I quietly, though publicly, embarrassed myself on Twitter today.
I saw a question, posed by an author I follow, asking for suggestions for a picture book that might make a case for moving away from Columbus Day toward Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Right away I responded with a book I’d felt proud to use in my classroom years ago, one that provided an alternative perspective on Columbus’s arrival, one that I felt would open student’s minds to the notion that there are many angles from which to view historic events. Almost immediately another Twitter-user, one who had been tagged in the original tweet, responded with an emphatic, “no, not [the book I’d recommended].”
I was taken aback, at first, and embarrassed. I thought about just deleting my tweet, but stopped, because there may be other librarians/educators out there who had the same thought. So I summoned the courage to apologize and ask, “Why not?”
The person who had tweeted not to use the book I suggested responded, thoughtfully, and as thoroughly as Twitter allows, and explained why the book I mentioned wasn’t a good representation of Native society. She also pointed me toward a critical essay of the book.
I’m going to be honest and say that I never would have realized how problematic that book is. And it has left me uncomfortable and wondering how many more books have issues with their cultural representations that I’m not equipped to recognize.
I looked back to the review sources I typically use when I’m evaluating books to purchase for the middle school library where I work. None of the reviews for this particular book indicate it is as problematic as it is. So, where do I turn? I rarely have the opportunity to read a book before I purchase it, and I certainly haven’t read everything I’ve ever purchased for the library. I have to rely on reviews. If the reviews aren’t going inform me about cultural misrepresentations and I’m not going to pick up on all of them myself I guess I’m bound to make mistakes?
By and large, I have lived a privileged, sheltered life. Being aware of that doesn’t necessarily make it right and it doesn’t work as an excuse for everything I don’t know. I’m overwhelmed by the responsibility of doing better for my children and my students. I’m not sure how to fix it.
I do know that I learned something in my embarrassment today. I’ve added another layer to lens through which I read and evaluate books. I hope I’ve taken a small step toward a bigger awareness.