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Audio: MSNBC: On the push to ban “offensive” books from Texas public libraries

On The Beat with Ari Melber, Andrew Solomon joins MSNBC guest host Alicia Menendez and Maria Hinojosa, founder of Futuro Media and author of Once I Was You: A Memoir to discuss the movement to ban books on human sexuality, race and American history from school and public library collections, and the profoundly worrisome rise of authoritarian sentiment in the United States. Segment begins at 34:48. Originally broadcast on December 23, 2021.

Transcript Excerpts

ALICIA MENENDEZ: What was your reaction to finding out your book was on this list of targeted books?

ANDREW SOLOMON: You know, there’s a level at which it feels like a badge of honor to feel it warranted the attention of somebody who is going to try to blacklist it. But at a profound level, as a person who grew up being gay, the prejudice that was involved was deeply disturbing and reminiscent of being bullied on the playground. And as someone whose books are essentially about love and connectedness and passion and generosity and kindness, the idea that those were dangerous concepts and that they would be injurious to people and that other people who are being bullied should be so treated, that idea was devastating to me, truly devastating. […]

MENENDEZ: Andrew, this is what breaks my heart about this story, because there is a kid growing up the way you grew up who may not be able to share their truth with anyone in their life, with anyone in their community, who is desperately trying to see their life reflected back to them on the page. And it’s that kid that needs these books so desperately. And it is that kid that is going to be most hurt by these books being banned from libraries.

SOLOMON: I think that kid will be devastated. My book is about my being gay. It’s about having a gay family. It deals with transgender kids, which is, of course, a hot-button issue. It’s now on this list in Texas. I grew up with a feeling of loneliness in my identity. In fact, I didn’t recognize it as an identity until I grew older. These books are books that are designed to give children a sense that they are not alone. And what the Texas legislation does or the Texas move does is to try to make them feel more alone, to isolate them, to drive them away. The rate of suicide attempts among LGBT youth is five times the national average. For those people to be denied is — what might have given them some comfort and sense of belonging is a gross violation. And I couldn’t agree more that we live in a moment of authoritarianism and that that authoritarianism is rooted in a kind of cruel and devastating repudiation of everything that America is supposed to stand for. Martin Luther King said the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. At the moment, it’s bending away from justice. It’s our mission to bend it back in our direction. […]

MENENDEZ: Andrew, I have about 30 seconds left and a question that cannot possibly be answered in 30 seconds, and that is banning or burning books has a very long history in this country. Should we be afraid?

SOLOMON: We should be very afraid. We are living in the moment of backlash and at a time of the annihilation of free speech, an injustice, one has to confess, that this comes not only from the right, but also from the left, that, in the polarization that is an affliction in our country, particularly from the right, but also from the left, there is a silencing of voices. And the silencing of voices is the first and most basic step toward an autocracy that closes down the thinking and the freedom and the education of Americans across the spectrum.

(To read the full transcript, please visit MSNBC.)