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From 'Inclusive books' to 'Anti-Black Racism' books: A South-Asian Teacher-Librarians' Reflections

As we go back to school there will be many things we need to discuss and get used to with our students. However, conversations and work around equity and anti-black racism can not be ignored or 'put on the back burner'. Please find some guiding criteria that will help us find resources to do Anti-Black Racism work with our students that will help us move beyond inclusion and diversity initiatives, which are important but only starting points in this conversation.

This criteria was put together when I was a teacher-librarian at a school in Downtown Toronto. We were working collaboratively with various school and community stakeholders to create a relevant, responsive and contextual Anti-Black Racism booklist for our school community. As we were researching and gathering resources, my Principal suggested that I write down some criteria/frameworks for the ways in which we were choosing books.

The school library was working to support educators and the school community to have these conversations with students in age appropriate ways. We believed that picture books and our intentional choices in this matter would be tangible steps to bring our commitment to anti-black racism into practice in a contextual, responsive and relevant way in our school community.

When I started making the Anti-Black Racism Booklist for my school community, one of the first things I did was to situate myself in the work so that I could position myself. My hope was to strive to be an ally with the Black community. I was learning about my privileges and was learning that although I faced oppression in my own ways because of my identities, I did not have the lived experiences of experiencing anti-black racism because I am not Black. I could only speak to this subject through my role as striving to be ally.

In order to do this work, we first had to see and think about the types of books we already had in our library space. We wanted to differentiate between diversity and inclusion because we recognized those were starting points in this conversation and commitment.

We decided to make a checklist or a type of list to differentiate between what we meant. We created a booklist that we felt was relevant and responsive to our school community and context. Our goal was to center black characters in dynamic and diverse ways through universal experiences (friendship, teamwork, school etc). We wanted to move away from only stories of slavery, victimhood and poverty associated stereotypically with the Black community because those often represent the community as a monolithic and reinforce a 'single story'. We wanted to center stories that restored the humanity and dignity of the Black community by celebrating and showing the brilliance. In choosing to focus on stories that center black characters in age appropriate ‘everyday ways’ for our students, we could begin to engage in anti-black racism by normalizing and centering diverse black lived experiences.

Listed below is some of the criteria we used to differentiate between the two types of books to do our work. Books that can be categorized as 'inclusive books' are important but this work required a close focus on 'anti-black racism' books.

Inclusive Books:

  • Show diverse people through pictures and words

  • Often promote messages that ‘we are all the same’ and do not go into detail or depth about identity in this case racial identity

  • Do not show experiences with intersectional identities, if identity comes up it is very surface level and tokenistic (maybe just an image of racial diversity in illustrations)

  • May directly or indirectly reinforce messages of ‘color blindness’ like ‘‘I don't see colour’, ‘let's not focus on colour’ which move us away from the issue of seeing colour and one’s racial identity

  • May only focus on ‘single’ story of black community (slavery, civil rights, Underground Railroad, victimhood, poverty, sad story, popular role models)

  • May show a holiday and a celebration story only

  • Can be an additive approach

Anti-Black Racism Books:

  • Help students see people have different identities (race, gender, class, religion etc)

  • Help students name and see ‘race’ either directly or indirectly

  • In some way may help students see the different fair/unfair experiences connected to one’s identity and their experiences in the world

  • Center Black authors and illustrators

  • Celebate and show black characters in diverse universal experiences and settings which ‘normalize’’ experiences

  • Disrupts and moves away from 'single story' narratives associated with the Black community (slavery, civil rights, victimhood, poverty, sad story)

These were some of the books we used to do our work which was relevant and responsive for our school and context.

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