In their best-selling youth memoir, All boys are not blue (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2020) Writer and activist George M. Johnson tells their stories of black and queer life growing up in America while also addressing racism, gender identity, toxic masculinity, Brotherhood, family, and sexual abuse. The book has been frequently questioned since its release, and was included in the American Library Association’s (ALA) 10 Most Challenging Books of 2021.
Johnson, who served as honorary chairman of Banned Books Week this year, American Libraries About their book, why it was challenged, and how it served as a call to action.
All boys are not blue Has been challenged and banned in many schools in the US and appears on ALA’s Top 10 Most Challenging Books list. What is it about this book — and many others like it — that has caused such backlash and fear?
Actually, I think my book just tells the truth about the black queer existence — what it’s like to grow up and live at these crossroads. It gives a very primitive description of this fact. Many people in this country have been terrified of hearing the truth so frankly and so boldly. This country has something called “alternative history,” which is making up truth or making up stories. The book doesn’t spin the story. It said it, and it said it clearly.
This book is also suitable for teenage readers, especially those aged 14 to 18. Many people feel that certain topics are too heavy for teens, even though we all know teens are already going through many of the things I discuss in my book. People are just afraid of letting the next generation who will run this country know what’s really going on in this country because they might actually try to change it and fix it. They may actually have empathy for non-heterosexuals and empathy for non-whites. Like many of us in the Gen Z movement, they are very committed, they have a lot of agency, and they are very protective of the diversity of their generation. My book gives them a roadmap, and I’m really afraid to give teenagers a real roadmap and not let them wander the world aimlessly.
Your book isn’t just your life story; you call it a “memoir manifesto.” You include statistics and facts about human sexuality, U.S. history, and more. What made you decide to call it a manifesto and include that information?
This book isn’t just me telling my story and leaving it there. I tell my story, but I give action steps on how we can change things and fix things. It reveals how many of us are conditioned by white lenses and patriarchy. We’re used to homophobia; we’re used to being misogynistic; we’re conditioned into phobias. My book calls for action on all of these things.
I call it a manifesto because I feel like I’m bringing something special and powerful into the world that’s going to impact people and cultures in a big way. In looking at what happened with this book, I think we hit the nail on the head.
Even though we saw people against the book, we also saw many people inspired by it, many people healed by it, and many people using it to act. So yeah, I think my story is just a story. It’s a story that’s always been there, and in many ways, I’m just allowed to tell it. But in telling my story, I am telling the stories of my ancestors that they never told and leaving room for future generations to tell theirs. It’s an inspiring thing that pushes people to tell their own stories.
You wrote in the book and said in the interview that you expected some controversy and pushback All boys are not blue and some of its content. Can you elaborate?
I’ve lived in this country long enough to know what they’re going to accept, what those in power are going to accept, and what they’re going to try to deny. We already live in a country where they try to keep us from talking about slavery in school. I know, talking about the founding fathers and presidents and their ownership of slaves and criticism of race — and what it’s like when you go through white space as a black person and as a queer person — it’s not going to be accepted by everyone. [Some] Arguing that these stories shouldn’t be told, and that we shouldn’t be telling stories that “make white kids feel bad” with no quotes.
As people of the oppressing class, we always feel bad. We don’t always feel it. We have always been considered second-class citizens. How can we tell the truth now that you all feel bad? I know it’s highly likely to be banned because of the way I tell the story. When I was about to write a book, [Angie Thomas’s] the hatred you give hit hard. I was like, “Angie’s book is mostly about police brutality and justification and overt racism, and my book is about all of that and more.” My book is a non-fiction book – I It’s about a reality that happened to me – I knew it wouldn’t stand a chance against those who have tried to deny other authors some of the same storytelling equipment.
What kind of feedback have you gotten from teens and teens who have read your book?
I hear from teenagers every day. I’ve heard from them since the book was published. For many of them, this is the first book they’ve ever read, and they feel like their story is being told, or they feel heard, seen, and connected to someone in a life experience, It’s not like anything they’ve read before.
Teenage readers pick up the book and get excited about it because it doesn’t hold back; it gives them the full details of the situation. This is exactly what they are looking for. They are looking for knowledge. They’re looking for, “Okay, I came across this. I didn’t learn this. Why didn’t I know about this? Why was I blocked?” For them, this book, like many others, Not only gave them a roadmap, but also helped them form opinions and challenges. They have been the catalyst behind the book. It was selected as the first book in the 2021 YALSA Teen Top 10. So, I have the parents of these teens trying to ban a book that they overwhelmingly choose as their first choice. There is something to be said for this.
You are the honorary chairman of Banned Books Week this year. As chair, what would you like to do or share this week?
You know, I think the main thing we’ve been sharing is that it’s not about parental rights. No one is saying that certain parents can’t say, “Hey, I don’t think my kid should read this book.” We want to stress that one parent won’t be the parent of all. Two parents will not be the parents of every other child or every other teen and every other reader who needs this book. When you take a book out of the library, you’re telling specific teens who know what’s in that book, they know that book represents them, their story doesn’t matter, and their representation shouldn’t be next There are children who represent others. That’s what we’re going to highlight this week. This is not how we compare to all parents. It’s a struggle for parents who want their teens to have a more diverse and robust learning and understanding of culture, race and all of those things.
Do you have any particular memories of past or present libraries?
I was just talking about this the other day. I used to go to the library with my friends and I remember one thing we were very interested in was the Salem witch trials.we’re going to read these books [about the trials] Together. [The TV show] Charmed It was outside at that time, so it was just one of those cool experiences. You learn about it in class, and then you go to the library and learn more about the different types of things around witches, sorcerers, and witchcraft, and how it became a whole religion and how people still practice it. I remember being a young reader that I was glad I could get into this place and learn more beyond my textbook. I think there are many other teens who feel that way.