'All Boys Aren’t Blue' is at the center of a national debate and turmoil between school board officials, students, and celebrities, like Gabrielle Union, about censorship of race and queer erasure.

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Cover image of book "All Boys Aren't Blue" by George M. Johnson
Credit: Macmillan

At a time when the goal should be more diverse books in school libraries, opponents of critical race theory, or rather the idea that institutional racism is real, have worked tirelessly to keep books with themes of race, racism, and queerness off the shelves. 

As many school districts pull books off school shelves and out of curricula, one school district in Florida took the battle between censorship and diversity in books to the law.

Memoir-manifesto All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson is a series of coming-of-age essays that tell the author's story of being a Black, queer boy. Jill Woolbright, a member of the Flagler County School Board in Florida, filed a criminal complaint earlier this month, claiming that allowing students access to the book amounted to a crime. Students of the school district disagree.

Since the complaint was filed with the Flagler County Sheriff's Office, teachers and celebrities—including Gabrielle Union, who has plans to bring the memoir to the screen—have supported the book. Though this case highlighted the ire against the book, this isn't the first move to take All Boys Aren't Blue off shelves. So far, school districts in at least eight states have banned the book, and it's a trend that's generally picking up steam around the country. 

Last week, the president of the Iowa Senate advocated criminalizing teachers and librarians who share "obscene" and "inappropriate" material. After parents in Kansas, City, Missouri, raised concerns about Johnson's book in an October school board meeting, the district removed it from shelves. The state's chapter of the ACLU responded to the decision, citing a First Amendment violation. "The Constitution prohibits community members or school officials from imposing their own personal views and concerns upon an entire school community," representatives for the organization wrote in a scathing memo. "The Board has no basis for denying students access to a specific book based on the disagreement and discomfort of certain parents with the book's content." 

Conservative leaders across the country are working to curb access to books that tell our nation's current and historical relationship with race and racism. If critical race theory opponents plus the vocal group of leaders challenging LGBTQ+ books have their way, books validating the lived experiences of Black and queer people the way Johnson's does will be completely off-limits.  

One school in Missouri reversed its decision, announcing its plan to reshelve All Boys Aren't Blue, and the Flagler County Sheriff's Office concluded on Friday that the presence of the book in school libraries was not, in fact, a crime. Still, it's unclear what these successes mean for the larger effort to resist the censorship of marginalized authors. Johnson, however, is optimistic. 

"This is a major win for authors, students, parents, librarians & teachers. This means we have legal precedent and grounds to fight the book bans," the author posted on their Twitter. Even though several states are actively targeting their book and others through criminal complaints, Johnson feels prepared for the battle ahead. 

"This fight will continue on. Students deserve books that reflect their own experiences, existence, and the world they live in," they say.