Their Memoir Has Been Removed From School Libraries In 8 States. This Black Queer Author Is Fighting Back

Which knowledge should be appropriate for children? What shouldn’t they be told? These are the questions that school boards in America struggled with this school year. This is despite heightened scrutiny from politicians and politicized rhetoric regarding what books students should have.

This fall, The American Library Association has seen an “unprecedented volume of challenges” to books, TIME’s Olivia B. Waxman has reportedThe majority have focused on books that examine race and LGBTQ identity. This book is one of the most commonly targeted. George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto (2020). Johnson’s reflections on growing up Black and queer was named a 2020 Best Book of the Year by Amazon, the New York and Chicago public libraries and Kirkus Reviews. It even had a cover! optioned by Gabrielle Union-Wade’s production company for a series.
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But in the recent months All Boys Aren’t Blue at least eight other states including Pennsylvania, Florida and Iowa. On Nov. 9, a member of Florida’s Flagler County School Board Filed a criminal report with the local sheriff arguing that the book’s inclusion in three district school libraries violated state obscenity laws because it contained sexually graphic material, including descriptions of queer sex and masturbation.

TIME talked with Johnson about Wednesday’s challenges in their book and the rise of censorship.

Which was the goal of your memoir writing?

My life is led by the Toni Morrison quote: “If there’s a book that you want to read and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I was writing the book I wish I got to have when I was a youth struggling with the intersections of my Blackness and my queerness, and trying to navigate a society that wasn’t built for me.

It was also important to show people that the world is not just a homosexual that people who aren’t like us could also learn about people who aren’t like them. It is important for young black boys and girls, and anyone else who may be interested to know about us, to begin to understand.

How did you react when your school district removed your book?

It was something I had known would happen. My team and I had a meeting before the book was published to discuss what we would do if the book was banned. It is a landscape I am familiar with. So for me to not only exist, but have the audacity to tell my story… [the people behind these bans]We would at some stage try to close it off.

How do you respond to claims that your book is “sexually explicit,” and should be banned for that reason?

It’s disingenuous for multiple reasons. There’s this misconception that this book is going to children—they’re using language like, ‘Do you think an eight-year-old should read this?’ And my response is, no, that’s why it’s geared for 14 to 18-year-olds.

Farrar Straus Giroux Books For Young Readers

We also have to stop pretending like my book is what’s introducing [a]Child to sex. It isn’t. [A] 14-year-old child, by the time they’ve read my book, may have already had sex. They may also be reading more about their life experiences, rather than the sex scenes in my book.

The part that’s also being left out is that I am talking about sexual education. Consent is what I’m referring to. Agency is what I’m referring to. And I am using my story to teach kids about the mistakes that I made the first time that I was having sex, so they don’t make those same mistakes. I am teaching kids about not feeling guilty when sexual abuse happens, and how to recognize sexual abuse—most teens don’t even recognize they’ve been abused. You can also learn how to stop those long-lasting traumas. So they’re leaving very, very important context out, intentionally of course, to try and say my book is pornographic.

The books that contain heavy subjects are safe for children. These heavy topics are still relevant to children, so they will be affected regardless of whether or not the child reads the book. You can be proud of your accomplishments. [this]Book gives them all the necessary tools and language to be able to tackle difficult topics.

You are very open and honest in your memoir about being a Black queer individual. Is it possible to be so vulnerable and honest about your experiences?

Negative press can still be press, as some people say. But I don’t necessarily feel like this is a negative press. Because what I’m watching is the beautiful outcome of it: students rallying, students signing petitions, students activating their rights—which is what my book is teaching them to do. They are told in my book that you’re the best activist.

I’ve been in constant contact with students from multiple states who are organizing rallies. We’re making sure that they have books, we’re making sure they have supplies, and making sure that they’re okay. And I’ve been sharing their campaigns to make sure that they’re amplified.

Like my friend Olivia Waxman. reportedThis school year, the American Library Association has seen an unprecedented number of book challenges. How do you interpret this trend?

The majority of white people fear losing control over the majority. Publishing white books is no longer a lucrative business. Black and brown books can be made into television shows [and movies]. They’re winning awards. Now, they are becoming more financially viable in the marketplace. It was difficult to find queer books for young adults 15-20 years ago. [section]. You now have many options. I say they’re attacking books because books have always stood the test of time.

Would you tell your fans what they should know to help them meet these challenges?

They can only respond by purchasing the book. Sales equal visibility, which equals accessibility—then it doesn’t matter if you remove it from the library, because we know that youth can still get to it.

Second, correct misinformation. You can see people. [sharing]Correct any misinformation you may have about the books that you’ve read.

The final word is: [supporters and allies]able to vote in their locality. This is a terrible system. Politics isn’t just a national sport. Politics is also a game of local power. Voting for those who make the community decisions is a must.


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