Tuesday, October 11, 2016


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.


Jill said...

There's also a chance you found someone who is a GIANT jerk/troll and wanted to make you feel bad. I know a lot of people who throw fits over things that are completely imaginary.

Christina said...

Here's the difference between you and a lot of other people: You were open to learning a new lesson. I've never read the book, but I'd love to discuss with you what you learned sometime. And based on what I know about you, there's no reason to be embarrassed at all by what happened yesterday. The other parties involved will only remember that they encountered (ah, bad pun, so bad) a person open and willing to see the other side. Not something you see everyday.

CARRIE said...

Do not under any circumstances feel embarrassed.

I would read N the book "Mama, Do You Love Me?," which depicts Inuit/Eskimo culture. During one of my post-grad classes, I read a review of this that slammed it for having confusing cultural references, and I was taken aback for similar reasons as you. But I'm not Inuit/Eskimo and have absolutely no ability to decipher on my own, without EXTENSIVE research, what is "true" Inuit/Eskimo culture and what is not. When it comes to young children, I think the most important thing is "Am I exposing them to cultures different from our own even if it is not 100% accurate?" With older children, I think it is important to teach them to ask, "Is this 100% accurate?" But that is coming from a likewise privileged background.

Swistle said...

This gave me an empathetic lump in my throat on your behalf.

April said...

The very fact that you asked even through the lump of embarrassment in your theist says more about your character than anything else I can imagine, dear Kelsey.