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Special Interest Group Archive: EDI SIG 6/9/2021

These are the notes from meetings dating back to 2015.

June 9, 2021

The meeting was held on June 9, 2021 via Zoom. The facilitators were Tracy Dunstan and Morgan Strand of Nyack Public Library


Question: Can you remember the first time you found your own story in a book?


  • Moderators both said it was in college

  • Participant said came close when they read American Born Chinese in middle school

  • Participant said around age 6 when she read Ramona Cleary

  • Another participant said that there was Addy the Black American Girl Doll whose experiences weren’t like hers but she was a Black character even though her background was not entirely relatable

  • Point: just because a character is non-white doesn’t mean they are relatable to non-white kids - need multiple stories so kids can find their own niches.

  • Are You There God, it’s me Margaret? 1st time a character was a Jewish girl and the book wasn’t about the Holocaust

  • Several participants said they pretended that Hermione was mixed-race

  • A self-identified white participant said that she always had characters like her but didn’t connect as personal story until she read Sweet Valley Kids

  • When kids can relate to the characters, they invest focus & attention on reading.

  • Token characters that are not white are single story & for kids of color if/when they can’t relate to that token, they can feel as though there’s something wrong with them.


Bead Exercise

Participants had a range of beads from 18 - 34

Sometimes people had to choose identities when trying to decide if a statement applied to them and how.


The beads exercise shifts our focus to consider what privileges we have as opposed to focusing on the oppressions - “Oppression Olympics” concept raised by participant as an example of how unconstructive it can be when only talking about oppression


Participant noted that technology is revealing additional effects of different types of privilege. Digital equity reveals privilege, especially in the pandemic with dependence on virtual


Early experiences of oppression shape perspective even as life may change, still there are perceptions that relate to early experiences.


Participants of mixed race commented that they’ve found people are willing to say racist and/or anti-Semitic comments to them as though it’s not applicable. The inner fear of early experiences of racism as a mixed race person stays, even as different privileges emerge in life as get older


Participant’s response to bead exercise was that initially realized how much had internalized how people react to her -- so being treated poorly led to thinking were deserving of the racist, negative treatment / comments -- and - that led her to think about how others might be internalizing “how I see them”


When you don’t match others’ single story of an identity, you get questioned.


Privilege means that when you’re mistreated, you can brush it off as others were just being jerks in that moment versus less privilege means when you’re mistreated, you need to wonder if it’s poor treatment due to racism/ sexism/ et al.


Also have the opposite. So when you get a promotion or something positive happens, people assume it’s because of your identity, not your work or achievements


It can be difficult to know when something that happens is microagression and conscious or unconscious bias or lack of leadership/ management skills.


Participants agreed that generally speaking people in the US are afraid to talk about race. Why?

Guilt and how people  - especially white people - don’t want to be uncomfortable


Participant suggested that use the bead exercise by non-profits, even when recruiting volunteers. Thinks that it would work well as a recruitment tool.


Bead exercise used in schools, workplaces, at trainings.


Participant suggested can use bead exercise as a way to help white people who might be afraid of conversations that address race - exercise maintains that privilege has many facets


Assumption that people all have digital access is an expression of privilege - so need always use also physical copies


Technology reveals multiple privileges - both whether or not you have it AND whether or not you know how to use it even if you do have it.


Ageism - at both ends - and is revealed a lot with technology issues


This is a reason to retain the call in option on Zoom meetings and programs.


Participant comments that her library’s Braille book collection not used much, but keeping is because when that person who needs it comes in - it will be ready for them.


Another participant said that her library’s Braille collection is important even for the kids who don’t need it - familiarize kids with ways people communicate. Her library has a kit with Braille slate and stylus so kids can learn to write in Braille. Learning how others live at young age builds compassion for differences.


Nyack Day of Discovery events in the past allowed kids to interact with wheelchairs and other mobility assistive devices


Similar reasons participants noted to have library programs in ASL or teaching ASL - and don’t forget about BSL Black Sign Language because Black people weren’t allowed to attend the big schools where ASL originated, so Black people developed their own signs.


Recommended video on Netflix - Deaf U - does a good job of showing privileges within a culture also.


Question: Diversity Audits - Have people done them and how?

  • One librarian did her library’s picture book collection - finding weaknesses and gaps to inform both weeding and future buying. Wrote a grant to get extra collection money to develop collection to be more inclusive

  •  Nyack is going through the entire collection, one section at a time.

How did people learn how to do diversity audits?

  • Webinar courses

  • SLJ articles

  • Southeastern is working with ESLN to put together a presentation for fall or 2022.



Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche video:

  • Talked about danger of single narrative/ story about other people, places, et al.

  • Grew up in Nigeria, early reader & writer

  • At 7 wrote stories of her own that reflected the stories she had access to - all characters with British, setting was England, food, weather, concerns, etc. All reflected the British framework of the books she had to read.

  • Children are vulnerable in the face of the stories books tell

  • Few African books were available to her as a child but when she found some they caused a shift in her thinking. She now realized that girls like her/ people like her could be characters in books.

  • Point: Prior to finding African books, she did not know that people like her existed in literature. Literature belonged to British people because those were the books she had to read.

  • Another example of how single story works comes from her perceptions of her family’s “house boy” and her ideas of poverty. Her mom reinforced that houseboy’s family was poor. Being poor had one very sad meaning, so when she visited the houseboy and his family, she was shocked that they had beautiful things that they’d made. 

  • When she went to college in Vermont, her roommate’s questions revealed that she had a single story of Africa and Africans that prompted patronizing pity.

  • Only when living in US that she realized she had an identity as “African” for people as prior to such direct interactions with US single story of Africa, she had thought of herself as Nigerian

  • Western literature confirms & created single story of Africa: quotes John Lock a British merchant described Africans as people without heads - think also of Rudyard Kipling who infantilized and demonized the Africans he wrote about.

  • US roommate and others - even professors - at college had grown up knowing and thinking only one story about what it means to be from Africa or African.

  • A professor told her that her novel wasn’t authentically African because the characters were middle class, owned cars - basically, she said her characters were too much like her professor and so he didn’t recognize them as African per his single story concept.

  • She experienced effects of single story within her own mind when she went to Mexico for the first time and felt surprise, then shame as she realized that she’d imbibed the single story of Mexican people as “abject immigrants” but she was confronted with the reality that many were keen to stay in Mexico

  • Single Stories are a consequence of POWER because those in power will have more stories about themselves and produce no stories or only one about others. 

  • Example: US cultural domination means that she had access to many different stories about the US & Americans before college that allowed for a diversity of perception and context once she got there. 

  • People in power default to negative stories about others because telling only negative stories flattens people’s experiences

  • Problem with stereotyping, she says, is not that they aren’t true necessarily, but that they are a wholly inadequate/ incomplete representation

  • We need to expand narratives so that there are multiple stories because single stories will always emphasize differences, not commonalities. In order to see commonalities, need to have multiple narratives

  • She calls for a balance of stories - in situations where government or infrastructure is lacking - look for the stories of how people thrive in spite of those things

  • Stories can be used to empower and humanize others

  • Final quotation “When we reject single stories, we regain a kind of paradise.”

Southeastern NY Library Resources Council
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Phone: (845) 883-9065