In This Library, Y'all = ALL
A long time ago, a well meaning (and very well known) educator, who I admired greatly, told me I should never, ever take a stand on controversial issues - especially those involving politics - because doing so would "hurt my brand." As a known trouble maker, this advice didn't sit right with me. Those of you who follow me on social media, or who read this blog, know I rarely post about politics, but that's not because I'm afraid of hurting "my brand" - whatever that is. I tend to shy away from those topics online because a) I'm not a confrontational person and b) using social media to espouse one's political leanings is just not, in my experience anyway, very effective. I've never known anyone whose deeply entrenched point of view was shifted because of something a friend posted on FB. (But maybe I am just following the wrong people).
All of that to say, while I've never spent much time thinking about my brand, if I do have one, I hope it's associated with honesty and bravery. I hope when people think of "library girl" they think of someone who isn't perfect, but who is willing to take a stand when the situation calls for it. That said, the situation we find ourselves in now, in my estimation, calls for all of us to stand up for what is right.
As a former North Carolinian, (I lived in NC for almost 30 years) the news coming out of the "old north state" this week left me feeling both horrified and ashamed. While it's true that NC was the first place I'd ever heard a racial epithet used by an actual human being (I'd seen them in books or in the movies, but never spoken out loud - this changed when I was 19 years old and on my 2nd day in NC), during the time I called NC home, the vast majority of people I encountered there were loving, kind and actively engaged in anti-racist work and living anti racist lives. I imagine those folks were equally as (if not more) distressed as I was to see their fellow North Carolinians chanting "send her back" at the President's rally in Greenville on Wednesday.
The next day I followed a thread on Twitter in which a NC educator called out fellow teachers that he spotted in the crowd that night, in an attempt to (rightfully) shame them for taking part in what will certainly be remembered as a low point in American history. All the while, I couldn't help but wonder about the students who happened to also spot their teachers' faces in the same crowd when images from the rally were repeatedly shown on TV and online. What must children, of all ethnicities and backgrounds, think while watching their teachers (and principals and guidance counselors, etc), angrily demand that an American Citizen be forcibly removed from her country, because she has brown skin, was born elsewhere and because her politics don't square with their own? But more importantly, for those students whose faces and backgrounds look similar to Ilhan Omar, how will those kids ever learn to feel safe around their teachers again? Honestly, I am not sure that kind of damage can ever be repaired.
However, as librarians, this situation (along with so many others) provide us with the opportunity and obligation to make sure ALL kids feel welcome in our spaces. And that means more than just making sure students can see themselves in the books on our shelves. This week, the brilliant Tricia Ebarvia, wrote a piece for Literacy Today titled Why Diverse Texts Are Not Enough. In it, she discusses all the ways the context of our teaching practices, learning spaces and own biases can strengthen or derail other attempts to create inclusive learning environments for kids. I hope you'll read it. And while you're at it, take a look at these other resources:
How Inclusive Is Your Literacy Classroom Really? - Also from Tricia Ebarvia (this time published by Heinemann). While this resource speaks specifically to classroom teachers, there's a lot of great resources for us here, too.
There's No Such Thing As a Diverse Book - blog post from the brilliant Chad C Everett. Everything he does blows my mind.
The Teaching Tolerance Anti Bias Framework - If you're thinking about ways to create anti racist instruction and learning spaces, this is a good place to start. I find this work very helpful in stretching my own thinking.
Representation Matters: Creating Libraries That Represent and Serve ALL Students -A presentation I created recently. This is the first iteration of this work and I've already identified opportunities for improvement, still... there's some resources here that you might find useful.
And some books...
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and Michael Eric Dyson
So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
35 Dumb Things Well Intentioned People Say by Maura Cullen
How Not To Get Shot (And Other Advice From White People) by D. L. Hughley
The Dark Fantastic by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas - unpacks the "diversity crisis in children's and young adult media."
Culturally Responsive Teaching And The Brain by Zaretta L. Hammond -
One thing you might notice if you take a look at the presentation I shared above is that there's a slide near the beginning which provides me the opportunity to acknowledge my privilege. In my experience, there's still a great deal of misunderstanding surrounding the concept of privilege. Having privilege doesn't mean your life has been easy or that everything has been handed to you on a silver platter. I've spoken (and written) very publicly about growing up poor and the challenges that poverty dealt me as a learner and human being. However, despite the hardships I've faced, it's important for me to also acknowledge that I was born a white, cis gendered heterosexual in a country, and at a time in history, that prizes those things. I've never lived in a world in which laws had to be changed in order to ensure people sharing my skin color were afforded equal rights and protections under the law. I've never had to wonder if my ancestors were owned by the ancestors of the people I work with or live next to. I've never had to worry if it would be legal for me to marry the person I loved. That's privilege I didn't ask for, but carry with me none the less.
And I mention this now, because as a white educator living in an increasingly polarized world, in which the flames of our most base and racist instincts are being stoked for political gain, I think it's important for me to not only acknowledge my own privilege, but also for me to take a stand declaring my responsibility to make this a better world for all of us - but most especially for the kids my work affects. To that end, as I've been chewing on all of this, I also busied my fingers creating this image, as a way for me to DO SOMETHING during a moment that feels so hopeless. And as a way to stand next to my friends in NC (and everywhere) and say, unequivocally, y'all means ALL: not just people who look like me, sound like me, were born on the same continent I was or who believe the same things I do.
Libraries have always been a safe place for the most vulnerable among us. School libraries, in particular, often represent the one place in schools where some students feel welcome and valued. As one of the few remaining egalitarian institutions left in our world, libraries are a beacon of social justice and human potential. It's in these spaces where our BEST qualities and most noble goals are made manifest in the ways in which we provide EVERYONE equitable access to information and use the power of story to connect and create communities. The world needs libraries more than ever. What's more, it needs librarians who are willing to take a stand for ALL kids. I hope you'll join me in doing just that in whatever ways feel right to you, (regardless of how it might affect your "brand").
PS: I just want to acknowledge the friends (you know who you are) who graciously took a look at this image before I posted it. I'm not a professional illustrator and it was important to me that my anime style of drawing, (particularly of faces), didn't come off as insensitive or derivative of stereotypes. I appreciate and value your feedback more than you know.
PPS: If you've made it to the end of this post and would like to use the image as part of your own work, please feel free to do so. You can access a hi-res version by clicking on the image itself. Just please don't sell it. (Unless you plan to donate the proceeds to an anti racist organization. In which case, reach out to me first, so we can talk).