Feminist Framework for Radical Knowledge Collaboration

  1. How has the patriarchy affected you?

  2. How has the patriarchy impacted your work?

  3. How have you been complicit in perpetuating the patriarchy?

These were the three questions we started with when beginning our reflection on what has become the Femifesto: Feminist Framework for Radical Knowledge Collaboration.

My colleagues Sandra Enimil, Charlotte Roh, Ivonne Lujano, Sharon Farb, Gimena del Rio Riande, and Lingyu Wang began working on this idea several months ago as a proposal for the Triangle Scholarly Communication Institute in Chapel Hill, NC in the U.S., situated on the unceded lands of the Eno, Shakori, and Catawba nations and on land worked by countless enslaved people of the African diaspora. What initially began as a possible toolkit, quickly, through our individual and collective reflection work, evolved into a framework for thinking through equitable collaboration in knowledge work. We approached this work from our own disparate and shared positionalities, positionality being a concept rooted in feminist standpoint theory. We have physical, emotional, and familial ties to Mexico, the U.S., Argentina, Ghana, China, and Korea. Most of us identify as cis-gender women. Some of us are queer. We speak Spanish and English and French and Mandarin and a bit of Korean. We are students and academics and librarians and lawyers. And, ultimately, we wanted to build something that would help others think through and engage with collaborative work centered on the radical empowerment of the collective and the dismantling of oppressive systems and practices.

Femifesto Wordle

Word cloud of the Femifesto: Feminist Framework for Radical Knowledge Collaboration, created by Gimena del Rio Riande

The framework starts with a set of overarching principles, or our “Femifesto,” that serve to inform the context of our work:

  • Ethic of care/Ethical approach – We approach this work as human beings fully recognizing the humanity of those around us, working with us, whose work we rely on. We bring our holistic selves to this work and make space for others to do the same. Scholarship is not just an intellectual exercise: it involves human beings doing work with other human beings on subjects related to the lives of human beings. We bring our full embodied and intellectual selves to this work as we engage in different ways of knowing and unknowing.
  • Intersectional lens – We adopt an intersectional feminist lens for our work because it is the framework that speaks most to us. We see this work as going beyond an essentialist gendered frame to a more anti-oppressive, action-oriented commitment to engaging with our work. When we talk about an “ethic of care,” we’re talking about engaging with power in a way that promotes agency and breaks down barriers erected against those who are marginalized because of race, class, geography, gender, queerness, and (dis)ability. 
  • Radical – We are committed to destroying the status quo for more inclusive, equitable, ethical ways of knowing and doing. We are activists in our contexts, acknowledging our positions of power, privilege, and marginalization, striving to always learn and grow and to encourage others in doing the same. This is hard and vital work and is not meant to be appropriated for the mainstream.
  • Inclusive – We acknowledge that there are many ways of doing, being, thinking, and creating. Inclusivity is more than a checklist of commoditized identities. We embrace an intersectional lens that allows all to bring their whole selves.
  • Language matters, lenguaje se importa – Language is important and should be used as a tool for inclusion rather than a barrier to participation. We strive to make this toolkit and its surrounding community a space for all people of all languages. We encourage those who engage with these principles to adopt, adapt, reuse, remix, and translate them in whatever ways are necessary for their local contexts.
  • Not one size fits all – translators and contributors should add their own examples; local context is valuable and valued
  • Process more important than product or deliverables – Whatever we do requires thought, relationship-building, and critical care. It is far more important for us to take a thoughtful, empowering journey together, than to reach a particular destination in the work we do. It’s about the “how” just as much or more than the “what.”
  • Importance of repatriation – We work to stop justifying the harm we do as humans in a patriarchal system and instead redress historical and continued violence.  

The framework then focuses on three main areas of knowledge work: 1) Building empowering relationships, 2) Developing anti-oppressive description and metadata, and 3) Engaging in ethical and inclusive dissemination and publication. Each area is followed by a set of principles, as well as some best practices and examples.

Doodle of presenter faces and key concepts from the Femifesto presentation.

Notes doodle from our presentation at Triangle SCI created by JoJo Karlin, a fellow attendee.

