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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Books about anti-racism and race gain traction in Alachua County libraries

anti-racism books
anti-racism books

To some Alachua County residents, reading is key to supporting the fight for Black lives.

National library and book sales data reflects a heightened interest in anti-racist and social justice books after George Floyd’s murder in late May, according to a Washington Post report. In Alachua County, it’s no different, according to a library official.

Interest in books rooted in anti-racism philosophy, the idea that allies must actively condemn racism instead of ignoring it, increased by 60 percent from May through July compared to the same timeframe in 2019, according to an analysis of the libraries’ circulation system, wrote Rachel Cook, an Alachua County Library District spokesperson, in an email to The Alligator.

Checkouts of children’s books on racism and race relations also jumped by 87 percent, Cook wrote, and added that interest in digital African American nonfiction books increased by 172 percent over the last year.

Anti-racist literature seeks to establish that a person can only be racist or anti-racist, said Matthew Cowley, a Ph.D. candidate at the UF College of Education.

“It argues that people can either support racism directly and/or indirectly by being ignorant, or they can actively work against racism,” Cowley said. “Silence is complicity, as doing nothing will continue to uphold racist systems embedded into our nation.”

Cowley will teach an (Un)Common Read class this Fall through the UF Honors Program. The one-credit course will center around former UF professor Ibram X. Kendi’s book “How to Be an Antiracist,” which is also the Alachua County Library District’s most sought after book, according to Cook.

While Cowley chose the book before the murder of George Floyd, he said he resonates with what Kendi wrote as it directly relates to his own experiences as a Black man as well as his doctoral work on race.

“As I was the book, I felt like it really lent itself to discussion and dialogue,” Cowley said. “Even as someone who studies race and racism, there are ideas in the book that push me to think more deeply about theory in practice.”

Through discussion, he said he aims to explore the complexities of anti-racism with students who are eager to learn.

Assh Albinson, an adult librarian focusing on adult education and community outreach at the Alachua County Library District, curated a Black Lives Matter-related reading list for adults and teens.

“To me, a successful anti-racist book is one that discusses the realities of the Black experience in America and does not shy away from some of the more painful parts of our history, while also emphasizing the capacity of the average person’s ability to enact change,” Albinson said.

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Albinson chooses the books for the virtual Diversity Reads book club, created to give a platform to authors and stories from various backgrounds and cultures. Through the book club’s discussions, she said she believes the 13 members have begun to recognize the pervasive nature of racism in our society.

Anti-racist literature with universal elements, such as themes of struggle, family and societal pressures can humanize those affected by racism, Albinson said. To Albinson, it uses the magic of storytelling to put readers directly into situations that they may otherwise not experience.

“Literature is an excellent teaching vehicle because it is about the universal experience shared by authors and stories that help them experience another person’s perspective,” Albinson said.

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Alan Halaly

Alan Halaly is a first-year journalism and Spanish major and the East Gainesville Beat Reporter. This is his second semester on staff, and he previously worked as a news assistant on the Metro desk. He's excited to use this semester to shine a spotlight on underserved communities in Gainesville.

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