LeVar Burton wants you to ‘read banned books!’

'Read the books they don't want you to,' urged the beloved 'Reading Rainbow' host in a skit for 'The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.'

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Beloved actor and literacy enthusiast LeVar Burton has inspired generations of youngsters to love books, spending decades reading aloud to America’s children as the host of Reading Rainbow. Coincidentally, the long-running series launched a year after a contentious 1982 U.S. book-banning battle—but what might that widely watched storytime have looked like under the increasingly aggressive book bans currently being proposed and passed in school districts across the country?

Screenshot: The Daily Show with Trevor Noah

This was the question Burton himself answered in a skit for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah on Tuesday night, following Noah’s own argument that the current censorship push is not a moral dilemma but a “bad faith argument.”

Speaking on one parent’s unsuccessful attempt to ban a Michelle Obama biography in a Texas school district and claim that it promotes “reverse racism,” Noah noted. “It’s a biography. That totally gives away the game that this is more about ginning up a culture war than protecting kids. Because once you’re banning a book about any first lady, that’s political. I don’t care what anybody says.” he added.

Noah was even more incensed discussing a proposed ban on a book about Ruby Bridges. “So that poor girl needed the National Guard to get her into school; now, they’re going to have the National Guard escort her out!” he quipped, later adding, “This isn’t about books. This is about keeping the culture war going for political benefits.”

In his own segment, “Reading in 2022 with LeVar Burton,” Burton further demonstrated the absurdity in many of the books targeted. As described by Mashable, “Burton attempts to read to his viewers but is repeatedly thwarted as each picture book he chooses is banned.”

Those books included Nikki Giovanni‘s Caldecott Award-winning Rosa Parks-inspired children’s book Rosa, which Burton noted was off-limits because “reading about segregation is divisive.” The same-gender-loving penguin adoption story And Tango Makes Three apparently promotes “sexual perversion”—despite, as Burton points out, there being no sex in the narrative. And in an especially ridiculous twist, the Dr. Seuss classic Hop on Pop is flagged as “disrespectful to parents”—but apparently not because Seuss has posthumously been revealed to have been a virulent racist.

While the segment is entertaining, it’s also alarming, as censorship is clearly the next hot-button issue the right-wing is positioning as a moral crisis. In fact, as bestselling and increasingly banned author George M. Johnson recently told theGrio, “that’s why they’re trying to remove our storytelling, in my opinion…I think they’re just running out of options.”

As for Burton, he’s still doing his best to inspire America to read—and to think for ourselves.

“Read the books they don’t want you to—that’s where the good stuff is!” he urged. “Read banned books!”

For more information and insight into the book ban debate, check out theGrio’s ongoing series You Can’t Ban Black.

Maiysha Kai is Lifestyle Editor of theGrio, covering all things Black and beautiful. Her work is informed by two decades’ experience in the fashion and entertainment industries, a love of great books and aesthetics, and the indomitable brilliance of Black culture. She is also the editor of the YA anthology Body (Words of Change series).

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