Having begun construction of this framework from our own relative perspectives, we view this framework as a potential scaffold, or starting-off point. We want others, wherever they are, whatever their projects, to be empowered to build, remix, reuse, translate, grow, and develop on it, through it, and over it, according to their local contexts and community needs. In particular, we envision this framework as a living document, constantly shifting and evolving—a continuous work in progress—while also acknowledging that this work, like any living thing, will meet a time when it will and should die. Our target audience is literally anyone and everyone—whoever sees this framework as something that speaks to them and their knowledge work. We give it to the communities who feel a connection with it, to care for, nurture, disrupt, restructure, and reframe it for as long as feels right and relevant. We firmly believe that is the essence of how knowledge, particularly decolonized and feminist knowledge, can and should be created, evolve, and be shared.

This is just a start, a work-in-progress, yet we welcome others who wish to engage with our work to do so starting right away: https://etherpad.wikimedia.org/p/Femifesto. At some point, we will take our version of the framework and move it to a more stable online space that still allows for community interaction, development, and growth. But for now, we’re ready to dig in, and we hope you’ll join us.

Let’s tear down the patriarchal status quo and build a more radically new and empowered system of knowledge creation and sharing!

Floetry: Only One

Do you know what it’s like to be often the Only One?

If not, then consider yourself privileged.

You don’t constantly find yourself walking into a room and noticing people noticing you, wondering why you’re there and if you belong. You don’t what it’s like to look around and realize that you’re the only _______ in the room. That sinking stomach feeling of being exposed as a token _______, representative of all _______s in the world.

You don’t know the feeling of anger and hurt and fatigue when you hear people making jokes or comments about _______s and you realize they don’t even know or care that you are a _______ person and you are there listening to them.

Or if they do look up and notice you standing there, you don’t know the feeling of anger and hurt and fatigue when they turn to you and say, “Oh, but not you. We don’t consider you to be a _______ person. You’re not like the other _______s.”

Or maybe the room is filled with more “progressive, liberal-minded” folk and they’re talking about issues affecting _______s, full of their own authority and knowledge and big-heartedness. And randomly someone turns to you and says, “Hey, you’re _______! What do you think? How do you feel? Bare a bit of your soul, willya?”

They mean well and you know they mean well, but your _______ soul is tired and you just can’t deal.

Even when you do call them out on their wrong-headedness, so full of kindness and sweet notes and milk-and-honey to avoid hurt feelings, you are met with tears and defensiveness and anger. “My best friend is _______! How dare you correct me!” You look around for support, but rarely do you find it. And why would you? You’re the Only One.

You want to be able to retreat to a land of other _______s and compare notes and resentments and shed tears, but you can’t. You’re the Only One.

It can be a lonely feeling. Being _______ in a world of non-_______s, of anti-_______-ness.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you are well and truly privileged. May you never know what it’s like to be the Only One.

Why I Do This Work: Agnes Scott Award Speech

Last month, I celebrated my 15-year reunion as a graduate of Agnes Scott College, a small, liberal arts, women’s college in Atlanta, Georgia. It was wonderful to spend time with lifelong friends, visit old haunts, and see how the campus has evolved and changed. I was particularly heartened to see how intentional about and dedicated to inclusion the college has become: what was once a very predominantly white institution really isn’t any longer. My heart leapt with joy to see all the young faces of color on campus, learning, growing, becoming the badass women leaders of tomorrow. My college days may have been a foreshadowing of what it would be like to join the library profession–white women everywhere–but that’s not the case for today’s Scotties. And I love it.

The highlight of my trip, however, was being awarded the 2019 Agnes Scott Alumna Award for Outstanding Young Alumna. I was so humbled and honored to be nominated by fellow Scottie librarians and archivists Sofia Becerra-Licha, Lindsay Cronk, Ann Lindell, and Jennifer Townes and to be chosen by the Alumnae Board for the award.

Image of gold-colored decorative plate that reads “Agnes Scott College Outstanding Alumna 2019 April Hathcock Class of 2004 Young Alumna Award”

My 2019 Outstanding Young Alumna Award from Agnes Scott

At the awards ceremony, we were asked to give a speech. Below is the text and a video of my speech where I shared some of what motivates me to do the social justice work that I do:

I often get asked why I insist on doing social justice work.

