Angela Hayes, March 2023
We often take education and the prevalence of diverse thoughts for granted. But recently, book bans have been spreading across the U.S. at a rapid pace, highlighting a frightening trend of censorship in the public education sector. Challenges to books about sexual and racial identity are nothing new, but recently these challenges have become increasingly politicized.
It stands to reason that the very idea of book bans is counterintuitive to the PR profession. The very mandate of the profession rests in the name—of building relations between publics.
On the most basic level, book bans limit the flow of information and ideas, which is a fundamental aspect of effective communication and diverse perspectives. This censorship can limit our ability to develop creative and effective campaigns for all types of audiences.
Worse, book bans can be harmful to the integrity of the PR and communications profession. Limiting the viewpoints and ignoring the diverse perspectives of life that are often represented in literature can damage the credibility of PR professionals and make it harder for us to build trust with stakeholders, including clients, journalists and the public.
Upholding the integrity of the profession by being vocal about harmful tactics like book bans requires PR professionals to take an honest look at the realities of what we are experiencing as we witness the broad sweep of censorship nationwide.
The reality is this is not new. De-identifying entire cultural groups by limiting the share of knowledge and information about their lived experiences is an intentional political strategy to oppress communities, and it is as old as time itself.
The erasure of cultural identity by limiting access and exposure to reflections of those experiences occurs in every generation. In 1960, “To Kill a Mockingbird” was banned because it detailed the experiences of racism and rape being played back to society through literature. This made people uncomfortable. This “uncomfortableness” was juxtaposed to the reality that black men were being lynched in the south during the same timeframe.
The book “Heather Has Two Mommies” became a lightning rod of controversy in the early 1990s because of the heterosexual Anglican ideology of what a family should be.
And recently, the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, has spearheaded the charge to ban nearly 200 books and courses that provide insights into the lived experiences of being Black, Hispanic, gay or female.
The public relations industry has a responsibility to uphold the principle of freedom of expression, which means promoting the free flow of ideas and information. And there are specific steps we can take to do so:
- Educate yourself so that you might be able to speak knowledgeably about the content of the cultural resources that tend to be at the heart of the controversy.
- Become an advocate for intellectual freedom.
- Have the hard conversations with your clients, and create space for diverse perspectives.
At the end of the day, we have an ethical responsibility to build relationships with the public. And, to be successful, we must be an accomplice for communities sharing their lived experiences through stories.
This story originally appeared on PRNews.