LeVar Burton Addresses School Book Banning Campaigns in ‘Daily Show’ Appearance: “Read the Books They Don’t Want You To”

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LeVar Burton urged viewers to “read banned books” in response to ongoing and growing challenges to books in public schools across the nation during Tuesday night’s episode of The Daily Show With Trevor Noah.

Appearing remotely, the beloved Star Trek: The Next Generation actor dropped in at the backend of a Daily Show segment about the “latest culture war that’s tearing America apart.” Riffing off of Burton’s old Reading Rainbow setup, the children’s TV host is seen sitting in a room as he shows three various books for kids, all of which have been banned or challenged.

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“I am so excited to read with you today,” the actor-director begins. “Our first selection is called Rosa, and it’s the story of Rosa Parks.”

The screen then cuts out and a single message appears, telling viewers to stand by in light of a content violation. When Burton reappears, he explains that “as it turns out, that book is banned because reading about segregation is divisive, but since almost any book with Black people these days is considered divisive, here’s one that doesn’t have any people in it at all.”

The second title the former Reading Rainbow host features is And Tango Makes Three, a picture book about two male penguins who adopt and raise a baby penguin. “Both penguins are boys,” Burton says before the staticky screen appears once again. “Well, I’m told that that book is also banned because of sexual perversion, which is weird because there’s no sex in the book at all.”

“Y’all, they adopted the baby!” he continues. “What do you guys want? A mommy and daddy penguin so the kids can make sure that the penguins are knocking boots?”

To put it over the edge, the final selection is the Dr. Seuss classic Hop on Pop, which was involved in a 2014 challenge, revealed by the Toronto Public Library in a release of its annual review committee notes. The request to ban the children’s book was made by a Toronto father for “encourag[ing] children to use violence against their fathers,” according to TIME magazine.

“You got to be kidding me! All right, there are plenty of books to choose from, but you know what? No. Read the books they don’t want you to. That’s where the good stuff is,” Burton says as police sirens can be heard in the background.

“Oh shit. They’re coming. Read banned books!” Burton quickly says before disappearing offscreen.

Book bans have been an ongoing issue in the U.S., as evidenced by the American Library Association’s annual lists of the most challenged books. But the national campaigns now being seen — recalling a notable element of the 1950s McCarthyism era — have made an aggressive resurgence. The current trend, driven largely by right-wing Americans and conservative U.S. politicians, is something Noah says “has gotten out of control.”

“I can’t believe these people want to ban a Michelle Obama biography. It’s a biography. That totally gives away the game that this is more about ginning up a culture war than protecting kids,” the Daily Show host says.

At other points in the 10-minute Tuesday night segment, Noah acknowledges that “they’re banning books about race, gender, sexuality, emotions, history — guys, that’s all books,” and says that the challenges are actually about “keeping the culture war going for political benefit.

“You don’t just have Republicans in dozens of states around the country suddenly realizing, all at the same time, that there are books that they want to ban in their libraries,” he says. “Come on. It’s happening because they think it’s a winning issue, or at least they think it’s more of a winning issue than Trump is secretly still the president.”

Noah also directly addresses legislation put forth by Oklahoma state Sen. Rob Standridge in December, which would enable parents to not only challenge books in public schools but set a $10,000 bounty that could be collected by them each day that a successfully banned book remains on a public school library’s shelves.

“It’s one thing for parents to be upset about a book that their kid is reading at school. But once you offer a $10,000 bounty, think about what you’re doing there. Now, you’re using money to just try and stir up shit,” Noah says. “I mean, of course, people are going to start combing the shelves for anything that might pay out. Ten-thousand dollars is a lot of money. Ten-thousand dollars for banning a book is more than most authors made for writing that book!

“It’s happening in schools, and who knows if it’ll even stop there?” Noah wonders at the end of the segment. “Because maybe it’ll start in schools but pretty soon, any place that kids go to to find books could become a target.”

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