There’s blood in the streets, no justice, no peace
No racist beliefs, no rest ’til we’re free
Blood in the streets, no justice, no peace
No racist beliefs, no rest ’til we’re free
Injustice anywhere is still injustice everywhere
As part of my white identity work, I have been working through the modules of Project Ready. “This site hosts a series of free, online professional development modules for school and public youth services librarians, library administrators, and others interested in improving their knowledge about race and racism, racial equity, and culturally sustaining pedagogy. The primary focus of the Project READY curriculum is on improving relationships with, services to and resources for youth of color and Native youth” (Project READY 2019).
In module 1b, they state that libraries and librarians are not neutral. As school librarians, we have committed to the points outlined in the ALA Library Bill of Rights. By having resources for all people and including resources that “should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation,” and that “should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues,” we are taking a stance that is not neutral. Being an educator is a political act. By offering children in our country a free, public education, where they have access to all information, all sides of issues, and equipping them with the skills they need to navigate learning and to form opinions of their own, our giant classrooms are not neutral. It is political. We train our students to recognize injustice through teaching history, learning about health, and reading literature. So when we see injustice as educators, we cannot shy away from it.
The best thing white people can do is talk to each other, having those very difficult, very painful conversations…
Racial injustices in education are everywhere. From the deficit language we use to label kids, to the higher rates of out-of-school suspension and expulsion for black and brown kids. The way we assume all Asian kids are good at music or math, to their higher rates of placement in gifted programs and advanced placement courses. As a white educator, I am in a position to talk to other white educators about how our implicit bias affects our decisions about and treatment of all students. For school librarians, it directly impacts how we build, maintain, and promote our school library collections. Val Brown of #ClearTheAir posted an informative thread on Twitter about implicit bias. In that thread she shared some valuable resources:
Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.
A Few Key Characteristics of Implicit Biases
- Implicit biases are pervasive. Everyone possesses them, even people with avowed commitments to impartiality such as judges.
- Implicit and explicit biases are related but distinct mental constructs. They are not mutually exclusive and may even reinforce each other.
- The implicit associations we hold do not necessarily align with our declared beliefs or even reflect stances we would explicitly endorse.
- We generally tend to hold implicit biases that favor our own ingroup, though research has shown that we can still hold implicit biases against our ingroup.
- Implicit biases are malleable. Our brains are incredibly complex, and the implicit associations that we have formed can be gradually unlearned through a variety of debiasing techniques.
(The Ohio State University 2015)
As human beings, we cannot be impartial. What we can do, especially as white people, is to learn how to recognize our implicit biases and the impact they have on our educator decisions and behaviors. Then we can unlearn them and reframe our own thinking. This unlearning process requires really difficult and uncomfortable conversations about biases that can be truly embarrassing and painful to acknowledge but will ultimately benefit our students. You can take a variety of tests from the Harvard Implicit Bias tests here.
I think one of the critical questions for white people in this society is, What are you willing to risk?
After reading the Knowledge Quest post “Building Cultural Competence through Reading Diverse Books“ by Brandi Hartsell, I was inspired to do my own Diversity Reading Challenge with my teachers. One way to unlearn implicit bias is to read about people who are different than us. Walking in the shoes of characters in fiction, or learning from real people through nonfiction, are good ways to build cultural competency through a low-risk entry point.
This type of reading challenge is important because encouraging teachers to be culturally competent helps us to acknowledge how a student’s culture impacts their daily life and activities both inside and outside of the classroom or school library. It also helps educators become familiar with how a student’s culture influences their communication practices and enables the teacher or librarian to better-communicate with students and families.
What are you willing to sacrifice to create a more just society?
Equal rights for all does not mean fewer rights for white people. It isn’t pie. White people need to do our own white identity work and support others from our platform of privilege to work toward liberation for all. We, white people, need to work through our implicit biases to provide inclusive school library programming and build diverse collections to work toward a more just society.
My generation’s taken on the torch of a very age-old fight for black liberation, but also liberation for everyone. 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 with your parents, with your family members.
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?’
American Library Association. 2006. Library Bill of Rights. http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. 2016. “Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Featuring Jamila Woods – White Privilege II.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_rl4ZGdy34
Oluo, Ijeoma. 2019. So You Want to Talk about Race. New York: Seal Press Hachette Book Group.
Project READY. 2019. http://ready.web.unc.edu/
The Ohio State University. 2015. Understanding Implicit Bias. Retrieved February 9, 2020, from Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity website: http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/research/understanding-implicit-bias/
Thread by @ValeriaBrownEdu: “Ok folks, I think I am in place to thread this out. If it is taking a long time, please forgive me. I am building it live. I will also creat […]”. (2020). Threadreaderapp.com. https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1001189373470265344.html
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.