When we launched this newsletter several weeks ago, our goal was to help support readers and library users sheltering at home because of the coronavirus pandemic. As so many (including librarians and library workers) were forced to quickly transition to working remotely—while many others were furloughed or laid off—we aimed to help ease the transition and provide engaging, mostly lighthearted content that librarians could pass along to their communities: reading recommendations, ideas for family activities, and tips on organizing one’s home library. And while those goals remain, this week our nation grapples anew with so much more than simply how to safely pass the time while staying indoors. The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor—and too many other Black Americans—at the hands of police, and the protests they sparked this past week, have brought to the forefront, once again, the centuries-old inequities and biases that run through the core of our nation.
We grieve with our Black colleagues and readers for the lives cut short by the pandemic and the police alike. That both disproportionately affect Black Americans is a searing indictment of our societal priorities. Libraries and publishing cannot help but be part of these systemic problems. As a team, we recommit to examining our own actions and inactions, to holding up a mirror to both fields to see where we can all do better together, and to highlighting the books and programs that can spur crucial community conversations.
Many white and non-Black Americans are asking what they can do. Many parents are wondering whether and how they should address these current events and historical realities with their children. At School Library Journal‘s recent Day of Dialog virtual event, keynote speakers Jason Reynolds and Dr. Ibram X. Kendi discussed the need for individuals to move away from the passive, nebulous idea of being “not racist” and instead move toward the active state of being antiracist. Antiracism is an active form of seeing and being in the world, with the aim of transforming the systems that privilege white people at the expense of people of color. Some antiracists are on the front lines, protesting and utilizing their First Amendment rights to speak out against injustice. But not all action has to take place on the public stage. In fact, some of the most critical work can—and must—happen at the individual level and in the private spaces where families, friends, and loved ones interact every day.
Start by educating yourself about the history of racist ideas and policies and how they impact the ways in which we view ourselves and others in the present. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Stamped From the Beginning (link to our Hoopla catalog) is an excellent place to start. Or check out Reynolds’ “remix” version for younger readers, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You— (link to Missouri Evergreen catalog) an ideal book to read with middle or high schoolers. Consider listening to the audiobook (link to Missouri Evergreen catalog) as a family and discussing each chapter.
None of this is easy, and there are no simple solutions. Start by learning the history. Engage in tough conversations with the people you know. Don’t be afraid to bring children and teenagers into your discussions, perhaps while cooking a meal together.
Take care of yourselves and each other.