Book Bans, they’re so hot right now. All across America, special interest groups have frothed themselves into a frenzy about “problematic” books in School Libraries that are poisoning our nation’s youth. They’ve embarked on a crusade to target and ban these books wherever they can. Their messaging has been rife with racist and homophobic dogwhistles. And they’ve been remarkably successful. Between July 2021 and June 2022, there were an estimated 2,532 instances of School Book Bans. These bans cover school districts that account for nearly 4 million students.
I’ve been aware of this national trend, but honestly it hasn’t really been on my mind much. That is, until it happened in my neighborhood. For those of you who don’t know, I grew up (and currently reside) in Central Virginia around Richmond, Virginia. And last week, the School Board of one of the city’s surrounding counties — Hanover County — granted itself the authority to ban books from school libraries and then banned 19 books in one fell swoop.
This is another long-ish article, so click below to skip around:
- Banned Book Author Demographics
- Appendix: Life Updates!
The Hanover County School Board is no stranger to … controversial (okay, outright hateful) actions. In 1955, in response to Brown v. Board of Education, the Board threatened to close all its public schools to avoid integration. The first handful of Black students were not allowed into the county’s “white” schools until almost 10 years later. Furthermore, a year before the full integration of Hanover schools, the School Board named the county’s new junior high school Stonewall Jackson.
The School Board is no stranger to book bans, either. In 1966, it unanimously voted to ban To Kill a Mockingbird from County schools. The book’s author, Harper Lee, had this to say in response:
“Recently I have received echoes down this way of the Hanover County School Board’s activities, and what I’ve heard makes me wonder if any of its members can read.
Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that “To Kill a Mockingbird” spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners. To hear that the novel is “immoral” has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink.
I feel, however, that the problem is one of illiteracy, not Marxism. Therefore I enclose a small contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund that I hope will be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.”
These issues aren’t limited to the 20th century. Just this past year, Hanover County Public Schools was forced to issue an apology after distributing these T-shirts to staff at a development conference:
Consequently, I think it’s fair to scrutinize the kinds of books that the Hanover School Board has elected to ban. The 19 banned books were written by 15 distinct authors. Looking at these authors, one thing becomes immediately clear — the Hanover School Board decided to ban books overwhelmingly written by authors from vulnerable minority groups.
Since this is Stats with Sasa, let’s take a look at the numbers.
Banned Book Author Demographics
For this analysis, I researched each author from Hanover’s banned book list. I specifically focused on author ethnicity and sexuality. The results of my research can be seen below, along with detailed sources:
We can draw some quick conclusions from this chart. Namely, a lot of these authors are Queer, Jewish, and/or POC. So let’s examine how this stacks up against general U.S. / Virginia trends.
As illustrated in the table, I found evidence that 5 out of 15 (33%) Banned Book authors identify as Queer. In comparison, according to Gallup, just 7.1% of Americans and 3.9% of Virginians identified as LGBTQ+. Subsequently, Queer authors are over-represented in Hanover’s Banned Book List at a rate 4.7x their National population and 8.5x their population in Virginia.
Although our sample size is very small, we can still perform some basic statistical tests to see how meaningful this difference is. We can use a simple Binomial Test to determine whether the proportion of Queer authors in the Banned Book list is statistically significantly higher than national and state averages.
The Binomial Test provides stark results. The proportion of Queer authors is statistically significantly higher than both the U.S. average (p-value = 0.0002) and the Virginia average (p-value = 0.003).
The following chart further illustrates this comparison:
A valid criticism of this analysis is that Author demographics are a more relevant comparison than population demographics. Unfortunately, I had a really tough time finding numbers on the author demographic makeup of school libraries. As a result, the analysis in this article uses general population demographics as a comparison, with the caveat that it may not exactly reflect author demographics.
Another vulnerable minority group that stands out when looking at our table is Jewish authors. An astounding 3/15 (20%) of the Banned Book authors had a Jewish background according to my research.
When we consider that just a tiny fraction of Americans identify as Jewish (1.9% of Americans and 1% of Virginians), this trend becomes even more alarming. In fact, the rate at which the Hanover School Board banned books by Jewish Authors is statistically significantly higher than their makeup in both the U.S. population (p-value = 0.003) and the Virginian population (p-value = 0.0004). In layman’s terms, Hanover County banned books by Jewish authors at a rate 10.5x their National population and 20x their population in Virginia.
Again, a chart helps illustrate this clear-cut difference:
I personally find this particular difference especially troublesome, considering that the School Board released team-building T-shirts that featured a not-unsubtle Swastika less than a year ago:
Given that books featuring “Critical Race Theory” themes have been on the hot-list of the Book Banning movement, it’s also fair to look at the rate at which Hanover banned books by POC authors. Luckily, the difference here is a little less troubling.
Three out of 15 (20%) of Banned Book authors were POC. This compares somewhat favorably to 31% of Virginia and 24% of the U.S. being non-white. This difference is not statistically significant, but can nonetheless be observed below:
I think Harper Lee put it best when she responded to Hanover’s earlier ban of To Kill A Mockingbird 50 years ago. Book bannings are dumb. They’re really, really dumb. And similarly to Ms. Lee, I do not think very highly of the people who engage in or support them. They’re the ultimate performative virtue signaling. And anecdotally, from people I’ve spoken to in the industry, banned books tend to actually see a surge in sales. So they don’t even really seem to work.
Ultimately, the Hanover County Public Schools has a troubling history. From heavy resistance to desegregation to previous book bans, their School Board has given us ample reason to scrutinize their actions. And true to this, my research has shown the following:
There is evidence that the Hanover County School Board disproportionately targeted Authors from vulnerable minority groups when deciding which books to ban. Specifically, Queer and Jewish authors have been targeted at a rate disproportionate to their makeup in Virginia and the United States in general.
If you are angry like me about this, here’s a link to the contact information of Hanover’s School Board. I think it’s reasonable to email them to ask why it looks like they’ve decided to disproportionately target Jewish and Queer authors. If you want, feel free to use my charts in your communications. In fact, I would love it. I don’t care if you give me credit.
If you live in the Richmond area and want to do something, feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com. Let’s talk!
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Appendix: Life Updates!
All 5 of my dedicated readers may have noticed that it’s been a while since I’ve written a new post. That’s because I’ve started a new job here in Richmond! Moreover, I have started volunteering my time at an organization called Bluebonnet Data, which provides data analytics support to progressive campaigns and causes. Between these two obligations, I haven’t really found much time to work on blog projects I’ve had in the works. That being said, I hope to post again as soon as I can. Stay tuned!
Thanks to those who read this far. As a reward, here is my favorite Youtube video these days. It’s Donald Duck singing Ballin’. AI is a truly wonderful thing.