In the aftermath of the election I struggled to think of what I could write that related to books. As much as I love books, they seemed all of the sudden insignificant, a resource incapable of addressing and/or combating the stories of hatred and hurt I was hearing in the news and on social media.
Books do not possess magical fixing capacities. It follows that they are not going to fix the deeply embedded “isms” in our society. Yet, I find myself turning to books for solace – in search of alternative realities, inspiration or affirmation.
As a white blonde woman, affirmation in books is relatively easy to find. However, in this moment in time it is not I who needs to find this affirmation and validation. I stand by my friends and fellow students – whose communities have been the target of repeated insults and mounting hate crimes – in search of ways to amplify their voices over mine, to affirm and validate their experiences.
In her recent infographic narrating The Case of the Missing Books/10 years of data, Maya Christina Gonzalez outlines the “State of Emergency” in which we currently find ourselves – one in which the chronic absence of voices of Asian Pacific Americans, American Indians, African Americans, Latinx Americans, Multi-ethnic Americans, LGBTQUIA and disabled people diminishes and denies a sense of self and creative power. Unfortunately these effects are echoed and (re)produced by the rhetoric surrounding the election.
I reiterate: people are hurting, and books alone are not going to fix the beliefs and structures that (re)produce this hurt. However, I do believe that books can play a role in supporting students. Reading is one pastime that can affirm and validate student experiences. As educators we are ideally positioned to provide opportunities for students to see themselves in the books they read, and to learn about other in the process. We’ve known We Need Diverse Books in and out of the classroom. But as Jayson Flores wrote on November 9th, This Presidential Election Proves That We Need Diverse Books More than Ever.
In his article last week titled Why I’m Done Talking About Diversity, author Marlon James made an important point: while it’s great to talk about solutions and discuss other points of view, “the problem with all this conversation, is that it is all we do.” As we reflect on Ali Michael’s article, What Do We Tell the Children, we can consider how our classrooms affirm and validate who our students are. James urges us to do more than consider; we must do. We must move beyond telling they are valued, that we will protect them, that we stand by their families, that silence is dangerous; we must take actions to show them that they are valued, that we will protect and value their communities’ voices, that silencing historically absent voices is dangerous and (re)produces inequalities.
Books are only one small piece in a large puzzle. But they are one place to start.
- Do more than tell students they are important. Show them by addressing their concerns and creating space for them to talk. Listen.
- Make an extra effort to make space for students whose communities have been targeted: use books to launch discussions about values, respect and self-care.
- A reminder of books celebrating diverse Latinx perspectives and some ideas about how to use them (by Colleen). You can use these (and other) books to:
- Launch discussions about values, respect and self-care
- Talk about how students are brave and courageous
- Consider topics such as immigration and how changes will affect your students and communities in the United States
- For more information, see Vamos a Leer’s other resources for Teaching About Immigration
- For title-specific resources, see our Educator’s Guides for Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale and Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
- Further support from Teaching Tolerance: What to Say to Kids on November 10 and the Days After. “Recognize that safety isn’t enough tell them the truth: Everything is not OK. We have work to do, and we can do it.”