Welcome to Reality, Friends

In the U.S., we’re getting ready to elect a new president. Neither of the major party choices is great, but one is of particular heinousness this year. A lot of people have been talking about him and his heinousness, but honestly, his heinousness is not what I’m sick and tired of.

I’m sick and tired of all the well-meaning people of privilege who have all of a sudden woken up to find that oppression exists.

It feels like I’ve been surrounded by people—so-called “woke” people—who just can’t get over how appalling this candidate and his supporters are. They are traumatized and scandalized and flabbergasterized. And all I can think is


Me, being so not impressed by your ignorant bliss

People who have lived with oppression are not surprised. We’re not flabbergasted or shocked or amazed. WE HAVE BEEN LIVING THIS AND TALKING ABOUT IT ALL ALONG. This candidate and his heinous views and words and actions are nothing new. His followers did not spring out of his head like the Gorgons’ snakes. They have always existed. They have always hated. We have always experienced—physically, mentally, emotionally—their hatred. It has hurt us. It has killed us. It still does.

If you are surprised by what’s going on in the U.S. right now, then you have been immensely privileged. You still are. You’ve been able to live in a bubble of blissful ignorance, even as many of you claim to be fully committed to the struggle as allies. You thought you were woke. You’ve been fast asleep.

This candidate’s rise to power and influence is not an anomaly. He is the natural product of the system of oppression under which those of us from marginalized identities have always lived. Welcome to reality, friends.

So now that you’re joining us in the land of the aware, what do you do? Wring your hands in despair? Cry about how awful the world “has become”? (Like it hasn’t always been this way for, like, ever.) Pester your friends from marginalized communities over and over about how they’re dealing with all this? (Same as we’ve been dealing with it for, like, ever.)


Now, you fight. If you live in privilege, then this is your mess. You need to clean it up. You need to realize that it’s always been what it is, that you are, in fact, late to the game. You need to catch up and you need to get moving. Get over your shock and get to work.

I live in New York City, so bear with my little analogy here:

It’s like you wake up one evening and turn on the light to find a giant cockroach with bad hair and a fake tan in the middle of the floor. And you scream and holler and cry about how awful the giant cockroach is. And then you notice other cockroaches surrounding and supporting the giant cockroach and being just as awful. And you think, Oh noes! When did my apartment start being a place for horrible cockroaches full of hate?

Little do you realize that your apartment has always been full of cockroaches. In fact, your neighbor on the margins has known all about them. It’s dark on the margins and your neighbor has been covered in cockroaches the whole time. But you just didn’t see them. You had your lights out or you weren’t paying attention or whatever. All this time you thought you were committed to anti-cockroach praxis. But they’ve been there. They’ve always been there. They were there when you moved in and they’ll likely be there when you leave.

Unless you step up. But that means being proactive in combating the oppression of the horrible cockroaches all the time. Not just when your lights are on. Not just when you see the cockroach. All. The. Time. You gotta be putting out those traps and spraying that Raid. It’s a full-time job.

Let’s get over our privileged shock and despair and get to work, shall we? We’ve got some oppression we need to exterminate.


N.B. No cockroaches were harmed in the writing of this post. Also, I apologize to cockroaches everywhere for comparing them to a “basket of deplorables.”


Making the Local Global: The Colonialism of Scholarly Communication

Last week, I was invited to participate in a meeting of the Force11 Scholarly Commons Working Group in San Diego, California, U.S.A. The group, consisting of a mix of researchers, librarians, publishers, and other stakeholders has been using grant funds to examine what it would look like to build a commons centered on open scholarship. During a previous meeting in Madrid, Spain, the group put together a set of 18 principles that would guide participation in the scholarly commons. This current workshop was meant as a time to reflect on and validate the application of those principles.

I really don’t have much to say about the principles. As several of my fellow librarian colleagues pointed out at the meeting, we tend to participate in conversations like this all the time and always with very similar results. The principles are fine, but to me, they’re nothing new or radical. They’re the same things we’ve been talking about for ages.

What I found more interesting about this meeting, on the other hand, was the way in which the conversation was structured and the power and space differentials between and among those with privilege and power and those without.

This scholarly communication conversation, like virtually all other scholarly communication conversations, was centered around, directed by, and saturated in the values and ideals of the white North American and Western European, neoliberal researcher. While there were several people present from other knowledge traditions—and the group leaders congratulated themselves again and again during the course of the meeting on the “diversity of voices” at the table—it was, realistically and at its heart, a Western scholarly communication conversation. There was a lot of talk about building a “global” scholarly commons, but essentially this commons was being built by and for the global north.

