Last month, I wrote that selecting a topic for my blog post was difficult, because the world is a different place than it was a few months ago. Critical conversations are happening in many areas related to systemic racism. I shared that I was doing my best to take a moment to sit back, read, learn, reflect, and listen to people who are much better equipped to speak on the topics of race, equity, and justice.
After further reflection, I’ve come to realize that sitting back does not feel like the next right thing to me. I’ve read and heard from many sources that if you are unsure of what your next step should be, slow down, take a breath, and simply do “the next right thing.” But, what do we do when we are unsure what the next right thing should be?
While listening to episode 278 of the podcast “Happier“ with Gretchen Rubin, I found a bit of clarity. Gretchen shared:
There is a huge amount of discussion about what to do, which is so important. And as is always the case with complicated issues, committed, highly principled, and well-intentioned people have different views about the best way to proceed, what right action looks like, the language to use, how best to help. People have different ideas about what to do… I find myself getting very caught up out of an earnest desire not to do the wrong thing. I start feeling like I just want to hold back and do nothing. But then I realized it may not be clear what the one right thing to do is, but it’s clear that the one wrong thing to do is to do nothing. That the most wrong thing to do is nothing, even if it is not clear what to do.
Her sister and co-host Elizabeth Craft added, “It’s better to stumble forward than to do nothing.”
Their discussion about “doing something” came at the right time as I was searching for what my next steps should be. It helped me realize there is no one single right thing to do, no one specific path to follow. Because, the longer I sat back and listened and read, the more I noticed that the suggestions and requests I encountered via social media were as varied and diverse as the people sharing them. There are multiple paths forward in ending systemic racism. For me, the important thing is to know that I can change paths as needed as I continue to learn and grow and listen, but I also can’t just sit back and watch others walk theirs.
Right now, my next right thing is to not let the fear of doing the wrong thing keep me from doing anything. I am going to stumble along the way. I am going to make mistakes and missteps. I am going to share, say, or do something that I will find out later was not helpful. I may already have or will shortly in this blog post. As such, I humbly share some of my current ideas on what I can do as part of my own personal anti-racist journey.
- Pledge to read at least one book per month by a Black author and at least one other book per month by another #OwnVoices author. (I adapted this idea from Kendra Adachi who shared her reading goals in episode #161 of her “The Lazy Genius” podcast.) I strongly identified with the idea of making an effort to read books by #OwnVoices authors, especially Black authors. I am also thinking about the best way to share what I am currently reading/have read with my school community and my school librarian/educator PLN to help spark discussion and garner and share suggestions on what to read next.
- Purchase books for my school’s library collection that feature #OwnVoices authors. Intentionally display books by Black and other #OwnVoices authors all year round. Intentionally feature books by Black and other #OwnVoices authors in book talks. Publishers have responded to requests for more #OwnVoices books with “they don’t sell.” If we make a specific effort to change the market, then we can change the market. Just look at the New York Times bestseller list recently or the frequent “out of stock” messages for those same books to see how the market can change with conscious effort.
- Continue to not only listen to Black educators, speakers, authors, and activists, but to thoughtfully and intentionally amplify their voices, while not expecting them to be my only source of enlightenment. The first step is to widen the scope of who I follow on social media. I freely admit that my feed was predominantly populated by school librarians that look like me, and I consciously wasn’t aware of that until I really stopped to think about it. I am now deliberately making the choice to have that no longer be true. I am also actively seeking out a diverse range of school librarians to share their expertise and knowledge on topics other than diversity with the various school library-focused organizations I work with. The presentation by K.C. Boyd for AASL on microaggressions brought this to my attention as she shared she is frequently asked to speak about diversity but has a wide range of other expertise to share.
- Seek out diverse perspectives and reflections. I want to make sure that I listen to and learn from people who are sharing their experiences with systemic racism. I also want to make sure that I listen to and learn from people, like me, who are seeking to do more about the long roots systemic racism has had in our country.
One of the ways I am doing this is by listening to podcasts from people I respect as they explore their thoughts about and have conversations with others about systemic racism. I truly appreciated Brene Brown’s episode of her “Unlocking Us” podcast with Ibram X. Kendi as it forced me to explore and engage with my own thoughts and assumptions, because they were so honest with theirs. Another podcast episode that really stuck with me was when Kate Bowler spoke with Mia Birdsong on “Everything Happens for a Reason” where they discussed the importance of community. In the episode, Mia shared a quote from her book How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community.
We are responsible for one another. That doesn’t mean we can heal someone or make them accountable, though. They have to own a commitment to those things. But it does mean being there. It means not avoiding our people when they experience trauma, illness, violence, or pain we find hard or scary. It means not abandoning them to their relentless pain and hurting.
I found this quote so incredibly powerful. We can no longer avoid the issues of systemic racism in our schools, communities, and country. We cannot heal others or make others accountable, but we can make a concerted effort to show up and speak up and continue to do so when it is hard or no longer trending.
In another episode of “Everything Happens for a Reason,” guest Gary Haugen said, “People who are suffering in the world do not need our spasms of passion. What they need is a long faithfulness in the same direction.” While he wasn’t speaking specifically about systemic racism, I have thought often about what I can do myself to make sure my anti-racism journey is lifelong. Part of my white privilege is the ability to tune out or turn off how I engage with racist and anti-racist information. I can actively choose to not think about or disengage from it. I can retreat from it if my anxiety gets too high. Many of our students, colleagues, and community members do not have that luxury. They deserve our faithfulness in this journey.
I will not let my anti-racist journey be a spasm of passion. I will continue to search for the next right thing, because this is a journey that has no end.
Please share resources you’ve found to be especially helpful or informative.
Author: Courtney Pentland
Courtney Pentland is the high school librarian at North Star High School in Lincoln, Nebraska. She is adjunct faculty for the University of Nebraska-Omaha School Library program and has served on the Nebraska School Librarians Association board as board member at large, president, and chapter delegate to AASL. She is the 2023-2024 AASL President. Follow her adventures on Twitter @livluvlibrary