Censoring the Teaching of Critical Race Theory Hinders Our Freedom
Librarians have a responsibility to be advocates of social justice, promoting equity, diversity, intellectual freedom, and access to information. Librarians advocate for the right to read, but they should also recognize their role as advocates for global causes. As proponents of equity and democratic values, librarians have worked to protect the right of individuals to free speech and the democratic right to express themselves by supporting intellectual freedom and fighting censorship.
Librarians provide a platform to celebrate one’s history and expressions of diversity. They also engage in human rights advocacy by bringing public awareness to issues that affect humanity. Activist librarians engage with the community and acknowledge the influences of political power, culture and wealth on information access, especially in African American communities. But activism requires knowledge and courage. Tackling complex subjects and preventing censorship of controversial topics is a responsibility librarians face consciously and unconsciously.
Recently, critical race theory has dominated issues in the news, as well as library discussions. Much of the rhetoric has been about limiting or discontinuing teaching of critical race theory in schools. However, teaching about diversity without exposing students to theoretical frameworks can lead to an oversimplification of race, ethnicity, power and privilege.
Critical race theory looks at racism from the systemic level and investigates how institutional politics, laws and court decisions perpetuate racism, even when thought to be neutral. Several states have backed legislation prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory or anything considered “divisive concepts.”
One of the components of critical race theory is storytelling and counter-storytelling. Storytelling is a way of making the obscure into something identifiable. Storytelling brings things hidden into clear view. Stories can unite worlds and people in similar themes and outcomes. Stories can challenge existing beliefs and long-held institutions. Libraries hold stories of people who often lack representation in social, political and other institutions. Their counter stories can be pedagogical tools to challenge racism, sexism and exclusion and contribute to a more knowledgeable society. Stories help us learn about ourselves and others. Learning comes from investigating, analyzing, contradicting and rationalizing.
As librarians, we have a responsibility to assist in learning by providing access to the stories necessary to engage, enlighten and stimulate the mind. Books and journals in library collections, including those on critical race theory, reflect the commitment to providing stories, encouraging learning and honoring the values of freedom and the right to read. As we continue to support the right to read, we realize that all may not share the dissemination of some ideas. However, the suppression of ideas through censorship might be harmful to the learning process and restrict creative thought. Censorship is anti-freedom and anti-individuality.
Our forefathers fought for the right to read and write. It is one of our primary means of expression and contributions to social growth. Librarians are preservers of the right to read and write. Preserving our rights has not always been true for persons of color, and still, today, there are challenges in the library field.
However, the concept of equity, diversity and inclusion dominate discussions on the acquisition and promotion of literature displayed and checked out of our libraries. Library activism is more than fighting censorship and providing access; it involves challenging disinformation and promoting truth. As neutral as librarians purport to be, the less neutral librarians must become. We must support and encourage free speech and creative expression through text and literature and purchasing books and eBooks.
The John B. Coleman Library at Prairie View A&M University supports the values of freedom and the right to read. Our librarians are diligently searching for new books and articles to add to the library collection. Because of the renewed interest in critical race theory, the library has purchase new eBooks and repurchased older titles related to the topic. We encourage you to check out these and other new books and re-read some of your favorite books. If you need a suggestion for finding a good book, please feel free to contact any of our librarians. For more information on critical race theory, please check out our library Libguide, Critical Race Theory and Libraries.
Elizabeth Jean Brumfield is a distance services librarian at Prairie View A&M University’s John B. Coleman Library.
The Ruth J. Simmons Center for Race and Justice positions itself as a multidisciplinary effort, drawing from an array of existing programs that can, together, facilitate greater understanding of racism and discrimination on the one hand and the need for justice on the other hand to strengthen and sustain civil society. The Center’s activities will include: