Act. This is the word that has echoed in my mind all summer. In June, I was attending a vigil to honor the victims of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and this word was repeated throughout one of the speeches by a local activist. She emphasized that it is not enough to simply attend a vigil or feel badly about what is happening. Instead, one must act and find the thing that is most important to her or him. I have associated the devastating event in Florida as the beginning of what has been a summer of tragic events both globally and locally. All of these tragedies taking place throughout the world are incomprehensible, but the events that have been most troubling to me are the ones closest to me here in the United States. Specifically, the shootings at the Pulse and the shootings of two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, by police. Sometimes it is almost too much for me to wrap my mind around, but I know I must act.
I suppose writing this blog post is one of the actions I am taking to start addressing the widespread racism that still exists throughout the United States. It is scary to address this topic as a person of white privilege: I don’t have answers, I don’t know what it is like to live as a person of color in this country, and more than anything I know I am guilty of behaving in racist ways even if it doesn’t feel conscious. It is easy to think that racism was put to rest during the Civil Rights movement, but this is not the case.
As both a parent and a Youth Services Librarian, I have thought much about where my responsibility lies in addressing the issue of racism with my own child and the families I serve. In no way would I push the patrons I serve into addressing this topic simply because it is important to me. Instead, I want to have knowledge and resources so that I can assist families who are wishing to address this topic. I have started reading articles about how to start a discussion with children about such a loaded topic. One issue that prevents me and other parents from starting the discussion is the feeling that we don’t have the knowledge we need to start the conversation. I know that I will probably have some missteps and not always know the answers to questions my daughter asks, but this is okay and something I can actually be honest about with her. I have decided this is just as much a learning experience for me as it is for my daughter.
One way to start a conversation with your child about race is through the use of books. Books are a great jumping off point that address specific issues within a much larger context. Reading books is just one way of addressing a topic and that will hopefully motivate people to take action in their lives towards making lasting change in a country with great potential. There are too many books to list in this post that address racism and the history of civil rights in the United States. I have listed some below, but the library has many more titles.
Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester
Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Do Something! A Handbook for Young Activists by Nancy Lublin
Black Lives Matter by Sue Bradford Edwards and Duchess Harris
March: Book One by John Lewis
How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander