Adam Zyglis cartoon

(Adam Zyglis cartoon /

In the early 1980s, there was a movement by some on the right to target and ban books, music, films, magazines and other forms of media they deemed “offensive” and “inappropriate.”

Among the books swept up in the conservative purge during that decade included classics like The Catcher in the Rye, 1984, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Color Purple, to name a few.

Believing they had a staunch ally in President Ronald Reagan and the backing of large swaths of the nation gripped by conservative sentiment, the newly elected Republican House of Representatives and Senate acted fiercely. Fortunately, they were largely unsuccessful in achieving their goals.

A few decades later, right-wing activists have decided to pick up where they left off, decrying critical race theory, so-called “cancel culture,” “wokeness” and any form of public dialogue that is considered an affront to conservative sensibilities.

Consider the following:

» In New Hampshire, Republican officials in June enacted “Prohibition on Teaching Discrimination” legislation, which bans educators from teaching children they are “inferior, racist, sexist or oppressive because of their race, gender or other characteristics. ”

» Moms for Liberty, a newly formed conservative nonprofit organization that advocates for parental rights, has opened chapters in several states. This group has campaigned against school curriculums that mention LGBTQ rights, race, critical race theory and discrimination, and multiple chapters have also campaigned to ban certain publications from school libraries

» Recently elected Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed an executive order on his first day in office seeking to ban “divisive concepts,” including critical race theory in public schools (despite the fact it’s an academic framework that’s not taught in K-12 schools).

» Texas officials are pulling books off shelves that discuss racial and LGBTQ issues, and other subjects that challenge white heterosexual conservative opinion. A Missouri education group, No Left Turn in Education, promotes similar bans. And surprise, discussion of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is largely off-limits as well.

» In Tennessee, where I live, the McMinn County School Board voted unanimously to remove Maus, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book that tells the story of author Art Spiegelman’s relationship with his father, a Holocaust survivor, by depicting Jews as mice and Nazis as cats. According to local reports, the school board objected to eight curse words and nude imagery of a woman used in the depiction of Spiegelman’s mother’s suicide.

Such antics are clear and blatant acts of suppression, and such a movement is vehemently disturbing. The fiercely brazen degree of arrogance levied by many conservative organizations to enact their reactionary agenda is alarming and appalling.

Fortunately, opponents of this right-wing agenda have not taken such behavior lying down.

High school students in Texas, Virginia and elsewhere have fought back against such censorship, making it clear to their local school boards, parents and public officials that they are not a “fragile species.”

They are not adolescent snowflakes who need to be protected from reading literature and documents that their largely misguided and bigoted elders perceive to be “harmful” or “detrimental” to their emotional well-being.

Additionally, a number of teachers and parents in other states have filed lawsuits and challenged such prohibitive efforts.

Censorship, regardless of whatever wing of the political spectrum it originates from, is unacceptable. The fact is that the current right-wing attack on free speech and its ruthless efforts to implement an intellectually nihilistic agenda is Orwellian, reeks of McCarthyism, and must be combated ferociously and vigorously.

Elwood Watson Ph.D. is a professor of history, black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee. He is also an author and public speaker, and his column is syndicated through Cagle Cartoons. Click here for previous columns. Follow him on Twitter: @bleachbred. The opinions expressed are his own.