Yesterday was Fourth of July here in the States, since it fell on a Sunday this year, today is the “observed” day, giving many people a three day weekend. While many are glad for the long weekend and the reason to gather with family and friends at the beach, by the pool, or in the backyard for a barbeque, and the excuse to set off fireworks (especially after the past year and a half of pandemic living), it’s a holiday that I now have mixed feelings about. While I’m certainly lucky to have been born in the US and reap the benefits of being a white, cisgender, US citizen; over the years I’ve come to learn that the national narrative we have about the founding of our country is incomplete.
Americans are in love with the story that some plucky colonizers were able to triumph over British troops, some very smart men in Philadelphia declared our independence on a piece of paper, a bunch of those men signed it, they wrote up a constitution to govern the land, and basically things have been pretty great ever since – besides maybe that hiccup of the Civil War.
Except that’s not the whole story. We continually took land from the Native Americans and broke treaty after treaty. Slavery wasn’t abolished until 1863, almost 100 years after our founding; and even then it took another two and a half years until it was effectively ended with the arrival of federal troops in Texas and was added to the Constitution as the 13th Amendment. Only now are we at the infancy stages of beginning to understand how deeply racism is ingrained into our political and social systems, to say nothing of trying to fix it.
So coming back around to the whole reason for today, recently I found this article by BookRiot about Decolonizing Your Bookshelf. As an avid historical fiction reader, I have to admit that many of my favorite books have featured characters who “pottered about in gardens, sipped tea and nibbled at desserts,” not thinking about the fact that the sugar was brought to them via the slave trade. Tea, spices, cotton, and many other goods all came at the expense of exploited people.
So here’s why you should decolonize your bookshelf: because the story told by the dominant narrative is simply not complete. Repeating an incomplete story over and over again does not make it whole. If you are curious about the world around you, even if that curiosity is limited to your immediate surroundings, you must decolonize your bookshelf to piece together as many parts of the story as you can.
I encourage you to visit the link for all the details and how-tos.
This is not to say that you should stop reading those stories you love. I learned to read chapter books through the Little House series, and I still absolutely love them and intend to read them to my daughter. However I do now recognize that they are problematic. I now recognize the bigotry towards Native Americans that is present in those books. So when I go to read them to my daughter, we will be having discussions about what was really going on and how to make it better going forward. I will also read some more accurate books alongside these (many people have touted Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park as a good counter to the Little House books, I have not yet read it myself so I cannot speak personally to that, but I feel that my sources in this regard are reliable).
It’s all about learning, recognizing mistakes, and doing better in the future. Absolutely celebrate the fact that we are Americans, enjoy being together with your family and friends, and be safe while shooting off those fireworks. But maybe tomorrow you begin a journey to learn just a little bit everyday at how we can grow this country to be a fair, safe, and equal place for all – just like the beginning of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence says: all men are created equal.
*As of this posting on July 5, 2021, I earn no commission, royalties, or other incentives from any organizations, books, or products I mention or link to. This post originated on my other blog, Ms. Emily Librarian.