Nonfiction Book Review: I’ve Got Your Back by Jorge Arteaga and Emily May
Content Warning: Racism and Sexual Harassment are discussed in this post
“If someone was having a medical emergency, you’d know what do. If someone dropper their bag on the street, you’d know how to help. But chances are if you witnessed someone getting harassed, you’d freeze . . .”Back matter of I’ve Got You’re Back by Jorge Arteaga and Emily May of Right to Be
One day last year I was driving after picking my kids up from school when I saw two Black teen boys being yelled at by an elderly white man. As I drove by, I got this sick feeling in my gut that I tried to ignore but couldn’t. So I put my car in reverse and rolled down my window and asked everyone if everything was okay. The man said everything was fine and the two kids kind of, did not, so I sat there and said I would be right there if anyone needed any help. No one spoke again and the man kind of just, walked away. And then I asked the two boys again if everything was okay and they said yes and walked home.
Here’s the deal. I have no idea what was happening or why. I just know that I live in a small Texas town that has been canvassed by the KKK and I read racist messages in our neighborhood forums so frequently I left them all. And on that day, my gut was telling me that I needed to stop my car and make sure that whatever was happening, no one came to any harm.
I don’t tell you this story because I think I’m some kind of hero. I do not. I tell you this story because it was prompted in part because I have always been ashamed of all the other times that I didn’t say something, speak up or help someone. Years ago I went with a co-worker and my kids to the zoo. At one point my coworker made this fake startled gasp and said, “Oh, for a second I thought that one of the monkeys had escaped from its cage.” My girls and I turned around and there behind us sat a Black boy, he could not have been older than 9 or 10. I was so startled by the blatant racism of my co-worker that I didn’t know what to do, but I grabbed my kids and made an excuse and said we had to go now. On the way to our car in the parking lot the kids and I discussed how incredibly vile and racist that was, but have always regretted that I said nothing in that moment to call out my co-worker’s racism.
Since that time, I have been learning a lot about Bystander Intervention. I was long familiar with the idea of bystander apathy, the phenomenon where it is known that bystanders will often do nothing to intervene in moments of harassment of any kind, including sexual, homophobic or racist harassment. But what I hadn’t heard a lot about was the idea of bystander intervention and bystander intervention training. Bystander intervention is that belief that we can and should do something to help others out when we see harassment occurring and bystander intervention training helps to teach us what, exactly, we can and should do in the face of such harassment.
I’ve Got Your Back is a book written to help teens think about and practice being a good bystander in the midst of harassment. It begins with the basic premise that not only can you do something when you see harassment occurring, but that if you safely can, you should. And yes, there are important discussions to be had and they occur in this book about safety.
I’ve Got Your Back begins with discussions of what, exactly, harassment is and what it can look like. When we talk about harassment, we probably most often talk about sexual harassment. But harassment can occur in any situation and it can include racism, fat shaming, religious harassment and more. The truth is, people deserve to walk through this world without being harassed. The reality is, far too many people are not afforded that basic human right. That’s where bystander intervention training can be so important.
In the book, bystander intervention is defined as the 5 Ds: Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay and Direct. All five of these are about prioritizing the health and safety of the person being harassed.
I’ve Got Your Back goes on to discuss important topics like implicit bias, knowing your rights, and more. Along the way there are mini-quizzes, thoughtful scenarios and more to help guide readers through this important discussion. There are also additional resources and detailed endnotes to help readers further investigate this topic. I do love a detailed endnotes section!
I’ve Got Your Back doesn’t just deal with intervention in terms of intervening when you see a person in front of you being harassed, it talks about things like replying to a racist meme online and calling it out for its racism and asking a friend who tells a racist or sexist joke what they meant by that. There are lots of ways that we can speak up and help change the world and make it a better place for everyone, and I appreciated the thoughtful discussion surrounding this topic.
I’m a 49 year old white woman and it’s just now in the last few years that I’ve heard people talking about bystander intervention and what that can look like and why it’s so important. I’m so glad that this book is out there for teens today. It’s scary trying to figure out what to say or do when you see these incidents happen. I have seen my kids be better at it than I was at their age, which gives me hope. But this book is thoughtful, necessary, and an important addition to any teen book collection.
Filed under: Teen Nonfiction
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
SLJ Blog Network