In an appearance on The View this week, LeVar Burton, otherwise known as the man who raised me and scores of other children of the eighties and nineties, had some choice words for the GOP’s relentless nationwide bans on books:
“It’s bullshit,” the actor, longtime literacy advocate, and former host of the preeminent children’s storytelling program, Reading Rainbow, told the hosts about the conservative culture war. “I’ll be absolutely candid and honest—it’s embarrassing that we are banning books in this country, in this culture, in this day and age,” Burton emphatically explained. “We have this aversion in this country to knowing about our past. And anything that is unpleasant, we don’t want to do deal with.”
“So read the books they’re banning. That’s where the good stuff is. If they don’t want you to read it, there’s a reason why,” he urged.
According to recent data from PEN America, he’s not wrong. Several states in the South and Midwest have seen stark increases in book censorship, with 713 separate titles facing bans in Texas schools and libraries between July 2021 and April 2022, alone. Banned titles have overwhelmingly featured LGBTQ+ narratives, as well as books written by Black authors and featuring critical race theory (CRT) or CRT-adjacent themes. The term has become one of many monsters under the bed for conservatives in their crusade to “protect children’s safety” in the country’s education system as school shootings persist.
Organizers on the frontlines of the ban battles like Katie Paris, creator of “Book Ban Busters,” a campaign launched by the left-leaning grassroots network of suburban parents “Red Wine & Blue,” told Jezebel in March that the campaign to censor such books is being led by conservative think-tanks like Heritage Action For America, the Independent Women’s Forum, the Goldwater Institute, and right-wing activist Christopher Rufo, a “journalist” credited for inciting the CRT conflict.
“It’s all part of this attempt to pit parents against educators in public education, and to use race and education as a status threat to suburban white voters,” Paris said. “They have been successful at convincing the Republican Party that this is the way to win back voters in the suburbs that they’ve really lost a lot of ground with in the last couple of election cycles.”
Despite overwhelming data—namely, a recent New York Times poll—that indicates most parents are happy with their children’s access to the books in question, a more visible and vocal minority isn’t deterred. Fortunately, Burton isn’t either. This is hardly the first time the American hero has been outspoken about book censorship.
“Read banned books!” Burton declared in a segment on The Daily Show in February. In an homage to his former gig that may or may not have made me a little misty-eyed at the outset, Burton even read—or, attempted to—three of the widely banned books, including Nikki Giovanni’s Rosa, the story of Rosa Parks. Satirically, the camera cut from Burton each time he cracked one of the books. As the segment concluded, police sirens could be heard off-camera. “Oh shit, they’re coming,” he jested.
Butterfly in the Sky, a documentary on Reading Rainbow and Burton’s measurable impact on Gen X and Millennials, just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival this week to unsurprising excitement. Meanwhile, I’ll be YouTubing episodes circa 1999, fondly remembering a bygone era’s simpler days wherein Burton taught a toddler-me about rap music (“It’s like street poetry!”) and weeping softly.