Which is hugely interesting because the idea of “commoning,” while initially described in terms of white colonial settler culture, actually has its roots in indigenous and native notions of shared, community- and value-based livelihood and provision of needs. A commons is meant to be the antithesis of colonialism, neoliberalism, and capitalism.

Yet, this scholarly communication meeting, like so many others, paid lip service to plurality and global contexts—indeed, to the heart of commoning—while functioning very much like a typical colonial endeavor.

For example, since the organizers recognized that there were those who wished to discuss other issues than what was on the main agenda, they set up space for an “unconference” for people to leave the room and congregate around these fringe topics. Wouldn’t you know, one of those “fringe” topics turned out to be a discussion, proposed by a colleague from India, of how scholarly commons could meaningfully be built by and for researchers in the global south? When it came time to begin our “unconference” discussion, more than half of the attendees left the main room, including all of the attendees from the global south and virtually all of the attendees of color. Clearly this was an important issue up for discussion, one that the majority of the attendees wished to see addressed. But because it was not a priority for the white, colonial scholarly commons agenda, it was relegated, literally and physically, to the margins, ghettoized from the main discourse.

I’m glad I was able to attend the discussion, though, because I learned so much about the ways in which scholarly communication works in the developing world.

For one, I learned from my Latin American colleagues that they are essentially forced to cite North American or Western European researchers in all their work in order to get published, even if/when they have fellow Latin American colleagues whose work is more on point.

From my colleague from India, I learned that researchers must do all they can to publish in the big name Western journals if they wish to maintain their careers; the concept of authors rights and open access advocacy have little place when researchers are literally fighting to survive in the field.

From my colleague from Egypt—who took a 5-hour bus ride, waited at the airport for 7 hours for their flight, and took 4 flights to get to the workshop in the U.S.—I learned that the term “open access” has no direct translation in Arabic and that the concept varies depending on culture and country.

In all, my colleagues from other parts of the world taught me that the Western neoliberal research institution is alive and well and fully colonized across the globe. We’ve taken our diseased local system of scholarly communication and made it global. And we’re attempting to make changes to that system by engaging in the same colonial practices.

If we truly wish to transform scholarly communication on a global scale, then we need to be open and honest about what that entails. As much as we declare the importance of openness and transparency for our research, we should be doing the same in our scholarly communication discourse. The conversation needs to be an actual conversation and not a one-way soliloquy from the global north that gets imported colonial-style to the global south. There needs to be a dialogue, real dialogue, that decenters white North American and Western European values and knowledge creation. Those of us from the global north need to acknowledge the harm our neoliberal colonizing has done to scholarship around the world and take responsibility. Then, we need to step back and listen.

Maybe instead of always having these kind of meetings in places like Madrid or San Diego, let’s schedule events in Dhaka or Lilongwe. (Don’t know where those places are? Well, that’s part of the problem. Look it up!) Let’s truly transform and radicalize scholarly communication by decolonizing these conversations.

One great takeaway that came from this “unconference” discussion was that a group of us are going to apply to Force11 to start a working group to examine ways of building real and meaningful inclusivity to these broad-based scholarly communication discussions. Our goal will be to craft a checklist or set of guidelines for organizers to consider in everything from convening their steering committees to selecting a meeting location.

It is possible to disrupt the way these conversations tend to take place, but it will take intentional, thoughtful, and critical work.

9/6 #critlib: Public-Academic Library Collabs

I’m going to be moderating a pretty impromptu #critlib chat for Sept. 6 at 9pm EST. The topic is collaboration between public and academic libraries. As someone who started her library career in a public library and now works in an academic library, I’m always on the lookout for ways that public and academic libraries can come together. Specifically, I’m interested in the ways that academic libraries, with all their resources atop their ivory towers, can help support the work being done by the public libraries in their areas.

One of my former library jobs was in a community college setting where one of our system libraries was also the community library: West St. Petersburg Community Library @ St. Petersburg College. So that’s kind of what has me started thinking along these lines, but I’d love to hear about more potential and actual collaborations happening out there.

This is going to be a very informal chat—well, they’re all informal, but this one will be even more so. I’m soliciting questions; feel free to drop them in the comments below or send them my way on Twitter.

Here are some of the questions I’ve gotten so far (thanks, all!):

  1. How can academic libraries support public libraries with research? (from @janeschmidt)
  2. How can academic libraries be more aware of and help out with public library advocacy? (from @chiuchiutrain)
  3. How can big research university libraries share with community colleges as well as public libraries? (from @sunnykins)

Keep those questions coming! And join me on Tuesday, Sept. 6 at 9pm EST!