Why I insist on making it a central part of what I do, professionally and personally, how I live, how I navigate the world.

April, why DO you do this work?

Because I am living a life beyond my ancestors’ wildest imaginings, from the warm, sun-kissed plains of the kingdom, to the dehumanizing trauma of the Middle Passage and the Trail of Tears, to the sun-scorched cotton fields of plantation land that once stood where we sit and celebrate now, from the marches against Jim Crow to the fight for Black power and Black excellence.

That is why I do this work.

Because my Daddy, who taught me the importance of faith, duty, and honor, gave 30+ years of his life serving a country that has militarized its police forces and continues to murder innocent Black lives day after day.

That is why I do this work.

Because my Mama, who has committed her life to education, spent part of her schooling in segregation and another part fighting for an equal chance despite the color of her skin, raising my siblings and me to work hard, shine bright, and believe in ourselves no matter how others will inevitably prejudge us.

That is why I do this work.

Because my sister and brother, a doctor and computer scientist, work at the very top of their fields, yet still have to combat racism, sexism, and prejudice of all kinds on a daily basis.

That is why I do this work.

Because I work in a profession that is 87% white and still has a long way to go to truly represent intellectual freedom for all.

That is why I do this work.

Because my queer and trans and nonbinary friends and family have the right to live and love and learn and grow with dignity without fearing for their physical or emotional safety.

That is why I do this work.

Because we have the honor of meeting on land that is the ancestral home of the Muscogee Creek nation, lands that were ripped away from a people whose commitment to culture, community, and the protection of the land persists even in the face of ongoing settler colonialism.

That is why I do this work.

Because the children, regardless of nationality, should never be locked in cages but deserve instead to live in a world where they are free to be who they are, how they are, why they are, fully comfortable and present in their own skin, regardless of the labels others may want to put on them.

That is why I do this work.

Because we live in a country that has elected a leader who has no qualms spewing racist, sexist, ableist, Islam-hating, immigrant-hating, queer- and trans-hating bigotry each and every day and that is beyond unacceptable.

That is why I do this work.

Because I have been blessed beyond imagining with a loving family, wonderful friends, and outstanding opportunities.

That is why I do this work.

Because my alma mater, an institution I love, a place that nurtured for four years of my life, educated me “to think deeply, live honorably and engage the intellectual and social challenges of my times.”

That is why I do this work.

Because I am living in this time, in this place, and I owe it to all the ones who have come before me, and all those coming after me.

That is why I do this work.

And that is why I will continue doing this work.

Thank you so much for this award. Let’s keep doing the work together.

 

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Librarianship as Plantation

I was up late one night contemplating slavery (as one does, especially as a Black American), and it hit me:

The library profession is a plantation.

Black and white image of a large plantation house surrounded by Spanish moss and oak trees

“Goodwood Plantation, after remodeling: Tallahassee, Florida” via Florida Memory, Public Domain. This plantation is located in the hometown of my mother’s family going back several generations; its owners undoubtedly enslaved some of my maternal ancestors.

At the top, we have the white people, the masters and missuses, who own the profession like the landowners of old. These white, middle- and upper-class “gentry” stand at the top of the profession with a sense of ownership and entitlement that is deeply rooted in tradition, history, and privilege. No more how many of us “others” come in (people of color, poor people, both white and of color, etc.), the masters and missuses own and run this field we call our professional home.

Not unintentionally, there’s a gender element to this top echelon, too. The master is the ultimate owner of the domain, even when he may not be in the numerical majorityjust as white cis-men dominate the library and archival profession, in privilege, pay, power, and prestige, regardless of the feminization of the field.

Now well below the masters and missuses, there are those of us who have been fortunate and privileged enough to earn the professional degree and who have been allowed (not welcomed, mind you, but allowed) to serve in the manor house of the profession. We are the “house Negros”; we may advance fairly far and take on significant responsibility for the management of the manor; we have relatively close relationships with the masters and missuses; we’ve learned to assimilate enough to be allowed into the mastwrs’ and missuses’ rarefied space…And yet, should we ever attempt to see ourselves as equal to the owners of the plantation, we are very quickly put in our place. We are reminded that we don’t truly belong in the manor as other than “the help,” meant to serve the masters’ and missuses’ agenda for lip service diversity and feel-good neoliberal multiculturalism. But we aren’t meant to bring our true selves, our perspectives, our experiences, our feelings, and certainly not our critiques, into the sacred space of the owners’ house. And many of us often find our invitations to enter and serve are temporary and precarious: they’re happy to have us in a “special program” for a year or two, but we’re never meant to stay.

