This blog post is inspired by two incidents:
A colleague recently shared with me how, on the morning after the recent Trump presidential win, her nine children– most with special needs and all adopted internationally– were victims of racial and xenophobic slurs at school and needed to be taken home early. Amanda was both grief and guilt stricken, and lamented that she and her spouse sent their children to school the day after the election against their better judgment. Certainly, Amanda and her partner did nothing wrong; school should be the place to send your sons and daughters after a historic occasion. And, sadly, it’s likely that the bullying would have occurred on any day after the election, for as long as there’s divisiveness in America, our children will mimic it. Bias is a learned behavior.
Another story: my niece, Stephanie, and her buddy, Kayla, were playing one day at my parents’ home. Stephanie says to Kayla, “you know when Trump is elected your dad will have to go back to the Bahamas.” Kayla’s mother is Haitian while her father is Bahamian. Though her parents are now U.S. citizens, Kayla wailed, hurried to call her dad and begged him not to leave her behind. Of course, both girls were reassured that America is home (Stephanie is half-Nicaraguan and half-Bahamian) and that their parents are here to stay.
America is not just socially divided. It is socially hurting. From protests, riots, brutality, terrorism and hate crimes to nativist (at best) or xenophobic (at worse) as well as sexist rhetoric, we are teaching our youth how to deal with social strife. And, as seen with viral videos of middle schoolers chanting “build that wall” and “go back home” in cafeterias and mock elections, our youth are demonstrating how well parents, caregivers and instructors are doing when it comes to training them to be responsible with their sentiments. Jacqueline Woodson, in her 2014 autobiographical coming-of-age novel, Brown Girl Dreaming, put it best when she wrote “when there are many worlds you can choose the one you walk into each day” (pg. 138). Now is an opportune time to consider how librarians influence youth to walk into a more civil, just world each day.
Now is the time to promote multicultural children’s and young adult literature. Books, whether print or digital, have a way of teaching the nuggets of tolerance, inclusion, and social justice in ways that youth understand. Books are great vehicles for couching difficult discussions, especially ones with heated opposing viewpoints.
Now is the time for librarians and library staff to redouble their work to foster information literacy among learners of all ages. The 2016 election was a lesson in the perils of false news bytes, inaccurate data and a lack of knowledge, whether conscious or unconscious. Children and teens must learn how to be engaged and informed citizens.
Now is the time for librarians and library staff to be on the hunt for life-changing encounters. Many call it teachable moments, others say it’s interventionist instruction, and perhaps a few consider it roving reference. No matter, there are some exchanges that we simply can’t pass up: the times we overhear kids’ and teens’ conversations, or see a troubled youth, or listen to a concerned parent. Those are the instances when our training, experience and resources are vital. I’ve often said (admittedly in times of both elation and frustration) that there’s a bit of social work involved in librarianship. Even when we want to check out—yep, pun intended—we need to be about the business of more than documents, but growth and development.
This is our moment. Most of us had egalitarian ideals in mind when we chose the world of librarianship. Though we may be disheartened by the recent state of affairs, there is hope in that we are facilitators of change, one visitor at a time.
Hey, we’ve got this.
*Names have been changed to protect identity.
Ana Ndumu has over 13 years of library experience. She is currently a doctoral student at Florida State University’s School of Information. Her interests include social justice in LIS and understanding the intersection between identity and information. You can reach her at email@example.com or anandumu.com.
Woodson, J. (2014). Brown girl dreaming. New York: Penguin.