More Thoughts on Diversity Initiatives in LIS

The National Diversity in Libraries conference has been over for almost two weeks, but I’m still reflecting on all I encountered there. What a great time.

Right now, I’ve been thinking about some conversations and presentations that arose as a response to my article in In The Library With the Lead Pipe on diversity initiatives in LIS. During our panel on “Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Workforce,” Mark Puente pushed back on my assertion that diversity initiatives have been largely unsuccessful in increasing the numbers of librarians of color, noting that to date ARL programs have helped over 440 underrepresented librarians in entering the workforce. He also talked a bit about the intangible benefits these programs have provided for librarians from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups: Being a part of a program cohort provides many opportunities for peer and informal mentoring and networking, which is vital for librarians of color who very often end up working isolated in a profession that is 97% white.

In their poster session “Beyond Diversity ARL Initiatives: Peer Mentoring,”Genevia Chamblee-Smith and Christian Minter also picked up on this thread, detailing their in-depth focus group/interview research with current and former program participants on their experiences with peer mentoring as a result of participation in these programs. As a former participant in an LIS diversity program myself (2012 Spectrum), I can attest to the importance of these networking and mentoring opportunities.

Ultimately, we all agreed that more can and should be done to increase both recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups in our profession. But for Puente, Chamblee-Smith, Minter, and others, it was also important to note the successes, however intangible they might seem.

I agree. But. But. The conversations also got me thinking. Because throughout the conference—and indeed this happens at any library conference whenever I attend sessions that focus on how program participants feel about their diversity initiatives—I noticed one glaring fact: Many, many, many of these participants are repeat participants. It is more than common to have someone begin a panel discussion on diversity initiatives by saying, “Hi, I’m a 2012 Spectrum Scholar, and I participated in the Mosaic, IRDW, and CEP programs.”

Don’t get me wrong. That’s great. I’m glad people are taking advantage of and enjoying these programs. But it also makes me wonder, of the 440 participants that have come through, how many are actually unique participants of a diversity program? For every repeat participant, how many folks didn’t/couldn’t participate because they were unable to meet the application requirements that are, as I argue in my article, rooted in our system of whiteness and false meritocracy?

And when it comes to the mentoring and networking opportunities—again, who’s missing out? Which of our could-be colleagues, who are otherwise perfectly qualified to do the work of librarians, are missing out on these opportunities to learn and connect because they were unable to get transcripts in on time? Or couldn’t come up with a professor with whom they were close enough to get a recommendation?

The fact is, once you participate in one of these programs, you become exponentially more adept at successfully applying for and entering any of the other programs. You’re in a unique position to leverage your peer mentoring and networks to put forward a stellar application for any number of other opportunities. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that. More power to those folks. But we still have to ask about who’s missing out.

So, those are my thoughts. A quick note to close out, though. As I said during our panel discussion and several times after publishing my article, none of my thoughts are a critique of the incredible work done by the inimitable Mark Puente. To the extent anyone reads critique of diversity initiatives as a direct critique of Mark, well, you’re demonstrating our problem right there. Improving diversity in our profession should not and cannot be the job of one lonely man of color. That’s ludicrous. These critiques are meant for us all. They are meant for all of our initiatives: the ones put forward by our national organizations, but also the ones cooked up in our local institutions.

We should all be asking that essential question: Who is being left out? And then, we need to work together to make things better.

Look It Up *Wavy Hand Emoji*

My mother is an educator by trade. And my father believes in doing your own hard work. Put the two together and often when we had questions about stuff growing up, our parents encouraged us to seek out the answers on our own. Not that they wouldn’t help us tackle difficult questions, but they also saw the importance in teaching us how to find the answers we sought. Teach a kid to fish and all that.

Nowadays, as “grown-@ss people” (Mama Hathcock, 2016), my parents don’t even try to be gentle about it anymore. In fact, a common meme in our family is an image of Mama waving her perfectly-manicured hand back and forth in a dismissive wave and saying, “Look it up. I’m done.”


Waving Hand Emoji from Mihika P. on Google+

Last week, I went to NDLC and spoke a couple times. It was a wonderful conference, and I had a great time; but there did seem to be a common theme that kept surfacing: The fatigue of those from marginalized identities as a result of constantly being expected to educate those with privilege. As a fellow black woman said during dinner one evening, “I’m just tired.”

The fact is there are simply too many situations that spring up in our institutions/organizations/conferences that look like this:

Nonindigenous person: Please, teach me about the effects of colonialism. Like, what’s the deal with that Dakota pipeline?

