Opinion | Censoring books is another form of minority erasure

Conservative efforts to censor books is a form of erasing minority identities.

Yassie Buchanan, Opinions Columnist

I remember in high school my mom angrily talking on the phone about the book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie being challenged in school. She expressed how, because of it, kids finally finally had an engaging book that explored situations relatable to marginalized identities.  

I didn’t pay much attention to her argument at the time, but now that the same discussions about censorship are arising today, I realize how this is another attempt to erase minority identities to preserve white supremacist narratives.  

Iowa Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, announced he is working toward legislation that would attach felony charges to teachers using books conservatives deem unsuitable because of Iowa’s obscenity laws. 

Some examples include The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It’s ironic that conservatives are pushing for this censorship when a lot of their agenda is centered around hands-off government and freedom of speech.  

These are award-winning books that highlight experiences and environments in which students live and grow up. According to the Iowa American Civil Liberties Union, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was originally challenged in 2015 due to abrasive language and references to masturbation. 

Both of these things are normal aspects of teenage experiences. In reality, conservatives are using this as a scapegoat to censor a book that highlights an example of minority experience in America. 

Two parents in the Johnston County Community School District complained about The Hate U Give due to its anti-police rhetoric, though the school board eventually voted to keep the book.

Beyond touching on the reality Black people face when it comes to policing and the justice system, this book validates the experience of Black kids growing up in impoverished neighborhoods and experiencing systemic racism.   

The Ankeny Community School District was also under fire from parents complaining about books regarding LGBTQ experiences. The two books they focused on were All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson and Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe. All Boys Aren’t Blue discusses the experience of being Black and queer growing up. It’s important for students to be exposed to material that includes the intersectionality of different identities and how that influences experience.  

I doubt it is a coincidence that all these books revolve around marginalized identities. 

Who is this censorship for when these books involve themes that apply to the real lives of many students? Banning students from engaging in difficult material that reflects real experiences is not protection, it is censorship that allows us to turn a blind eye on systemic issues in our country. 

In addition to these books doing valuable work to showcase minority experiences, Todd Petty, a University of Iowa Law professor, said isolated incidences of sexual references do not make a book obscene. Petty also cited how The First Amendment protects books from being banned due to obscenity laws if they have literary merit, which all the aforementioned books clearly do, as they’ve received major literary awards. 

If we were focused on protecting our students, we would pay attention to real threats to their well-being. For example, taking the necessary measures to prevent school shootings, prioritizing closing the achievement gap between white and Black students, and investing in infrastructure in impoverished communities. 

Instead, Chapman is focused on preserving the erasure of underrepresented communities in books. 


Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.