“With the first link, the chain is forged.
The first speech censored,
the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied–
chains us all irrevocably.” ~ Star Trek’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard

      Having given them up, my father early on and endlessly drilled into my head, “Don’t smoke!” So, of course, I did, and lit my first cigarette in 7thgrade. Ah, forbidden fruit…

Today, it’s not just plastic bags and gas ovens taking a hit. Last year, 2,500 books were challenged, numerous words and phrases, along with them.

Back in December 2022, Stanford University came out with its Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative (EHLI), a multi-phase, multi-year project “to eradicate many forms of harmful language” found within 10 categories of offense, such as ageism, colonialism, institutionalized racism, and gender based.

That included such words as American, African-American, Circle the wagons, Hold down the fort, You guys, submit, brave, and no can do. Amid ridicule and pushback, in January 2023, Stanford took a step back.

It’s not alone in policing words, however. Take, for example, the University of Southern California where field is off-limits, as it harks back to slavery. Thus, no field of study, field of dreams, and fieldwork. Then there’s California Polytechnic State University frowning on crazy and that’s lame, among others.

Meanwhile, censored books keep making headlines like never before.

Back in 1961, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer caused one helluva a stir because of its “passages of sexual frankness.” Though tame by today’s standards, it remains “one of the most notoriously censored books in the history of American literature.”

So, of course, as a high schooler, I got a hold of it and knew just what pages to turn to. Like I said, forbidden fruit…

Fast forward to 2023’s list of banned books. Those about LGBTQ identities and the critical race theory top the lists, led by:

  1. Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer
  2. George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue
  3. Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye
  4. Mike Curato’s Flamer

Kids are storming out of schools in protest, and sales are skyrocketing.

Meanwhile, along with six popular–but no longer published–Dr. Seuss books, beloved Cat in the Hat skates on thin ice, Shakespeare’s works are under fire, too. The stated reason: “white supremacy, misogyny, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and classism.” As per New York Post’s Lee Brown, “English teachers across the country are replacing William Shakespeare’s works in their curriculum with modern, diverse, and inclusive voices.”

Moreover, not even death can keep authors’ writings out of the grasp of censors’ hands. Prime example: Roald Dahl, dead since November 23, 1990. Saying his books are “offensive,” publisher Puffin Books is chopping and replacing certain words and phrases in several of his books. For instance, “enormously fat” Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is now simply “enormous,” while the Cloud Men in James and the Giant Peach have morphed into Cloud People. Oh, yes, words like ugly are out, too, and “references to female characters have disappeared.”

No big protests on their behalf, however.

“Once you read, you will be forever free.” ~ Frederick Douglass
“Books may well be the only true magic.” ~ Alice Hoffman

~ Carol