Barack Obama Writes Open Letter and Joins TikTok Video to Condemn Rightwing Censorship Push
In the letter, Obama expressed concern over the challenges faced by books that have shaped lives, especially those written by or featuring people of color, Indigenous individuals, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Obama’s letter, released on Monday, voiced support for the Unite Against Book Bans campaign led by the American Library Association (ALA). Additionally, the former president appeared in a TikTok video shared by the Kankakee Public Library in Illinois, which has gained popularity for its viral videos.
The short video showcased library staff reading books that have been targeted or faced attempted bans, concluding with Obama reading and enjoying a beverage from a library-branded mug. More videos are expected to follow.
According to the ALA, a record-breaking 2,571 unique book titles were targeted for censorship in US public schools last year—an increase of 38% from the 1,858 titles in 2021. The majority of these targeted books were authored by or centered around individuals from the LGBTQ+ community and people of color.
In his letter, Obama also acknowledged instances where books by conservative authors or those containing “triggering” elements have been subjected to removal.
He expressed his belief that attempts to silence opposing viewpoints instead of engaging, challenging, learning, or seeking understanding are fundamentally misguided and counter to the values that have made the United States a great nation.
Obama, known for his own bestselling books such as Dreams from My Father, The Audacity of Hope, and A Promised Land, highlighted how authors like Mark Twain, Toni Morrison, Walt Whitman, and James Baldwin have taught him valuable lessons about the character of the country.
He emphasized the importance of reading about individuals from diverse backgrounds, enabling one to empathize and develop a sense of identity, crucial for being an active citizen, community organizer, and president.
Addressing the issue of school book bans, Obama emphasized the global implications, stating that the world is observing America’s actions.
If a nation founded on freedom of expression allows certain voices and ideas to be silenced, it raises questions as to why other countries should go out of their way to protect them.
In an ironic twist, Obama highlighted that religious texts, including Christian scriptures, often become the initial targets of censorship and book-banning efforts in authoritarian regimes, despite those advocating for book bans in the United States claiming to defend these sacred texts.