Why Censorship Is Threatening Librarians

black man with a backpack in a library
Zain Murdock
June 4, 2024

Over the past few years, terms like “critical race theory,” “woke,” and “decolonization” have come under attack. Books on race, sexuality, and radical history have been scapegoated. At least 27 states are considering bills threatening librarians with fines or prison time. But although many of these attacks have come from today's U.S. right, this kind of repression is historic, bipartisan, and international.

Perhaps things don’t look exactly like they did in Nazi Germany. But even though mainstream political narratives can identify that moment of history as dangerous, today’s censorship harkens right back to it.

When Nazis burned books it wasn’t the only attack on knowledge. After all, they studied and took inspiration from U.S. Jim Crow laws. The U.S. was segregating libraries, assigning historically incorrect textbooks in schools, and banning the circulation of books portraying racial equality and liberation.

And though these are two moments in history, repression lives behind prison walls, too. Politicians cry for tougher policies on crime, while the system not only punishes prison journalists and bans selected books, but limits access to knowledge in general. Just look at how prisons segregate incarcerated people from cultural and political engagement as well as community.

On the surface, ending today's censorship might look like a way of disarming politicians on the right. But repressive laws have never just been red or blue. Dismantling censorship will require a critical eye on all systemic violence.