That’s bad enough, but this analogy is far from done. Outside the house is a massive complex of “field Negros” and “poor white trash,” on whose backs and labors the day-to-day work of the plantation progresses and flourishes. These folks are euphemistically termed “paraprofessionals,” while their time and experience in the profession is unerringly undervalued and unrecognized. Never are they welcome to enter the manor house: their role is to serve out in the fields of the field, their labor and experience kept at a careful distance from the tender sensibilities of the elite. And for those who wish to advance beyond their assigned “station”? Forget it. Again, one finds oneself quickly put back in one’s place.

Meanwhile, the lovely, lily-white, young ladies and gentlemen from neighboring plantations (other disciplines), with all the class and pedigree that is valued in our own manor (read: advanced degrees in those other fields), are welcome to move right into the “big house,” to learn and grow under the careful wings of the masters and missuses. These eligible gentlefolk leapfrog right over the folks in the field, the folks working in the house, to fast track on the path of future master- and missus-hood, thereby guaranteeing the continuation of the privileged and privileging status quo.

Yes, librarianship is a plantation. And if we truly value equity and inclusionif we truly wish to change the literal face of this professionthen we need to conscious and intentionally let go of this plantation mentality.

I want to extend a gracias de mi corazón to D.M. for helping me think through this blog post and for offering me una amistad that truly gives me life.

Have you learned from my work? Please consider making a contribution at PayPal.me/AtTheIntersection.

Value, Care Work, and Paypal

I’ve been reflecting a lot on care work. I’ve talked about the labor that comes from having to invest emotionally in your tasks and in others. And as a Black woman, I think a lot about the expectation of care work that comes from my gendered and racialized existence in this world. Those of us who are not white and cis-male are often looked upon to provide care to those around us, regardless of their relation to us. We are often the ones looked to to be “kind” and “nice” and “accommodating” to complete strangers or mere acquaintances, even when the circumstances don’t call for it. We’re expected to engage in the emotional labor of doing this work, without compensation or recognition, with a willing smile and heart.

We are expected to care and to work at that care for the benefit of others. We are expected to enjoy this and not burn out or get tired. And when we fail in any respect—through frustration or crankiness or not providing the care a person thought they deserved from us—we are quickly labeled as “angry” and “divisive” and “unprofessional.”

I enjoy the activist work and awareness-raising that I do, here on my blog, on Twitter, and elsewhere. I do it in part because I benefit from being able to walk through my journey and process my experiences in those spaces. Even when those spaces aren’t always safe for me or when it involves risk. And I love that so many others feel they can learn from me and grow. It gladdens me to see my work bearing fruit for others’ journeys.

And yet, sometimes value needs to be expressed as more than good feelings and an encouraging word. Sometimes care work just needs to be paid for.

So, I’ve started a Paypal.me for anyone interested in contributing to my work. I’m not putting any of my content behind a paywall, but I am asking that if you benefit from my work and are able, please drop in a contribution.

Let’s keep learning and growing together.

ALAMW: What Happened, and What Should Happen Next

**Update at the bottom of this post

TW: racist and misogynistic trauma

It seems I will never be able to attend an American Library Association meeting without encountering some kind of racist, sexist trauma. ALA just isn’t a safe space in our profession for me. And I’m not the only one.

During Council Forum, a small, informal discussion session for ALA Council and general ALA membership, a fellow councilor, a white man, verbally attacked me. He accused me of being a hypocrite, for doxxing people and making “racial innuendos” on my blog. He accused me of being uncivil and unprofessional (yes, he accused me of this in a tirade in a public forum amongst our colleagues). Then, he ended by claiming that I give him “nightmares.”

