Our Bookshelves Are Not Neutral: Black Lives Matter

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We lift up the lives of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Nina Pop, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and the countless other Black lives lost due to our nation's continued dehumanization of Black life. The recent videos and deaths do not represent aberrations or exceptions, but rather are further evidence of a persistent pattern made inevitable by the structural and individual racism that continues in our country. We condemn white supremacy and racial injustice, inequity, and violence in all their forms up to the taking of Black human life. Black Lives Matter.

For those of us who are allies, we have much work to do as we self-reflect, listen, incur risk, experience discomfort, and take meaningful action to address and protest racism wherever we find it -- from dinner table comments to erasure in children's books to voting booth access to legislative halls.

At OurShelves, we are focused on children, books, and the publishing industry. Internalized, and often unconscious, racial bias begins in the early childhood years; none of our children are immune to it. Dr. Ashaunta Anderson and Dr. Jacqueline Dougé report that babies notice racial differences in their first year of life and that children are internalizing racial bias and hierarchy starting at age two. The "Doll Test" created by Dr. Mamie Clark and Dr. Kenneth Clark, and adapted more recently by Dr. Margaret Beale Spencer, demonstrates the devastating impact of internalized racial bias on perception of self and others for all children.

Knowing the life and death stakes of what that early childhood bias evolves into, we know there is no such thing as a neutral bookshelf. The books on our shelves either legitimate the inequities of the status quo or challenge them. At OurShelves, we choose to challenge them. As Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop has taught us, children’s books have the potential to be “Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors.” Who our children befriend on their bookshelves matters; the characters on our shelves signal to our children who is worthy, and who is not, of a place on our shelves.

One would never know that a majority of babies in this country are babies of color by looking at today's children's books offerings as documented by the Cooperative Children's Book Center. The erasure and silencing of Black characters, experiences, authors, illustrators, and others from whom we must hear carry significant consequences.

At OurShelves, we are committed to further examining and educating ourselves and our communities around how we as grown-ups can interrupt the racial biases we and our children breathe in on a daily basis. We are committed to applying what we know and learning more of what we don't know as we curate our books. We are also committed to advocating for structural change within the publishing industry as we advocate for the many more books still needed.

In the spirit of taking concrete anti-racist action with our children, we close by recommending the kid-friendly actions offered by the organizers of the recent Wee Chalk the Walk: A Family Day of Action for Black Lives -- Wee The People, The Philly Children’s Movement, MassArt's Center for Art and Community Partnerships, and Books for Littles: Raising Luminaries Kidlit. Even though the day has technically passed, the need for action continues.

We also recommend the following related and recently-offered resources:

We also share the following excellent and relevant work of some of our Curation Team Members:

As always, we want to hear from you. Please share feedback, questions, and ideas with us at info@OurShelves.com.

In solidarity,

Alli Harper, Founder of OurShelves


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