Performative Allyship & Storytime II

Image credit: Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall (Candlewick Press, 2017)

A couple months ago, I wrote a post about performative allyship as it relates to storytime—specifically, my own storytimes. I conducted a diversity audit of the books I used during storytimes at my branch and realized that I was failing as an ally and social justice advocate. I decided to make a change and resolved “to read at least one book featuring characters of color or another marginalized identity in every storytime I lead.”

After attending ALSC’s forum on social justice practices in youth librarianship on Monday, I’ve been reflecting on the progress I’ve made—and haven’t made—in making my storytime practice more intentional. At first, I was able to rationalize that any growth I made was good. That I was doing my part just by thinking ally-like thoughts and sometimes saying ally-like things in programs. And then I saw the numbers.

In the 2016-2017 storytime “season” (which spans from September to June) I led 15 storytimes and read 30 books.

Of the 30 books:

  • 5 were by a creator of color or another marginalized identity (16.7%)
  • 7 featured an all-white cast (23.3%)
  • 17 featured an all-animal/object cast (56.7%)
  • 10 featured characters of color or another marginalized identity (33.3%)

If you were to compare these numbers with the numbers I shared in the previous post you would realize that, while I was successful in including more diversity in my books with human characters (+7 books = 1 per storytime), I was ultimately unsuccessful in my resolution to be more intentional about my storytime book selection.

Altogether, I used more books with animals than books featuring humans. I stopped using books with all-white casts (great!) but I replaced them with books that avoided race altogether. I also barely added any materials by creators of color or another marginalized identity. You know what’s worse? I didn’t even notice I was doing it. Any of it.

My partner often tells me I’m too hard on myself. But if I weren’t I wonder if I would make any progress at all. If we weren’t asking more of ourselves would white people like me ever truly “stay woke?” Would we ever really be allies?

At the ALSC forum, which was led by two female librarians of color, presenter Jessica Anne Bratt defined allyship as action. She said allies are actively out there doing solidarity work, countering biases, taking “the courage to stand up, to put power and privilege on the line.” Presenter Dr. Nicole A. Cooke said that allies are allies when it’s inconvenient. That allies should move to being accomplices.

I can’t declare myself an ally. That’s not for me to decide. But I can behave like one. Storytime starts back up again in September and I intend—no, I will—do better than the numbers I’ve recorded here. And, more than merely including books, I will open a dialogue about them with my young patrons. I will point out race. I will talk about what (or who) is absent from a book. I will talk about fairness.

I don’t get as many chances at storytime as other youth librarians, so I am going to make each and every one of them count.

6 thoughts on “Performative Allyship & Storytime II

  1. This is an excellent post! I think it is time I do an audit of my storytimes (although I am super bad at keeping records of what I am doing which is the first hurdle to overcome)


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