Against the Grain: At It Again

It’s already rough enough being Black in America and the world right now. But then I find nonsense like this.

We already know the libraries, publishers, and vendors periodical Against the Grain is garbage of the highest order (see statement from the Association of Asian Pacific American Librarians Association and the Chinese American Librarians Association on a recent racist and xenophobic article printed, and later retracted, there). It turns out I’d been a direct party to their garbage and didn’t even know it, for reasons you’ll see in my open letter below. Special thanks to Abigail G. for bringing the situation to my attention and helping to raise a fuss.

Here’s a quote in an article from early last month (MY month, no less!) by Kirsten Kinsley, Assessment Librarian at Florida State University, on learning analytics that essentially quotes my work, while citing to the work of a white guy:

Inflammatory rhetoric ends Kyle Jones’ (2019) piece, Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should: Practitioner Perceptions of Learning Analytics Ethics:

In stark terms, April Hathcock argues that learning analytics ‘is a colonialist, slave-owning, corporatizing, capitalist practice that enacts violence, yes violence, against the sanctity of a learner’s privacy, body and mind.’ (18)

The shock value of this quote gets us to pause, think, ask more questions, and listen to some more. However, it also has the effect of intimidating and shaming those who are trying to be true to the profession’s code of ethics while they seek to understand library users without malicious intent in order to make connections with how libraries benefit our users as collaborators with our institution and its endeavors.

“One Academic Library’s Approach to the Learning Analytics Backlash,” Against the Grain, April 1, 2020

(The article’s dated April 1, 2020, so maybe it is meant as an April’s Fools joke, but I doubt it. If it is, it’s a bad one.)

Anyway, I wrote a response to Kristen and the editors, Katina Stauch, Tom Gilson, and Leah Hinds.

Subject: Improper Citation of MY Work in ATG

It was recently brought to my attention that your article in Against the Grain on learning analytics, quotes my work without proper citation. I didn’t know about it sooner because I’m proud to be a non-reader of Against the Grain—the racist and xenophobic rhetoric that has appeared on its pages tells me all I need to know about the publication. Nonetheless, I was surprised to learn my work had been quoted, and then disappointed, though not surprised, to learn that my quote was wholly subsumed by and cited to the work of a white man. As Sara Ahmed teaches us, “Citation is a political act.” (Original concept by Sara Ahmed, “Making Feminist Points,” Feminist Killjoys, Sept. 11, 2013; quotation a paraphrase of subsequent work building on Ahmed’s original concept, by Victor Ray, “The Racial Politics of Citation,” Inside Higher Ed, Apr. 27, 2018 —See what I did there? Gave appropriate citation to the Woman of Color and her work. Not hard.)

Your decision to use the intellectual labor of a Black woman without citing her reinforces the point my original work makes about “colonialist, slave-owning, corporatizing, capitalist practice(s)” in the academy. You may find it “inflammatory rhetoric,” but your actions reveal it for being truth. 
You should issue a correction to the article and include a proper citation to my work: April M. Hathcock, “Learning Agency, Not Analytics,” At the Intersection, Jan. 24, 2018. Or better yet, don’t use my work at all. As many a Black woman has had to say to those who would deny her agency, “Keep my name out yo mouth.” We may not agree on the point of learning analytics; but you will respect my work or you will not engage with it at all. 

It sickens me to have to write this while in the midst of dealing with the aftermath of yet more news of state-sanctioned violence against Black people in this country. Yet here we are. 

I guess I shouldn’t expect much from a publication that already struggles to recognize the humanity of those who are not white, North American men. And I certainly shouldn’t expect much for said publication in a nation where our humanity is constantly contested and wrenched away. But all the same, I’m going to keep speaking up. And if you choose to use my words, you better cite them. #CiteBlackWomen #CiteNativeWomen

Update 6/9/20: I received a letter of apology and correction from the author. Shame it had to come to this, but I am content with this outcome.