect their life, their needs. Everyone is a taxpayer who supports the library, who should anticipate and celebrate a diversity of viewpoints, a diversity of identities in the community. Understanding that just because someone else’s story is on the shelf doesn’t take anything away from you.