DENVER — Last year, 54 bills in 24 states were introduced to ban books about race, gender and sexuality. The movement has specifically targeted African American authors like Toni Morrison's “Beloved” and Nikole Hannah-Jones' “The 1619 Project," as well as children’s books about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks.
Although critical race theory is college level academics not taught in K-12 schools, lawmakers are working to limit how racism and history are taught, labeling such education as unamerican, divisive and uncomfortable.
"They want to delegitimize the founding of the country and the institutions, and they basically want to replace it with a very militant form of racism that would destroy this country," Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said in a press conference introducing legislation to ban critical race theory.
Although many of the books being banned directly discuss racism, many books under scrutiny are fantasy or simply express the Black experience. The public attacks against authors who express these themes are often extreme.
When Denver author R. Alan Brooks announced he was writing a graphic novel that was an allegory for leaving white supremacist movements, he got death threats on social media.
"I've written comics and graphic novels, but I just never, I don't think I ever imagined I would get death threats over it," Brooks said.
In his graphic novel “Anguish Garden,” the main character tracks people infected by an alien virus. She believes she is righteous, but her actions have no compassion. Eventually she realizes she is not the hero but the villain.
"In America, anytime a Black person has boldly spoken from their perspective, there have been some people to rise up to try to tear it down," Brooks said.
The equity policy aimed to create a more welcoming environment “for racial, ethnic, gender and sexual minorities.” However, board members claimed the policy was vague and made students uncomfortable.
"There is also instances of middle school privilege walks, which creates feelings of shame and guilt in the name of pointing out oppressor and victim," board member Kaylee Winegar said.
Although these challenges to education may seem unprecedented, many feel it’s just history repeating itself.
"If you recall your history, it was illegal to teach Black people to read and write during enslavement. That was intentional," said Tamara Rhone, an educational consultant. "Well, what do you think this is?"
Rhone taught for 44 years at Denver Public Schools.
"When we're teaching children, we're teaching children about contributions and people so that they understand that we contributed," she said.
Rhone says these bans are distractions from the real issues that need to be fixed within the American education system.
"We are not the only beings on this planet," she said. "When you look at highly developed countries and the benchmarks, we don't meet the benchmarks."
Many of the authors seeing their books banned are also seeing sales increase. When the threats against Brooks became public, the community rallied around him, helping him finance "Anguish Garden." The sequel will be released in June.
"I don't think that there's any example of a government that has banned books and it turned out well for them," Brooks said. "But I do think that we need to be vigilant, we meaning all of us as Americans, vigilant and fighting against that kind of censorship."