Indigenous person dragging self up through pain and degradation from modern effects of historical trauma and continuing settler violence: Uh, ok, sure. I mean, there’s all kinds of information on the internet about it. And I’m kinda busy fighting against the day-to-day marginalization of my people in a world that thinks we’re all just characters in some racist cartoon, but by all means, let me take some time and energy to educate you…


Cisgender person: Gee, why’s everyone talking about bathrooms all of a sudden? Can you fill me in on why this so important?

Genderqueer person tightly and painfully holding on to bladder muscles because they don’t feel safe enough to risk being gender policed in the binary restrooms, which are the only facilities available: Ummmmm, ok. I’m in physical pain and discomfort right now because there’s nowhere safe for me to go engage in basic human bodily functions, but sure, let me just take a moment and educate you on why my physical existence matters…


White person: People of color are are always talking about racism and how they’re offended by stuff. But isn’t there a limit to how racist something can be? Like, explain to me how and why exactly you get to decide? I’m really asking ‘cuz I wanna learn.

Black person closing up news app after reading about yet another unarmed black person shot by police for no other reason than they were black and thinking fearfully about their own lives and the lives of their friends and families: Uh, have you been watching the news? I’m really scared for my physical safety right now; it’s like people who look like me are being hunted down by the state on a daily basis. But, sure, let me put those things aside to teach you a few things…


Able-bodied person: Why are disability politics a thing? When you think about it, aren’t we all disabled in some way?

Person with a disability who has just spent virtually every waking minute of the day trying to navigate a world that has made pretty much zero attempt at accommodating their needs while privileged others whiz through without a second thought: Riiiiight, I’m really exhausted from just trying to live in this world, but uh, let me gather some of my remaining spoons to educate you on why my life matters…

There are so many other examples I could name, but I’m sure you get the point. These conversations are annoying and exhausting and we need to do something about them.

What can we do? Well, if you’re someone with privilege who is really looking to learn, follow my Mama’s advice and “Look it up.” It’s really not hard. The hard part is actually doing something about what you learn. Making real change in the way you relate to marginalized people in your world.

Which leads to the other thing people with privilege can do: Be a good ally and offer to take on these 101 lessons. Give marginalized folks a break and educate your fellow people of privilege. Pull them aside and offer to explain the basics so already exhausted marginalized folks don’t have to. That is a huge help.

Let’s make a point of remembering that people from marginalized identities aren’t here for our education or edification. They are not responsible for helping us to learn. Learning is our own responsibility as “grown-@ss people.” So, if we’ve got a question and want to fill in our gaps, let’s just take the time to “look it up.”


A Lot’s In a Name, Romeo

I’m sitting in my office diving into Hope Olson’s “The Power to Name: Representation in Library Catalogs” and thinking about the power of naming.

Yesterday, I taught a pre-college library instruction course to a group of students entering their freshmen year in the fall. They’ve gotten a jump-start on their studies over the summer to help with the transition. All of these students in my class were students of color, and they are entering into an institution that is physically, mentally, value-ly, historically and systemically steeped in whiteness.

It’s no wonder then that one of my students, while running a database search for her summer essay topic on “concepts of beauty in the black community,” was aghast to come across the following suggested subject terms for her on search on “blacks” as a race:

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 2.34.53 PM

Screenshot of a sample search for “blacks” in PsycINFO

I, then, as a librarian and as her instructor and as a fellow black woman in this very white institution, had to explain to her how our subject headings for academic libraries come from the Library of Congress and, sadly, the LoC continues to use the outdated term “negroes” as an official search and categorization term. I then had to tell her that if she wanted to get a full picture of the research available, alas, she was also going to have to consent to the use of that term in her search.

Having to explain these things to my student infuriated me. Not because she didn’t understand but because they existed for explanation in the first place.

It also made me think about all the to-do surrounding the proposed changes to the LoC subject heading “illegal alien.” Even the recommended changes—”noncitizen” and “unauthorized immigration”—are hugely problematic.

No one—and I mean no one—is a “noncitizen” unless you’re that Tom Hanks character in that goodness-gracious-awful movie Terminal. And even then…no.


portugal street

No one is illegal!” in Lisbon, Portugal, CC BY-NC 4.0 April Hathcock

As simple as it would seem to allow people to name themselves, the established order resists any and all attempts to reconstruct the way we name, organize, and identify ourselves. The power to name is indeed a power. It is a vastly effectual power that those with privilege are always hard-pressed to cede.

But those of us on the margins continue to fight and resist and rebel. We continue to insist on our own names. We continue to wrest that power away from those who would deny us.

What’s in a name? A lot, Romeo.

Pokémon Stop and Reflect

I’m not a fan of fads.

