April 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Not Enough: We Must Renew the Charge to Build an Equitable World | Editorial

Photo by jalexartis (www.flickr.com/photos/fayncbikerjaa/)

Photo by jalexartis (www.flickr.com/photos/fayncbikerjaa/).

Last month’s murders of nine people, shot to death during a prayer meeting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC (pictured), was another brutal reminder that, despite decades of work toward building an inclusive society, racism remains dangerous and divisive.

As one racially-motivated killing follows another, I fear for future generations if we cannot advance toward a more just, tolerant society, one in which we can actually come to embrace differences of all kinds. How adults act now—librarians, teachers, parents, caregivers in all settings—matters.

Writing in the “Motherlode” blog the day after the shooting, KJ Dell’Antonia points out the disconnect between how we teach our kids about racism in America and the reality streaming in our news feeds. “We adults don’t believe that racial hatred is over or that race-based violence has ended,” she writes. “We know better. The legacy of slavery, segregation and fear extends long past the ‘history’ our children have learned.”

If we fail to address the here and now reality of racism with our kids, we negate the experiences of those who face it every day, and we risk leaving those who don’t with a dangerous blind spot. Casting racism as a scourge that our society took care of back in the civil rights era of the 1960s in the face of current incidents such as the massacre in Charleston is conveying a mixed message to our children. It says, this is as good as it gets. And that’s not good enough.

Libraries have long been central to helping create a culture that, at a minimum, tolerates difference and, at best, embraces and celebrates it. The very essence of the library as an institution is about creating equality within our culture. That work extends to celebrating our vast diversity, as exemplified in the past year by the We Need Diverse Books campaign and the vigorous conversation about the need for diversity to be intentionally addressed and kept front of mind in all sorts of settings.

There’s no better way forward than to confront the problem, bring it further into the light, with information and intentional exploration. “Think about what happened. Think about why it happened. Talk about what happened. Talk about why it happened. Do these things, over and over again,” Charles P. Pierce wrote in “Charleston Shooting: Speaking the Unspeakable, Thinking the Unthinkable” in Esquire. “The country must resist the temptation present in anesthetic innocence. It must reject the false comfort of learned disbelief and the narcotic embrace of concocted surprise.” How we all engage in efforts toward racial equality matters.

We must do more to desegregate our schools, our neighborhoods, and our workplaces—including our libraries. Every child should be able to see teachers and librarians who look like them succeeding, and respected for it. We must make sure that people from every culture feel safe and welcome, as equal contributors to the conversation of which libraries are both convener and chronicler.

In the early hours of the Monday of each Midwinter meeting of the American Library Association, there is a sunrise celebration to honor the work of Martin Luther King Jr. It traditionally ends with all attendees standing in a circle, arms interlocked, singing “We Shall Overcome.” I still believe, if we stand together, we will.


Rebecca T. Miller

This article was published in School Library Journal's July 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (rmiller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.