Tat Bellamy-Walker, NBC News, January 28, 2022
About a year ago, in Round Rock, Texas, about 20 miles outside Austin, complaints about a book on the history of racist ideas in the United States led to threats to remove it from the school’s reading list.
But as the local school district debated whether “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” should remain part of the curriculum, thousands of parents, teachers and community members signed a petition calling on the district’s board of trustees to keep the book on school shelves.
The Round Rock Black Parents Association was a crucial part of the mobilization against the attempt to ban the book, which is by the Black authors Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, and is a young adult adaptation of Kendi’s “Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” which won the national book award for nonfiction in 2016.
One way the parents association did this was organizing groups such as ACT Anti-racists Coming Together to speak out in support of diverse literature at a local school board meeting.
“Taking away that book would have completely whitewashed history, and that’s not what we are for,” Ashley Walker, 33, one of more than 400 members of the Round Rock Black Parents Association, said.
The district’s trustees ultimately decided to keep “Stamped,” which the American Library Association said was one of the most challenged books of 2020, on school shelves.
Over the past year, as a nationwide campaign to remove books by and about LGBTQ people or people of color from schools has heated up, Black parents have been getting organized, pushing back against challenges to books that deal with racism and racial identity and calling on schools to reinstate previously banned books. While these bans often occur under the pretext that the books are teaching critical race theory, a decades-old academic framework for analyzing racism in the U.S., Walker said the books being targeted in her state have nothing to do with critical race theory.
“It’s about kids’ experiences,” she said. “It’s about Black boy joy or Black girl magic, yet, we’re being told it is about critical race theory — just because our kids need to see themselves in these books.”
Last year, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, a Republican, signed a bill that regulates how U.S. history and certain ideas about race can be taught in schools. At least nine states in mostly Republican areas have passed similar “anti-critical race theory” bills.
In San Diego, Rai Wilson, an educator and parent of two school-age children, said it’s frustrating to see the ongoing fight to limit diverse books.
“My sixth-grader read ‘Stamped,’” Wilson said. “When they see themselves in a curriculum, it makes their history more understandable to them. He wouldn’t put it down.”
Wilson said the debate centers around the needs of white families.
“It’s ironic when white parents say, ‘Teaching this is going to make my kid feel bad,’ when not teaching this is going to make our kids feel bad,” Wilson said.
Cara McClellan, an assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the states and school districts mounting these challenges are making themselves vulnerable to complaints of discrimination.
“School districts have a responsibility to ensure that they are providing an inclusive environment for all students,” McClellan said. “In districts where students are already experiencing hostility based on race, or LGBT status, or religion … schools are now taking away materials that we know could be a buffer against hostility.”