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Things I Never Learned in Library School: On Being a Teen Librarian 2 Weeks After the Election of Donald Trump

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I knew eventually something like this would happen, I just didn’t think it would be so soon. The call came on Friday. A co-worker, her nephew took his own life. He was both black and gay and he saw the writing on the wall and he was scared. He read the news, he heard the hate, and he saw no future for himself. Just days later Trump supporters were seen praising the election results while making a Heil Hitler salute. (See: At White Supremacist Meeting: Nazi Salutes, Heil Hitler Chants ; White Nationalists Quote Nazi Propaganda, Salute Donald Trump)

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Last night I went for a walk with The Teen. We walked long and far as she told me how sad she was about the racist things she was seeing and hearing in the middle school.

Why don’t you go back to where you came from? . . . .

I can’t wait until we build that wall . . . .

You are a terrorist . . .

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Another friend reported that last week there were 2 sexual incidences at work. In one, an employee asked maintenance to get them a garbage can and they replied, “No, I’d rather see your tits.” In another, someone said a sexually assaultive remark and replied, “That’s just how men talk.” (See: Trump’s ‘locker room talk’ ; Donald Trump, ‘Locker-Room Talk’ and Sexual Assault)

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In the meantime, Donal Trump has met with the press and is already attempting to attack Freedom of the Press. He has tweeted out about the New York Times 7 times, stating that they are “not nice.” He has tweeted about Hamilton the Musical. You know what he hasn’t tweeted about? He hasn’t tweeted about the rising incidence of hate crimes, many of which are being carried out in his name. This is Trump’s America now some say, as they taunt, harass, and intimidate others. (See: Donald Trump Personally Blasts the Press – The New Yorker ; Billionaires vs. the Press in the Era of Trump ; Trump Says Freedom of the Press Must Go Because He’s ‘Not Like Other People ; Donald Trump’s War on Press Freedom)

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I was a librarian on 9/11. It was a scary time. I was in the library, working, when the towers fell. I remember the fear of not knowing what comes next. But there were some things that brought me comfort. The press, for example, was not under assault and being intimidated by our elected leaders.

This feels like scary new territory.

Freedom of the press and speech, those were things a lot of us took for granted. That fight had already been fought and won, I thought. As a librarian, it was – to me – a given. Now suddenly it is something I have to keep reminding myself and others to be vigilant about.

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A. S. King is one of my favorite teen authors. She writes surreallism. In her novel, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, “from ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions–and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying: A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women’s rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she’ll do anything to make sure this one doesn’t come to pass.” The book was written in 2014, and here we are in 2016.

The Hunger Games was a warning my friends, not a guide book. Dystopian literature was not meant to be a sounding board for government leaders, but a warning call to world citizens.

And yet here we are, 2016. Freedom of the press is being assaulted in the nation that felt so strongly about it that they made it the first item in the Bill of Rights. The very Nazis we once applauded Indiana Jones for defeating our saluting our newly elected leader. Men are talking about sexual assault and proclaiming, “that’s just how men are.” And our children are lining up to call each other racial slurs.

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At a recent conversation over at School Library Journal, YA author Michael Grant suggested that now was not the time to worry about little things like representation in kidlit and cultural appropriation. But the truth is, maybe we are here because we didn’t worry about it sooner.

See also: Spending the Day After the 2016 Election with Teenagers

Comments

  1. I am so sorry about your co-worker’s nephew.

    My middle school, which is 55% Latino, 45% white and 65% kids in poverty (spread between both groups) has been doing okay so far. In part because our admin started addressing the issue last spring, and we have very deliberately paying attention to what kids say and do, as well as building some of these conversations into our curriculum. But it’s a fragile peace at best–our local high school has seen ugly words and behaviors.

    I wrote today on my blog about books that build empathy. I agree that the books you cite are warnings, not just entertainment. And I worry that we will need fiction to guide our response to oppression, not just to safeguard against it. But especially working with younger teens, I think there is still time to teach empathy, to teach kindness and awareness and how to look at life from another point of view.

    I have to believe that.

  2. I am so sadden to hear about your co-worker’s nephew. It is difficult to fathom how scared he must have been to end his life, it is heartbreaking.

    It is scary, but very important, to read what you write. I live in Norway and I fear we have a couple of Trump like politicians here as well. Sadly this is not only the case in Norway, I think this is a trend seen all across Europe. It is sad and it makes me fear for our democracy and freedom of press and the freedom of speech. I say a loud yes to addressing the little and the big issues in YA and literature in general(and I would like to point out that a great number of American titles are being translated so some stories reach wide and far). YES to diversity, yes to making readers live what might be the life of another person through stories – to be able to imagine what if that was my life? I believe it is important for the future of all of us, not just in a country in specific, but for our planet and for us as a human race – because that’s what we are – even if some people try to brainwash us into believing it exists a ‘us and them’.

  3. On your recommendation, I went to the library yesterday and got that A.S. King book, and read more than half of it. Thank you for the recommendation. It’s the only new thing I’ve been able to read since the election, and I was getting tired of re-reading my “placeholder books;” no matter how comforting it is to read old favorites for the 5th time, it can become boring at times.

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