Public libraries serve the whole community.
Every public library operates under the Library Bill of Rights, established by the American Library Association, in part to guarantee freedom of speech and patron confidentiality. Most libraries include those rights in their particular policies.
Patrons and members of the public can feel free to express their views, often through the reading matter they choose, and know that their records and choices are held in privacy. If the library chooses to sponsor meetings, workshops, and discussions, all opinions and information are welcomed.
In late May, the Wilmot Library offered a workshop based on the book, “Let’s Talk Race: A Guide for White People.” Wilmot residents Marino, Prieto, and Fraioli have taken exception to the book, the program, and the advertising and made their points clear in several area newspapers. They hold that any discussion that includes “critical race theory” has no place in a public library; yet, that is precisely where discussions of race and racism might safely take place, as well as in schools.
For over 400 years, the country that became the United States has given preferential treatment to white people, that is, those who are not Black, Indigenous, or People of Color. We didn’t begin with the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution; for over 150 years before those documents were penned, we grew our nation by importing black and brown peoples from the other side of the world and treating them horribly so that whites could prosper. We also mistreated and eventually “moved along” the indigenous tribes who had prospered in their own civilization long before we arrived. We cannot erase our past.
But can we keep that in the past, all those years of enslavement? Should we not feel any guilt because we in the 21st century “didn’t do it?” And if guilt, regret, and remorse exist, what should we do now? Those are the questions that white people reckon with in 2021. Why are we afraid of confronting our history?
If, as the Wilmot writers suggest, some are feeling reverse discrimination, that is, whites being singled out because of their color, imagine how Blacks, especially, have lived over the last 400 years. Always in the minority, they had little chance to free themselves, to find education, housing, and jobs that would continually lead to a better life than that of their ancestors.
If you feel uncomfortable with the history of our nation, you’re in good company; many of us do. So what’s next? We cannot simply say that it’s not fair, it’s not right to present information that would make us feel guilty about our white ancestor’s complicity.
From my perspective, white people do have an advantage, and I think it’s fair to acknowledge that. Now, let’s talk about our full history and see if we can work to create a more just and equitable world. Talking about the past and moving forward in the present is our responsibility right now. And what better place to hold these discussions than in our public libraries.
Andover Libraries Trustee