This article from the Washington Post is haunting me this week: White Americans, your lack of imagination is killing us by filmmaker Kasi Lemmons. Please click through and read this powerful piece, which was brought to my attention by Nora Rawlins of Early Word. Lemmons writes “…when it comes to black life in America, there’s only one conclusion I can reach about some white people: You don’t care to put yourself in our shoes. The consequences of this lack of imagination for black Americans are deadly.”
It’s haunting me because, white librarians, this is what we do. And we need to get better at it.
What better way for people to learn empathy than by reading antiracist books? Reading fiction has been shown to increase empathy. There are more and more books being published by and about African American children. These stories can make a difference. These stories can help readers practice putting themselves in others’ shoes. These stories can increase empathy. We need to be seeking out antiracist books, buying these books for our collections, reading these books ourselves, and matching them with readers.
A lot of white people are struggling right now with wanting to help, but not knowing what to do. Last Thursday at the KidLit Rally 4 Black Lives (catch the recording here), presented by The Brown Bookshelf, author Paula Chase-Hyman talked about the work there is to do. The work of books is work we can do.
White librarians, if you struggled to find antiracist books in your collection or your digital collection to make an antiracist book list this week, there is work to do.
If you found yourself googling other antiracist book lists or asking colleagues to share their book lists because you didn’t have enough titles at your fingertips to make your own list or write your own blog post, there is work to do.
If you filled up an antiracist book list with titles you haven’t read, there is work to do.
If a friend or patron asked you for an antiracist book suggestion and you didn’t know where to start, there is work to do.
I’m not saying that we all have to know every single title from memory or be able to create a list without doing some research (I’m useless without my computer). But if any of those above statements is true for you (and some are true for me, too), there is work to do.
The good news is that, realizing this is a starting point. This is work we can do. This is our wheelhouse. Seek out own-voices books by African American and other marginalized authors and read them. Add picture books, chapter books, middle grade books, teen books, and adult books to your repertoire. Where are your weak areas? What work do you need to do?
If you’re not sure where to start finding antiracist books, ALSC, ALA, and ALA affiliates have some resources for you.
Start with Coretta Scott King Book Award winners and honors. Don’t stop at the titles with shiny medals on their covers. Use this list to discover authors and illustrators and then read all their books. Ditto the Pura Belpré Award. Ditto the APALA Literature Awards and the American Indian Youth Literature Awards and the Stonewall Awards and the Sydney Taylor Book Awards. Check out The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books.
Allow these books into your mind and your heart, but don’t stop there. Talk about these books, write about these books. Post about them on social media. Gift them to your family and friends. Press them into the hands of your patrons, young and old. Make diverse and inclusive books a priority in your life.
Our patrons are hungering for it right now. It seems like more people than ever before want to educate themselves and their children. If you haven’t already been doing this or if you can strive to be better at it, now is the time to make it happen.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group, II. Reference and User Services, IV. Knowledge, Curation, and Management of Materials, VII. Professionalism and Professional Development.