To the Barricades | Writing and Reading in the Trump Era

In this first op-ed essay in a series that asks different authors to muse on writing and reading in our current political climate, award-winning and best-selling author Laurie Halse Anderson lays out the need for writers, librarians, and educators to "do the work" of antiracism, decolonizing our shelves and our souls. 

Editor’s note: This op-ed is the first in a series that will be published throughout fall 2019. We asked a number of notable children’s and YA authors to write short essays on “writing and reading in the Trump era.” Check for future essays by David Bowles, Kate Messner, Shaun David Hutchinson, and others.

Readers learn to recognize Evil quickly in fiction. Sauron? Super evil. Voldemort? Even worse. In the pages of a story, readers follow a path to choosing the Forces of Good. Evil is defeated, Good prevails, and the reader closes the book with satisfaction.

But recognizing and confronting Evil in real-time, in our daily lives? That’s a much bigger challenge. If you share my dominant-culture identity markers (white, cis, hetero, citizen, economically secure, raised Christian) the notion that Evil must be battled in our homes, in our communities, and on the job every day can be a shocking one.

Our IPOC friends, nonbinary cousins, Muslim neighbors, Jewish teammates, gay bosses, and everyone else whoPhoto of Laurie Halse Anderson suffers from hatred, biases, injustice, and inequities have known about this Evil for generations.

People like me were born on third base and we’re just beginning to realize it.

A Call to Action

In 2015, Ijeoma Oluo wrote, "Being anti-racist doesn't mean that you are never racist, it means that you recognize and battle racism in yourself as hard as you battle it in others."

We are called to protect all of the children. To do that, we have some growing to do, some knowledge to absorb. This work begins with humility. With open eyes and a commitment to listening deeply to the experiences of people whose lives are different than our own.

My attempts at growth and understanding began with decolonizing my bookshelves in an effort to decolonize my soul. I’ve been studying America’s history and the policies that grew out of white supremacy: Reconstruction, segregation, voters’ rights suppression, and the school-to-prison pipeline.

For those who are beginning to do this work, I highly recommend these books as entry points:

The Grace of Silence: A Memoir by Michele Norris

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

In order to better understand whiteness, and how it shelters people like me from harm and discrimination, start with these two:

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

And finally, read and follow Dr. Ibram X. Kendi (@DrIbram), professor and Director of the Antiracist Research & Policy Center at American University. His work encompasses both the history of racism in the United States and how being actively anti-racist is a requirement of change. He wrote both of these wonderful books:

Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi (National Book Award winner for Nonfiction, 2016)

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

(Jason Reynolds recently announced that he was teaming up with Dr. Kendi to write a book about anti-racism for kids, called Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. It will be published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in March 2020.)

Follow, Signal Boost, and ACT

Twitter has helped me find many kindred spirits and teachers of this work. Follow #DisruptTexts, #ClearTheAir (and follow @ClearTheAirEdu) for thoughtful conversations and new friends.

We Need Diverse Books (@diversebooks) lifts up the work of marginalized creators and helps people from marginalized communities find internships in children’s publishing. Their efforts have already made an extraordinary difference. Use their resources and support their mission!

Reading and following great leaders on social media provides good background, but action is required, too. I now confront people in conversations when they make biased comments. I refuse to sit on panels that are not inclusive. I work with conference organizers to help them expand their pool of presenters and to make attendees from all communities and backgrounds feel welcome and safe. I’m learning how to pass the microphone more and how to listen more closely.

Those of us who work with and for children have a higher degree of responsibility and a better opportunity to make a lasting difference in our communities and in our nation. Most of the criminals who carry out mass shootings attended schools. So did the leadership of hate groups. And the young people being targeted for membership in hate groups? They are sitting in your classrooms right now.

It is on all of us to be actively anti-racist, actively anti-hatred, and fervently, actively pro-equity and justice for all, every single day. Simply retweeting statements and suggestions of marginalized people is not enough. Apply those suggestions to your understanding of your life. Identify specific ways you can battle against the rising tide of hate-based domestic terrorism.

Let’s speak up and shout together. Let’s work to create a nation where all are treated justly, respected equally, and given the same rights and opportunities.

The kids are counting on us.


Laurie Halse Anderson is a New York Times bestselling author whose writing spans young readers, teens, and adults. Combined, her books have sold more than eight million copies.

Photo credit Randy Fontanella
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Jackie Anas

Especially insightful is the statement regarding active shooters were once sitting in a classroom and young people being recruited into hate groups are in our schools now. Thank you for your writings.

Posted : Sep 09, 2019 03:05



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