George M. Johnson challenges school district ban of book: ‘I refuse to be erased’

EXCLUSIVE: Johnson, a best-selling author and activist, says push to remove "All Boys Aren't Blue" from school libraries is erasure driven by anti-queerness and anti-Blackness.

Loading the player...

George M. Johnson’s debut book, a memoir-manifesto, All Boys Aren’t Blue, was met with an outpouring of support and fanfare. “The book came out during the early days of the pandemic and I was really excited for people to read it,” Johnson tells theGrio

All Boys Aren’t Blue was named a 2020 Best Book of the Year by Amazon, Kirkus Reviews, and the New York and Chicago Public Libraries. It was also called the Best Book of the Summer by People magazine and was a Kids’ Book Choice Award Finalist. The book has also been recognized as a valuable resource for teaching about cultural representation in literature. 

George M. Johnson All Boys Aren't Blue
(Photo: Vincent Marc/Macmillan Books)

Despite being released more than a year ago, the book in recent months has garnered a firestorm of negative press as school districts in parts of the country began removing the book from library shelves. Johnson’s memoir was one of a handful of books that were on the ban list. According to Johnson, it started in Kansas City when someone running for a local school board took issue with the book, calling it pornographic and using a passage Johnson wrote about his first consensual sexual experience. 

“I refuse to be erased and I refuse to let anybody tell me that a truth of my childhood experience told in detail is too much for another child to read especially if it can potentially help them,” says Johnson.

That outcry prompted The National Coalition Against Censorship to write a letter to the school board demanding that the book remain an option for students in school libraries. “These books may not be of interest for every student. But if every library book was required to serve every student, the shelves would be bare,” wrote Christopher Finan, executive director of The National Coalition Against Censorship. 

Since the Kansas City incident, school districts in Pennsylvania, Florida, Iowa, Arkansas, Missouri, Virginia, and Texas have also issued a ban on the book in its school libraries.

All Boys Aren't Blue Cover
(Photo: Macmillon Books)

“It’s censorship and it’s erasure and we have watched for too long our stories being erased,” Johnson adds. The author declared in a tweet that they would go on the offensive to protect the book’s power and legacy, but also the decision makers who decided the book could be used as a learning tool.

“Once a book is challenged you’re not just challenging the library you’re challenging the librarian because they are the ones who choose what books go into the library,” says Johnson. 

In Kansas City, students against the ban have filed their own petition to keep the book on library shelves. “I started a petition because I think this is in a library, no one is being forced to read them,” Holland Duggan, the student behind the signed petition, told a local Fox affiliate in Kansas City.  “And I think every student, especially high school students, should have access to information and choose what they get to read.”

Duggan plans to present the petition to school board members. 

In addition to Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue, there are roughly 28 other books being challenged including Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, and Angie Thomas’ novel The Hate You Give. 

The push against All Boys Aren’t Blue has since escalated as Flagler County, Florida school board member Jill Woolbright filed a criminal complaint against the book and three other titles, according to a report from Raw Story. In response on social media, Johnson vowed to continue to fight back.

“They must not know this is only going to make me go to my next level. All Boys Aren’t Blue will be here for the youth and I’m not taking my foot of these folks necks,” they wrote.

Critics of the books say they take issue with parts of the book that are sexual in nature, but according to Johnson, it’s a cop out for underlying micro-aggressions. “The list of books that were on the ban list consist of some white books but I think that’s only being done so it doesn’t come off as a racial issue but I think everyone understands what’s going on,” Johnson tells theGrio.

Books in public schools, particularly those that relate to contentious issues surrounding race, culture and identity, have come under intense scrutiny across the country in recent months and Johnson says they plan to use their microphone and platform to strike back.

“The driving force is anti-queerness, anti-Blackness, and at the end of the day the driving force is racism,” says Johnson.

Kelsey Minor is a two-time Emmy winning freelance reporter based in New York City. You can follow his work on Twitter @theKELSEYminor. 

Have you subscribed to the Grio podcasts, ‘Dear Culture’ or Acting Up? Download our newest episodes now!

TheGrio is now on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, and Roku. Download theGrio today!