Beyond Our Shelves
Take out a sheet of paper and something to write with. I’m serious. I’ll wait on you. Got it? Good. Let’s go.
Write down the names of the 5 people who are closest to you, not including children or your partner/spouse. Now, take a moment to reflect on the race, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status of those five people. In what ways are they similar to you? In what ways are they different from you?
Each of us is naturally drawn to and forms relationships with those who we share commonalities with but limiting our social circles to those who are like us helps to create an echo chamber. This echo chamber is often reinforced by the media we consume — a chamber that can, if we are not vigilant, allow our biases to operate unchecked. When Chimamanda Adiche says, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. . .” I immediately wonder how many of us have incomplete stories about the world we live in because of who we spend our time with—more importantly who we DON’T spend our time with.
Then, as an literacy educator, I immediately think about the implications for our classrooms. More and more, I am seeing educators take a critical lens to their libraries and the messages about our world and those who live in it that are challenged or reinforced there. But I feel like we are stopping short, and in some instances missing the point all together.
You can have a variety of races, abilities, gender identities, etc. represented on your shelves and still be racist, prejudiced, or homophobic in your practice and the way in which you live your life. If we stop at the presence of diverse (read my thoughts on that word here) literature on our shelves, we have missed the point. I fear that some of us have approached acquiring literature that accurately represents individuals from marginalized groups, like going out and looking for insert marginalized group friends. See, if you walk up and ask me to be your black friend, you aren’t going to like my response. For some reason, though, we do not see dropping a book with individuals from marginalized groups into our classroom libraries and doing nothing else with it in the same way.
Lean in, if you have accurate representation in your library, but not in your curriculum and life, you may be reducing texts to your insert marginalized group friends.
We have to move beyond our shelves and into our kitchens, examining whose feet rest beneath our tables. We have to move beyond our shelves and into our places of worship, dismantling the truth that 11:00 on Sunday is still the most segregated hour in America—and merely a reflection of all of the other hours in many of our lives. We must move beyond our shelves and into our lives, because if our shelves are diverse but our lives are not, we are living a lie.