There were about 30 people sitting around witnessing this, including the Council facilitators; including some Councilors who have served repetitive terms for the last decade or more and are well-versed in how Forum should be conducted; including a couple of newly elected Executive Board members; including members of the Ethics Committee; including a slew of library professionals who tout our profession’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity.

No one said a thing.

There was an awkward pause and then business continued. Someone raised their hand to discuss other business. Someone else did the same. The meeting ended. No one said a word about the verbal attack just launched against me.

Me? I said nothing. I was struck dumb with fear. I have been attacked by white men just like this person through trolling and harassment in the past. These people have called and emailed me at work. They’ve called my library dean. They’ve called the president of my university. One even sent me a postcard full of vile language. Why? All because I speak up unabashedly against racism and systemic oppression. And now here I was living my own worst nightmare face-to-face in person. And no one was there to protect me.

Please note, I have never spoken directly to this person before. I know from debates on Council floor that we stand on opposite sides of many issues. But we have never interacted directly before the day he verbally attacked me. I have never said anything to or about him. I barely know him. There was no history between us. He came for me in a public space in a personal way out of the blue.

Immediately after the meeting ended, this person tried to approach me. While I was still terrified. I told him to stay away from me. To not speak to me. I told him he made me feel unsafe. Then, I ran to my room to curl into a ball and cry in terror. At some point, I realized I needed to report him. I saw what lack of support I received in the moment; I needed to report the incident and get it through official channels. I knew if I didn’t do it, no one else who was there would. I had my doubts, even about the official channels, but I wanted what happened to me on record. I tweeted about my experience, as well. I refused to be silent and let this slide.

The next morning, less than twenty-four hours after my traumatic experience, I received a call in my hotel room. I don’t know how they received my room number; that information is supposed to be confidential for all hotel guests. It was from someone named Paula from ALA who wished to meet with me at that moment to talk about what had happened. She said President-Elect Wanda Brown would be joining us. I thought they were following up on my incident report, so I gladly agreed, impressed that things were being handled so swiftly. Boy, was I naive and wrong.

It turns out Paula is the legal counsel for ALA. I don’t remember her identifying herself as such. As a lawyer myself, and one who has conducted these kind of conversations before, I feel like I would’ve made note and probably declined the meeting. I know from experience that when lawyers jump in early, it’s usually a matter of intimidation. I’ve done my fair share of that jumping.

In any event, she wanted to warn me about posting about my trauma in a public forum like Twitter in the event anything happened to my attacker and I “found myself liable.” “We’re just looking out for you and ALA,” she kept saying. She then turned to Wanda Brown and asked her to “take over from here.” Paula is white. Wanda is Black. And this meeting was not framed as an official response from the organization: there was no reference to the progress of my pending report; the current president was not present; and neither was the interim executive director. No, I was being handled by the company lawyer, and they’d brought a Black lady along to help out. I terminated the meeting in the midst of the lawyerly bullshit to inform Paula that as a lawyer I knew full well what they were trying to do. I made it clear in no uncertain terms that I would not be intimidated into silence, and with the most ridiculous, baseless claim of legal liability possible, no less (um, hello, First Amendment? you know, that constitutional right that we love to talk about so much in our profession?). I had exercised my constitutional right to speak of my personal trauma. I had not named names. I had not spoken of my attacker, really at all. The experience was mine, and I was sharing it. I also warned them that the real liability they faced was in not enforcing the ALA Conference Code of Conduct, leaving me in fear for my safety. I then threatened to contact my own attorney if need be, and left the room.

Keep in mind, this was less than twenty-four hours after I was verbally attacked in front a crowd of my colleagues. In less than a day, I had been publicly berated by an angry white man and then had the company lawyer sicced on me with the token Black woman in tow. And I still had one more Council session to attend.

To start the session, President Loida Garcia-Febo took a moment to acknowledge, without details, what had occurred. And some great allies proposed that Council take time out of the agenda to talk more broadly about the ways in which racism and white supremacy have been plaguing our profession, and thus, our professional gatherings. It turns out this ALA Midwinter was a doozy for people of color; several of us had to file reports on incidents of racist aggressions. You’d think, given ALA’s oft-repeated committed to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, that Council would jump at the chance to begin addressing these systemic issues. Those who proposed the discussion made clear they weren’t looking to dig into specific events; they wanted us to allow those events to spur a much-needed systemic conversation.

