Leonard Pitts: It’s time to do something about books

Published 6:52 am Sunday, December 12, 2021

By Leonard Pitts

Once again, carnage goes to school. Once again, American students are used for target practice. But conservative leaders are on the case. Recognizing the ongoing threat to our children, they know it’s time for decisive action.

It’s time to do something about books.

And if you expected that sentence to end differently, you haven’t been paying attention. In red America these days, books are Public Enemy No. 1.

As Time magazine recently reported, librarians are seeing a definite spike in censorship activity. Deborah Caldwell-Stone, executive director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, called it “an unprecedented volume of challenges.” From Texas to South Carolina, to Virginia to Florida and beyond, conservative governors and advocacy groups are removing books from school library shelves, particularly those that deal with the two subjects they find most threatening: sexuality and race.

All to protect our children.

You may say that makes no sense. You may look at what happened at a high school in Oxford, Michigan — four students killed, six more and a teacher wounded — and say that what we need to protect our children from is the fact that any troubled classmate can too easily obtain a weapon of mass destruction with which to work through his teenage angst. But on that subject, those same governors and advocacy groups will give you only loud silence.

In their world, a mass shooting is just a natural phenomenon, unpleasant, but unavoidable, like rain. Would you try to ban clouds?

No, from where they sit, the gravest threat facing our children stems not from bullets but from books, and they won’t rest until the scourge of knowledge has been defeated. Which is to logic what a funhouse mirror is to one’s actual appearance: a reality hopelessly distorted.

We live in a world where students huddle under their desks in active-shooter drills, but conservatives are concerned that learning about race might make them uncomfortable.

A world where children have PTSD from seeing friends slaughtered, but conservatives fear that reading about sex might expose them to things they’re not yet ready for. A world where kids go to school with bulletproof backpacks, but conservatives think books have gotten way out of hand.

Consider the picture Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie tweeted last week, the one of him and his family posed before a Christmas tree with gleaming plastic smiles, all cradling long guns. Massie’s tweet read, “Merry Christmas! ps. Santa, please bring ammo.” To be conservative is to believe that’s not at all creepy and fetishistic, nor indicative of insecurities and overcompensation, nor even mildly suggestive of an unhealthy phallic fixation. To be conservative is to feel it’s a completely appropriate thing to post, just days after the deadliest school shooting since 2018, to celebrate the birth of a man called the Prince of Peace.

To be conservative is to see that picture and remain convinced that America’s problem is too many books.

Never mind that no book ever pierced flesh and broke bone, no book ever spilled blood, no book ever left an empty place at a dinner table. And never mind that in America, too many kids find it easier to lay hands on a Glock than a copy of “Beloved.” Tragically, some of us are just fine with that.

After all, you’ve got to have your priorities straight. You’ve got to protect what matters to you most.

Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.