Written by Chad Dally
Let’s face it: A library, on its own, cannot change the world. It’s a physical building — bricks, windows, shelves — filled with inanimate, physical materials like books, movies, and music.
A library can be an agent of change for the people who visit — a source for learning about the world as it exists today and the history of where we’ve been as a planet, as a country, as a state, and as a people. Through the materials in our buildings, libraries are places that foster understanding and empathy.
People who work at libraries (myself included) pride themselves on the fact that we provide information on just about any topic, and always in a nonjudgmental way. It’s simple, really:
You want information? We have it — or we will find it — and we will gladly share it with you. If it’s not within the walls of our buildings, we’ll show you how to access it elsewhere. That’s what we do.
This is an intentional understatement, but the world is kind of unsettled right now in June 2020…
The death of George Floyd has sparked worldwide protests and is shining a spotlight once again on the myriad struggles of African Americans in the United States, especially when it comes to policing and police brutality.
We’re also in the midst of a global health pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and crippled the lives of millions more through economic turmoil. Furthermore, in the middle of Pride Month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay and transgender people from employment discrimination.
With such monumental changes happening in our society right now, libraries are an important resource to help our communities understand what’s taking place and also to offer books or other materials that provide historical context to recent events.
Even our public computers and Wi-Fi give community members a chance to connect with news outlets and other sources so that they may take the time to inform themselves.
With that said, I’ve shared some resources below on race and inequality in our society — especially as each relates to the African American community. I’m singling out these topics here mainly because these are issues on the minds of people across the world at the moment. (I realize that it’s a relatively short list. It’s intended to be a starting point, because an exhaustive list would be… well, exhausting.)
Books & Other Resources About Race, Inequality, & Criminal Justice
“I Can’t Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street”
By Matt Taibbi
In 2014, 43-year-old Eric Garner died on a Staten Island, NY, sidewalk after a police officer put him in what has been described as an illegal chokehold during an arrest for selling bootleg cigarettes. Garner’s death, also captured on video, fueled the Black Lives Matter movement that began 1 year earlier with the death of Trayvon Martin, and Taibbi’s book not only details Garner’s life, but also policing, mass incarceration, the underground economy, and racial disparity in law enforcement.
“When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir”
By Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Asha Bandele
In just 7 years since its inception in 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement has positioned itself at the forefront of the push for equity and equality for African Americans. Cullors, one of BLM’s co-founders, explains the movement’s position of love, humanity, and justice, challenging perspectives that have negatively labeled the movement’s activists while calling for essential political changes.
By Ibram X. Kendi
Bestselling author and National Book Award winner Kendi weaves together a combination of ethics, history, law, and science — including the story of his own awakening to antiracism — in this 2019 memoir. Kendi also challenges us to think about what an antiracist society might look like and how we can play an active role in building it. (See also: “Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” the book for which Kendi won the National Book Award.)
By Chinua Achebe
A literary classic, Achebe’s 1958 novel follows the life of protagonist Okonkwo as European colonialism spreads across the African continent and into Okonkwo’s home country of Nigeria. Part of a trilogy that also includes “No Longer at Ease” and “Arrow of God.”
“Their Eyes Were Watching God”
By Zora Neale Hurston
It’s hard to believe Hurston’s novel was out of print for nearly 30 years, but harder to believe the biggest reason: People just weren’t ready to read about such a strong, black, female protagonist in the form of Janie Crawford. Also hard to believe: The novel was written in less than 2 months.
By Paul Beatty
Here’s how the publisher describes Beatty’s 2015 satirical novel, winner of the Booker Prize: “It challenges the most sacred tenets of the U.S. Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality — the black Chinese restaurant.” I’ll just add that it taps into urban farming and a black man’s effort to reinstitute slavery and segregation. Again, it’s satire.
Film & Television
Directed by Raoul Peck
Peck examines race in modern America through the lens of author James Baldwin and Baldwin’s unfinished novel “Remember This House.” Using Baldwin’s original words and a flood of rich archival material, the documentary is a journey into black history that connects the past of the Civil Rights movement to the present of #BlackLivesMatter.
Directed by Spike Lee
Few filmmakers tackle issues of race as consistently and effectively as Spike Lee, and “Do the Right Thing” is one of his best and arguably his most influential. The events, issues, and perspectives raised in this 1989 film — which takes place over 1 day in a Brooklyn neighborhood — are still just as relevant 30 years later.
Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky, John Erman, David Greene, & Gilbert Moses
The legendary 1977 television mini-series, based on the book by Alex Haley, traces an African American family’s history from the mid-18th century to the Reconstruction era. (SIDE NOTE: More than 40 years later, my mom still brings up the fact that she had to miss the last episode of “Roots” to give birth to her son.)
Other Resources & Lists About Race, Inequality, & Criminal Justice
From Library Journal, a list of lists!
A compilation of other sites with titles on race: https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=Antiracist-Reading-and-Viewing-bookpulse
The New York Times
From the New York Times, a list of books on racism and protesting that parents can read with their kids, and a list of books written by African American female authors.
(No New York Times subscription? That’s okay — if you’re a card-carrying patron of MCPL, you can access the Times for free! Follow this link to find out more.)
* * *
The library can connect you to resources on racism — plus so much more…
- Has the coronavirus pandemic made you curious about the devastating 1918 Spanish flu pandemic? We can help you with that.
- Are you interested in learning more about LGBTQ+ issues, spurred on by Pride Month and the Supreme Court decision? We’d be happy to connect you with more information about that, too.
And darned near literally anything else…
All you have to do is ask (via phone, chat, or other means under our new reopening procedures), and we’ll do what we can to help you.
That’s what your community libraries are here for, and we’re happy to fill that role!
In fact, that’s the crux of the Marathon County Public Library’s mission:
To enrich lives by promoting lifelong learning and actively providing the community with access to ideas, information, and opportunities to connect.
That mission, in turn, is driven by MCPL’s vision:
A democratic and informed society must have free, equal, and open access to information. We empower citizens to improve their lives, their governments, and their communities.
Patrons can request items for curbside pickup by calling their local MCPL location or by using the online catalog. For more information on how curbside pickup service works, visit www.mcpl.us/curbside.
During uncertain times and beyond, we hope you:
Never stop learning.
Library Specialist | Marathon County Public Library
Chad Dally is a library specialist with the Marathon County Public Library, where he’s worked since 2012. He splits his time at the library between reference and programming, and generally prefers to read nonfiction over fiction. Email Chad Dally
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I Can’t Breathe image by Life Matters via Pixabay.
Never Stop Learning image by geralt via Pixabay.