Anything I have to say about Charlottesville will have been said better by someone else already. I’ve been reading various responses and arguments and reflections, and I feel angry and sad and overwhelmed and inadequate.
What I need to write about, if only for my own processing, is being an educator right now. This shit is hard, people, when you have to remain calm and neutral in the face of what is, at best, ignorance, and at worst, evil.
Something I have struggled with for pretty much all of my career in school librarianship (12 years!) is the fact that our young students, primarily white and privileged, are growing up in what they see as a post-racial society. I may be totally wrong about this, so maybe “fact” is the wrong word, but it definitely seems that way to me. They can talk about racism, but they talk about it as a historical event. “Way back in the 1800s, there was racism!” “During World War II, there was racism!” I think I wrote about it before, how powerful it was when one of my 6th graders came out and said, “Guys, this stuff still happens today,” during a conversation about racism. She knew that our society is still messed up because she had experienced it herself, and her voice did more to educate her peers than any textbook or lesson.
There is a chapter of the KKK in my city.
This is not historical. This is now.
I do think that things are shifting in terms of awareness. Black Lives Matter is on our radar, and their voice is clear. Responses to Charlottesville are all over the place, loud and clear.
But then there’s the whole “both sides were wrong” argument, which I can sort of maybe wrap my mind around intellectually but cannot even come close to grasping emotionally.
It’s defense vs. offense. The counter-protestors were only there because the protestors were there first. BLM only exists because our society says again and again that black lives don’t matter. The evidence is there, all over the place. The KKK exists because some people can’t handle the idea that lives other than white lives matter. Defense vs. offense.
I don’t condone violence. I do choose love. But if you are going to speak out against a bunch of white supremacists carrying guns and torches and sticks, then I can’t argue against you being able to defend yourself.
And I DO think it’s important for people to speak out. Just meeting bigotry with silence is not going to work. Letting these people walk through a public university without any protest is not going to work. Silence just sends a message that we don’t care about the people being harmed. And if you think people aren’t harmed, you are dead wrong. This is not just an isolated little group. This is a movement, and it’s scary, and it can’t just be ignored in the hopes that it will go away.
So what do we do as educators? Seriously, this is my question. I don’t have an answer. I know that as a librarian, I can buy and promote books that educate kids about these realities. I can model empathy and inclusion and kindness and respectful discourse.
But I feel overwhelmed right now. And scared for my friends and students who are targeted by these idiots. I want to help make things better, but damn, we have a long way to go, people. If the last several years of news coverage haven’t shown you that, then probably nothing will.