The last book had long since been released when I finally deigned to read the Harry Potter series. I fell asleep on most of the Star Wars movies, including the originals. I played Nekoatsume for about a minute and really enjoyed it before becoming hopelessly bored and giving up.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a curmudgeon (much). I love video games and all things geek. I’ve played Pokémon on consoles from back when it first came out. I like fun.

But fads in general, and this whole PokémonGo craze in particular, really bother me.


“pokemon” by 5th Luna via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

Here’s why: Fads represent what the dominant culture has decided is cool, necessary, important, valued. Fads never come from marginalized communities, never benefit them, never highlight their needs or desires. Fads are always based on what the dominant, privileged group decides is worth focusing on.

Last week, for about a minute, the dominant, privileged group decided to talk a wee bit about #BlackLivesMatter and police violence and racism. The destruction of black and brown, queer and trans lives, which happens ALL THE TIME, was important for a minute last week. But this week, the dominant, privileged group has decided its far more important to catch imaginary beasties. And we’re all falling right in line.

I am totally disheartened to see so many critical librarians, people who care about social justice and reaching out to patrons beyond the mainstream and into the margins, touting the value of PokémonGo as a way to “reach all the patrons!” I’m not concerned about them enjoying the game for themselves. And while I find the privacy concerns worrying, I also realize that those concerns are no worse with PokémonGo than with any other app anyone uses on their smartphone.

What concerns me is the eagerness with which, we, as a profession, jump on the latest fad or bandwagon in the interest of “reaching out to our patrons.” Too often we do so unthinkingly, unreflectively, not taking the time to question and trouble the implications of that latest fad.

The fact is fads are not for everyone. PokémonGo is not for everyone. It’s not for people with deep privacy concerns, perhaps because they are engaged in important activism and already being surveilled by the so-called authorities. It’s not for people who don’t have the financial resources to maintain a smartphone with loads of data, enough to support the endless running of a location-based app as they wander about town. It’s not for people who don’t have the physical ability to wander around town staring at a tiny screen or the manual dexterity to put an augmented reality creature in a red and white ball on that tiny screen. If the focus of our library outreach du jour centers on PokémonGo, then we are effectively telling all these folks that, at best, we’re not thinking of them and, at worst, we don’t care about them.

There’s nothing wrong with bringing popular stuff into the library to draw people in. It’s part of our marketing strategies. But we need to be careful that we do this, as with everything we do, critically, reflectively, constantly asking the key questions: Who is this really for? Who will benefit? Who will be excluded? What message does this send to those in the margins?

By all means, have fun catching your Pokémon. But as we develop new means of outreach in our libraries, let’s also look beyond the fads, beyond the mainstream, and make sure we’re reaching those who are forever on the margins.

When You’ve Got Privilege, You Don’t Need Pride

It’s summer time and Pride celebrations are going on all over the world. Last week, I was in Portugal on vacation and saw the posters and other festive remnants from their celebrations.

Unfortunately, just as Pride comes every year, so too do the swarms of cis-het folks claiming they want to celebrate their so-called “heterosexual pride” or “cisgender pride.” People with privilege who can’t stand to see marginalized groups band together in celebration of their right to simply be alive. (Which, after the devastating tragedy at Pulse earlier this month, is a big f–king deal.)

What these people fail to realize is that when you have privilege, you don’t need pride.

I’ve alluded to this a little in my pieces on exclusive spaces. When it comes to celebrating identity, as with everything, context is key. Folks from marginalized identity need their pride celebrations as a means of resisting the mental and physical violence of an oppressive society that tells them they have no right to exist.

LGBTQ Pride is about fighting a queer-phobic and trans-phobic society that says that LGBTQ folks have no right to live their lives. A society that insists that they do not matter and are not worth protecting. This society already values the lives of cis-het people; we have that privilege of knowing that society privileges us and centers us in subtle and very not subtle ways.

So we don’t need pride.

We can use restrooms safely and securely without running the risk of someone hurling verbal or even physical abuse against us for stepping outside their construct of gender identity.

We can love whom we want and marry whom we want without running the risk of someone refusing to provide us service or care because of their false conceptions of religious convictions.

We can go to nightclubs with out friends and have a good time and come home safely without fear that we’ll suffer physical violence or worse because of our gender expression or sexual practices.

We don’t need pride. We have privilege.

Just as white people don’t need race pride. Middle class people don’t need class pride. People with a full range of mental and physical abilities don’t need ability pride.

Pride is for those who are oppressed and marginalized by society. Those who do not have privilege. But if you’ve got privilege, if you’ve got the stamp of approval and value from society, then you most certainly don’t need pride.