Whoo boy. What followed was about 15 minutes of gaslighting and victim-blaming that left me paralyzed in my seat. Several councilors, including some who were actually present at the time I was verbally attacked, made excuses for their silence, claiming they “didn’t know who was being referred to” and “didn’t know the history or background of the two individuals.” I don’t see how any of that mattered. What was done and said in that moment was completely unacceptable and a violation of the ALA Conference Code of Conduct. What is more, there is no history! I barely know this person. But even if there  were history, there was no excuse for that behavior and others’ complicit silence. None.

The discussion then devolved into a conversation about looking into “civility and professionalism.” But I could read the white supremacist undertones, same as they aways are. I know there are members of our profession—mostly white, though not all—who do not like me, do not like that I write and talk about race, do not like the direct and unapologetic way in which I call out systems of racial oppression. They find my work “divisive,” “uncivil,” and “unprofessional.” Some of them are leaders in our profession. Some of them were there sitting quietly as I was being harassed. When they talk about having conversations about “civility and professionalism,” they’re not talking about the inexcusable behavior that happened to me; they’re talking about tone-policing and silencing me. It’s a common tactic in white supremacy’s arsenal. But I won’t have it.

Council eventually voted to move on with regular business and leave the questions of systemic racial oppression in our field and our events where it always is, quietly hidden and not dealt with. I’ve returned home and finally feel a little of my sense of safety returning. Meanwhile, I continue to wait on real progress on my incident report.

In the meantime, I’ve had several people ask me what I want, and on the long flight home, I’ve had a chance to think about that.

  1. I want meaningful consequences enacted against the person who verbally attacked me, including barring his future participation in Council. What good is a Code of Conduct if it’s not enforced?
  2. I want ALA to apologize and acknowledge that what happened to me at Forum was unacceptable, not only a violation of the Code of Conduct on the part of my attacker, but also on the part of the members present who allowed it to happen without intervening.
  3. I want ALA to apologize and acknowledge that it was inappropriate for their lawyer to contact me the morning after my traumatic experience to attempt to intimidate me into silence (a lot of good that did; this is my longest blog post yet).
  4. Finally, I want ALA to set up town hall sessions with Council, the Executive Board, and the general membership to talk about the way white supremacy and racism has permeated our profession and our professional events. Like I said, I am not the only POC to have a traumatic racist experience during this and other conferences.

We deserve a better organization. We deserve a better profession. What happened to me and what happens to so many others cannot be allowed to continue.

********************************************

Update: After a bit of emailing back and forth with President Loida Garcia-Febo, the ALA Executive Board has released this statement. The initial draft did not include reference to my ambush meeting with the ALA attorney, and a nice, weak, sort-of apology has been added after my pushback. Also, the verbal attack is referred to as “the incident” and my attacker as the person “who instigated the incident.” Clearly, this response is not ideal, but I appreciate its release and the action items it includes.

Statement from the ALA Executive Board

 

We should not – and do not –accept harassment, bullying or discrimination of any kind in our profession or the work of our Association. These behaviors go against our values. Violations to our code of conduct will not be tolerated.

We established a code of conduct because we take the responsibility of being respectful to each other very seriously.

We send our sincere apologies to Councilor April Hathcock for what she went through at Council Forum, which is unacceptable and doesn’t align with our core values.

The ALA attorney and President-Elect met with Councilor April Hathcock in the Council meeting room shortly before Council III to share some nonpublic information about events after the incident in question. ALA leaders deeply regret any distress this caused; it was not intent of the attorney or ALA to threaten Ms. Hathcock in any way.

The Councilor who instigated the incident has resigned and the Executive Board has accepted his resignation.

We also offer our sincere apologies to members who also experienced violations of the code of conduct at the Midwinter meeting.

We want to recognize that this incident has caused a lot of hurt and we are working diligently to ensure that at all ALA events participants are – and feel – respected.

The Executive Board will form a working group to look at Council Forum and ways to make it a safer space up to its continued viability.

We will review the current code of conduct complaint process to make it stronger and more effective.

