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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Conference Reflections: ACL Institute, Race Matters

On 09, Jun 2016 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

Last Friday I went to one of the best conferences I’ve been to. It wasn’t fancy and it wasn’t expensive. It was only a day long. I signed up because two people I have been following were going to be presenting and I REALLY wanted to see them. They were Zetta Elliot and Debbie Reese. While I already greatly admired them I came away from the conference with a newfound respect for them. Everything they said just clicked for me. They often make me feel uncomfortable, but I should, if for no other reason than my discomfort really makes me examine myself and the world around me and pushes me to learn and open up.

My biggest takeaway from the conference was twofold. Usually I like conferences where I can take something concrete back to the library or classroom at the end, but this one was different. My takeaway was really codifying my thinking about our collection and making a decision about how I would approach both weeding and purchasing. I have decided anything that has racist content in it goes off our shelf.  This seems really obvious, but while trying to pull things off the shelf I have asked if we can leave things so they spark discussion and had my other librarian make the same suggestion. I’ve also gone back and forth on the idea that pulling a lot of these materials constitutes censorship.

But from here on out, I don’t care if people want to label it censorship or think the materials should stay for historical/conversational purposes. Because unless we are having explicit conversations about these questionable depictions in materials, the kids are internalizing it and that perpetuates all our problems with race and with privilege. And let’s face it, the majority of materials are going home and are not being discussed, examined, or broken down. They just aren’t, plain and simple. I’m sorry (not sorry) if people think that I’m pushing an agenda, but I can’t stand by and let our children internalize racism. No one is okay with that when you call it out, but because it’s so often “under the waterline” as Mitali Perkins called it, we are letting this stuff slip by and it’s not okay.

The second part of my takeaway is that I need to be very, very careful and thoughtful in examining the narratives that our collection creates (i.e. do all our books with African Americans show them as either poor or in historical contexts as slaves). I was already very aware that I needed to focus on this, but I feel a much greater drive to really examine it now. Collection development is not just about getting overt (or even subtly) racist content off the shelves.

I was glad because some of the steps the speakers talked about for incorporating diversity I’m already doing. I know I have a lot more work both personally and in the library to deconstruct the racism that is so prevalent, but it’s nice to know I have taken some steps in the right direction and have started the journey.

Thank you to Debbie for helping me really accept my new weeding policy. Thank you to Zetta Elliot for making me think (and for being gracious as I very nervously introduced myself and tripped over my own tongue while gushing about how much I love your work) and for making me see that I fall into some of the same traps I keep trying to stay out of. Thank you to ACL for such a great conference.

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