I’ve heard that silences are action and I’ve been passive
In Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts, Brene Brown (2018) says, “daring leaders who live into their values are never silent about hard things.” It is an uncomfortable and brave discussion when we talk about privilege. However, as educators and school librarians, it is a necessary conversation because we are the gatekeepers of access. One of the things I am doing this school year is a diversity audit of my fiction collection. At just over 1,200 books scanned in so far, 94% of my books are written by white authors. Historically speaking, in the United States, there are systems of oppression. The majority of my collection is written by white people because of racism. This series will be about understanding how we as school librarians can disrupt the racist systems in our school libraries.
What if I actually read an article, actually had a dialogue
White Fragility is one of the books that has most influenced my professional learning and practice this year. In the author’s note, DiAngelo discusses women’s suffrage. In 2018, women accounted for 79% of librarians in the United States, so I feel many of us can relate to her analogy. When women could not vote, they had to call on men to choose to change the laws. They had to make it clear to men that there was, in fact, an injustice. People could not talk about women’s right to vote without naming men and women. When we don’t name the groups who face barriers, we continue to serve the groups with access because the perception is that the controlling groups’ access is universal. DiAngelo says, “Naming who has access and who doesn’t guides our efforts in challenging injustice” (2018, xiv). In the book, DiAngelo explains white fragility, how we develop it, how it serves to protect racial inequality, and what white people can do about racial inequality. Reading White Fragility has helped me to see that when I practice racial colorblindness with my students and with my collection development practices I am failing to see my students of color for who they are and the entirety of their lived experience. This book put me on a path to understanding and working on my white identity.
Actually looked at myself, actually got involved?
As a white person writing this post, I am uncomfortable. Discomfort is part of white fragility. “But rather than retreat in the face of that discomfort, we can practice building our stamina for the critical examination of white identity–a necessary antidote to white fragility” (DiAngelo 2018, xiv). I sit regularly with my discomfort. Reading White Fragility was a challenge to my racial worldview and to my self-identity as a good and moral educator. DiAngelo asks white readers to name our race because being seen racially is a trigger of white fragility. In 2017, 85.9% of librarians were white. White people are not accustomed to thinking race matters, but it does. Looking at my collection through a critical lens of racial equity has helped me choose books that more accurately represent the students I serve. It has also helped me when advocating for more diverse books with publishers.
So what has happened to my voice if I stay silent when black people are dying
With the majority of our profession being white, we need to have more conversations about race. We need to look at our biases and our lack of education regarding systems of oppression. We need to use our privilege to advocate for our students, particularly our indigenous students and students of color.
Injustice anywhere is still injustice everywhere.
The best thing white people can do is talk to each other, having those very difficult, very painful conversations.
I think one of the critical questions for white people in this society is, “What are you willing to risk? What are you willing to sacrifice to create a more just society?”
Your silence is a luxury (Macklemore 2016).
Brown, Brene. 2018. Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts. New York: Random House.
DiAngelo, Robin. 2019. “Publications.” https://robindiangelo.com/publications/ (accessed Dec. 3, 2019).
DiAngelo, Robin. 2018. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Boston: Beacon Press.
Librarians Data USA. 2019. Datausa.io. https://datausa.io/profile/soc/254021/ (accessed Dec. 4, 2019).
AFL-CIO. 2019. “Library Professionals: Facts & Figures.” Department for Professional Employees. https://dpeaflcio.org/programs-publications/issue-fact-sheets/library-workers-facts-figures/ (accessed Dec. 4, 2019).
Macklemore LLC. 2016. “Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Featuring Jamila Woods – White Privilege ii.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_rl4ZGdy34
Williams, Monnica T. 2019. “Colorblind Ideology Is a Form of Racism.” Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/culturally-speaking/201112/colorblind-ideology-is-form-racism (accessed Dec. 4, 2019).
Author: Nancy Jo Lambert
Nancy Jo Lambert is a Google Certified Trainer and high school teacher librarian in Frisco Independent School District at Reedy High School. She is a presenter advocating for libraries by telling the story of the learning happening in her library. She holds positions in the Texas Library Association, Texas Computer Education Association, American Library Association, American Association of School Librarians, and the Texas Association of School Librarians. She has been published in professional journals and won numerous awards and grants and was named TCEA Library Media Specialist of the Year and the American Association of School Librarians Social Media Superstar Curriculum Champion in 2019. She is co-founder of EduPrideAlliance.org and she is known for sharing her professional work on Twitter @NancyJoLambert and her website reedylibrary.com.