We will work on facilitated racial equity training for Annual Conference during Council 1; that training and the code of conduct will be built into Council Orientation moving forward.

In collaboration with the Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services, we will coordinate online and in-person resources on equity, diversity and inclusion for all members and for ALA staff members.

ALA and its Divisions have developed resources to embed principles of equity, diversity and inclusion in the work library workers do; see specifics for 2018 here. Last October during the 2018 Fall Executive Board Meeting, the Executive Board voted to affirm that ALA will apply a social justice framework to the ALA Strategic Directions for the next three-to-five years in the areas of Advocacy, Information Policy, Professional and Leadership Development, and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. We are building on the 2019 President’s Program about “White Fragility.”

This work can be messy, it takes time, but the Executive Board strives to create a better association every day. We ask for your collaboration to help us break through the systems of oppression and do the right thing at the right time, each time, as it should be done.

Of particular importance to me are the following plans:

  1. To convene a working group of the Executive Board to examine Council Forum and ways to make it a safer space;
  2. To review the current Conference Code of Conduct reporting process to make it “stronger and more effective”;
  3. To arrange for facilitated racial equity training for Annual Conference Council Session I and to build that training and the Code of Conduct into future Council Orientation sessions; and
  4. To coordinate with the Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services to provide online and in-person resources on equity, diversity, and inclusion. I’d like to note that I really, really appreciate the work of Jody Gray and the team at ODLOS. They do amazing work and help to move our profession and our professional organization forward in a huge way. However, this work is not their responsibility alone.

This experience has been truly awful. To have experienced that kind of personal attack and then to have so many colleagues attempt to turn the conversation into a discussion of “professionalism” and “civility” that aims to silence the work of POC rather than reprimanding those who attack us. It has been truly disheartening. But I am also glad to see this experience serving as an opportunity to move our profession and our professional organization forward. And I am so grateful for the overwhelming support I’ve seen from those aiming to make things better. Now it’s time for us to get to work. Let’s do it.

Why Don’t You Want to Keep Us?

I’ve been thinking about temporary job appointments and precarity, especially as it relates to people of color in the library profession:

Whenever this topic comes up, there are always some interesting discussions to help explain how and why things like diversity residencies and temporary jobs are okay. More than okay, beneficial to new career folks, even. They can provide experience with pay. They expose early career professionals to new and different types of work. They help to diversify the profession.

That last one is totally not true because our profession has been holding steady at 85+% white for the last several decades despite all the programs.

So my question—to all the folks who proudly tout these precarious temp appointments—is: Why? Why is it so important to have and maintain these precarious positions? Why are your institutions so excited to spend money year after year on a different set of POC to do the work that a more permanent staff member could do? Why are you so willing to welcome POC into your temp positions for a year or two or even four, but you don’t want to invest in keeping us for the long haul? Why do you parade us before your search committees, like many of our ancestors on the auction block, year after year after year for short-term appointments; yet fill your tenure-track lines and full-time, long-term positions with the same young, white, female faces? Why is it okay to help “diversify” the profession within your institution for a little while but not for the course of our careers?

Why don’t you want to keep us?

I’ve seen the job postings for many of your positions that you claim require “3-5 years of experience.” Hell, I’ve served on search committees for them. Very often, those jobs don’t require 3-5 years or even any experience. A talented and hardworking POC new to the profession could learn what they need to do within the context of your unique institution (that institutional learning curve is always significant no matter your experience). They could grow and develop; and likely, if it’s a good place that has shown its willingness to invest in their career, they’ll want to stay and grow and keep making it better. What’s more they’ll want to remain in the profession, instead of leaving feeling tired, microaggressed, and demoralized. You take on white people without the requisite experience and keep them and train them all the time. I’ve seen it. You could keep us. So why don’t you?

I’ll tell you. It’s because many of you and your institutions aren’t serious about diversifying the racial and ethnic homogeneity of our profession. You aren’t serious about dismantling whiteness in your institution and in our profession for good. You’re happy to have POC visit your institutional and professional neighborhoods, but you’re not ready to have us move in. You’re just not ready.

We, as a profession, need to be brutally honest about this. We need to stop dancing around these coy discussions about early career experience and shifting budgets and confront the true nature of these temporary solutions we uphold. The whiteness of our profession is a problem that is persistently and historically entrenched. We need to get to the root and develop persistent, permanent solutions.

