Obama's Dissent to Book Ban Hits TikTok

Former president says censorship of opposing viewpoints is 'profoundly misguided'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 18, 2023 2:16 PM CDT
Obama Gives a Book Ban Critique on TikTok
Former US president Barack Obama applauds the audience before a discussion at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC), in Athens, Greece, Thursday, June 22, 2023.   (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Fighting back against efforts to ban books from schools and public libraries, the American Library Association has found a prominent supporter in former President Obama. In an open letter to the nation's librarians, Obama denounces attempts to censor "some of the books that shaped my life—and the lives of so many others," including from writers "like Mark Twain and Toni Morrison, Walt Whitman and James Baldwin," per the Guardian. He notes "reading about people whose lives were very different from mine showed me how to step into someone else's shoes." Thus, the impulse to silence "rather than engage, rebut, learn from or seek to understand views that don't fit our own ... is profoundly misguided, and contrary to what has made this country great."

More than 2,500 unique books were targeted for censorship in US public schools last year, for a 38% increase from 2021, according to the ALA. "It's no coincidence that these 'banned books' are often written by or feature people of color, Indigenous people, and members of the LGBTQ+ community," writes Obama. He applauds librarians "on the front lines—fighting every day to make the widest possible range of viewpoints, opinions, and ideas available to everyone." "Your dedication and professional expertise allow us to freely read and consider information and ideas, and decide for ourselves which ones we agree with," he writes. Yet just this year, six states have passed legislation that would jail librarians who provide "harmful" books to minors, per the Washington Post.

In a further show of support, Obama has teamed up with individual libraries to promote access to books. He features in a TikTok video from Illinois' Kankakee Public Library, which shows staff members reading books banned in other states. (Illinois has passed a law meant to prevent book bans in public libraries.) In another video, yet to be released, Obama appears with "Curbside Larry," a comedic mascot for Harris County Public Library in Texas, a state leading in attempted book bans at schools, per the Post. As Linda Stevens, director of programs, partnerships and outreach at HCPL, tells the outlet, "To have someone like President Obama appreciating the work that we do, and also sharing our mission for intellectual freedom, it just couldn't come at a better time." (Read more Barack Obama stories.)

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