Censorship is a Loser’s Game

When the American Library Association’s annual Banned Book Week rolls around, it’s hard to feel optimistic, isn’t it? Especially this year, with the number of reported book challenges doubling and state governments actively involved in censorship.

But here’s the thing: the book banners have already lost. I know it’s not obvious, and their mean-spirited, authoritarian demands make life hell for large numbers of people while they have political power, but the history of censorship says that censors are always fighting a rear-guard action. (Don’t take my word for it; I’m basing this on something the historian Ada Palmer, an expert on the history of censorship, said at a conference a year ago: Censors have always censored the wrong things, because the cat is out of the bag.) The fact that the information they want to suppress is already out in public is what sends the censors into a tizzy. Who would bother making a fuss over something no one has ever heard of?

Information about systemic racism is widely available and easily accessed by anyone with a connection to the internet, and efforts to deny students access to that information tend to only make teens more determined to find out what their elders don’t want them to know. (That’s just normal teen behaviour, isn’t it?) The same is true for LGBTQ+ material. 

The censors will, of course, succeed for a while in making the information they need much less accessible to the children who need it the most, like trans kids whose parents aren’t understanding. But in the long run, the censors always lose.

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