Appeasement never works: it’s an old lesson from the history books, and it rings just as true in today’s culture wars.
Look no further than last month, when Scholastic, the publishing and distribution company known for its school book fairs, attempted to please all sides. The company revealed it had created a collection of diverse book titles for its fairs. So far so good. Then came the kicker: schools could choose whether or not to include them.
The announcement shocked librarians and educators across the country. At a time when the American Library Association recorded 695 attempts to censor library materials, impacting 1,915 unique book titles in 2023 alone, critics saw the move as part of the chilling trend towards censorship.
Ultimately, Scholastic reversed course, agreeing to scrap the “opt out” option. But the damage had been done. Librarians looked for alternatives to the fairs, and the company’s previous statements championing diversity and denouncing censorship have been greatly called into doubt.
The question is, why? Why did a brand that previously signed an open letter against book bans engage in quasi-censorship itself?
Scholastic’s move reflects a common problem among brands and companies across the country. That is, failing to genuinely view diversity and inclusion as non-negotiable. By seemingly attempting to appease groups opposed to diverse narratives being taught in schools, Scholastic revealed the hollowness of its ADEI commitments.
It’s time that companies realize that Anti-Racism is not optional. Diversity is not optional. Equity is not optional. Inclusion is not optional. This is true especially when outside pressures challenge ADEI values.
As companies and institutions continue to navigate their ADEI goals, they must anticipate backlash as a part of their strategies. And they must be prepared to do what is right.
Perhaps no other field is more fraught in our culture wars than education and learning. UPD knows this all too well.
In 2022, UPD helped the Queens Public Library system (QPL) advance its ADEI goals, navigating all the challenges that came with them. Tantamount to that process was championing diverse books in the face of censorship nationwide.
One thing’s for sure, ADEI is not something you can “opt out” of.