Last week, state Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth), chairman of the House General Investigating Committee, sent school districts a list of more than 800 books and asked that they investigate how many copies are in their classrooms or libraries, as well as the amount of money spent on them. Krause also wants the districts to identify books or content dealing with human sexuality, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and graphic depictions of sex.
And borrowing language from the so-called anti-critical-race-theory laws recently passed in Texas and other states, Krause asked schools to report whether they have books that could make students “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex.” Districts were given until Nov. 12 to respond.
As colder weather approaches, it’s as though Krause plans to use school books to keep us all warm this winter — at the requisite 451 degrees Fahrenheit. Given our rickety power grid, I suppose torching books might tide Texans over for a while.
On a more serious note, looking at Krause’s list, it’s hard not to conjure up images of totalitarian regimes and violent groups that have gone after books throughout history, from Nazi attacks on works considered “un-German” in 1933 to al-Qaeda destroying precious manuscripts in Timbuktu. A gander at Krause’s list reveals an almost exclusive focus on race and racism, sex and sexuality, LGBT issues, abortion and — gasp — even puberty.
Popular anti-racism titles such as Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to be an Antiracist” and Ijeoma Oluo’s “So You Want to Talk about Race” unsurprisingly were targeted. But in general the list seems anything but painstakingly curated. It’s as if someone typed in the keywords “Black,” “racism,” “LGBT,” “gender” and “transgender” and simply poured the results into a spreadsheet. How else to explain the inclusion of Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s chronology "And Still I Rise: Black America since MLK”? How is Tim Hanley’s “Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine” a possible threat to Texas students?
And as to making students uncomfortable? Many of the titles were written precisely to help developing young people become more comfortable with being and feeling different — whether it be due to their race, gender or sexuality.
For now no bonfires are planned, but really none will be necessary if teachers are scared out of introducing books into classes in the first place, which one imagines is the point of this exercise. There have already been reports of teachers pulling titles preemptively to avoid controversy. Other state-supported educational institutions have felt the pressure, too — this summer, the Bullock Texas State History Museum canceled an event around the launch of “Forget the Alamo,” which challenges whitewashed myths about the fort and the famous battle that took place there.
On one hand, the whole thing reeks of a political stunt that will waste valuable educational time and resources. Krause is challenging Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a Republican primary next year. In today’s Texas politics, there is no penalty for going to extremes on the right.
But on the other hand, a dangerous blueprint is being written and fine-tuned.
Outside of Texas, GOP leaders and candidates are increasingly using book-banning to burnish their credentials. In Virginia, GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin has seized on the anti-CRT hysteria, producing an ad featuring a White mother in Fairfax County who campaigned to have Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Beloved” removed from her son’s curriculum. And it doesn’t stop at books. Wisconsin Republicans want to ban specific words, most of which have to do with race and diversity, from the state’s public schools.
It’s not hard to read between the lines. These attacks on books come as a response to the growing power that marginalized people have demonstrated recently in our public discourse. Book-banning, like the Southern Strategy of old, is an effort to harness White fears of a new, more racially equal America.
And so another cycle turns. For as long as the GOP tries to stop new generations from learning from America’s past, we will be doomed to repeat the darkest elements of it.