Hiring us, supporting us, and keeping us isn’t the only answer. But it’s a good place to start.

Doctor Who and the #WhiteGaze

There may be some spoilers in the post. But it’s still probably important for you to read anyway. I’m just sayin.

I’m supposed to be relaxing, sitting on my couch, catching up on some Doctor Who (yay for a lady doctor!).

Instead, I’m sitting on my couch, coming down off a rage- and trauma-induced panic attack, writing on my blog.

The third episode of this latest season of Doctor Who is about Rosa Parks and the American South in the 1950s. Like, a time and place where my parents were born, where my grandparents and great-grandparents and many great-aunts and uncles lived and struggled under the menacing gaze of Jim Crow. Many of them made it out. Many more didn’t. In so many ways, it was a time that feels like foreshadowing of today with near-daily tales of Black death at the hands of a white government. For us, it’s guns. For them, it was mostly nooses. For us, it’s hashtags. For them, it was the obituary section of the local Black newspaper. But plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Thinking about this continuing racialized trauma affects me emotionally, spiritually, physically. Historical trauma is a real thing. Historical trauma that continues to translate itself into new forms and perpetuate itself in new violence is a real and terrible thing. The early days of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., the struggles of Rosa Parks, and Fannie Lou Hamer, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and my ancestors affects me. Their work means something to me. Particularly in this dumpster-fire, shit-pool of a world I live in now, I hold up the perseverance of those who came before me and it is sacred. It belongs to me and mine. It is not for casual consumption.

So that is why it enrages, infuriates, terrifies, traumatizes me to see that work and that struggle pranced about on screen for my fellow geeks, mostly white, to consume and enjoy. The only Black main character left on the show (after they killed his grandmother in the first freakin episode–spoiler alert) gets shuffled around 1950s Alabama by a nice white lady alien and an old white man like it’s just no big deal. He nearly gets strung up for trying to hand a white woman her dropped handkerchief. He nearly gets strung up again for sneaking into a whites only motel. He nearly gets strung up again for sitting in a whites-only restaurant. Each time blithely led there by the white characters who are able to roam freely through this Jim Crow world. (The Brown woman main character doesn’t suffer as much but does get a taste of life on this side of time and space: though she’s Southeast Asian, everyone keeps referring to her as Mexican…like it’s an insult.) The Black man has his very existence threatened again and again, and it’s nothing but collateral in the more important mission of maintaining control of the space-time continuum.

When the time travelers do encounter the eponymous star of the episode, the main focus is on the white characters running around town setting the stage just right so she can have her famous moment of resistance on the bus. Yes, she’s there as an important figure of history, but only provided the nice white lady alien and her old white man companion and their two coloreds can keep all surrounding events in line to allow Mrs. Parks to fulfill her historical role.

Rosa Parks is reduced to a character in a sci-fi show (Dr. King also makes a cameo), a modern-day Black man is tossed into the degradation of the Jim Crow South in the U.S., the struggles and heartbreaks of a people are paraded on the screen—all to entertain an audience. A white audience. Because the setting of the historical narrative, introduction of the characters, and insouciance with which the subject is dealt all suggest that it is the story of an “other” being told for the benefit of an audience that would otherwise have no connection.

It’s the white gaze at its very finest. And I am so not here for that.

So, I’ve quit that episode and I’ve pounded out my frustration on the keys of my laptop in this blog post and I’ll find some other way to relax tonight. But watching my history trotted out as fodder for an alien show? No fucking thank you.

Floetry: Them

“They weaponize their niceness,

I sit across from this beautiful Black sister

And know she ain’t said nothing but a word

Less than 3 hours later

My beautiful Latina sister says the same

Maybe not the same words

But it’s the same

They weaponize their niceness

They cry their tears

Wail about their good intentions

Bemoan our “bitchiness”

Decry our “divisiveness”

All while spitting on our truth

Stomping across that bridge called our backs

They spew their false claims of sisterhood

Believing even their own best lies

Ol’ boy said it best:

“Y’all helped right along with the heist;

Ya just didn’t like your cut”

And yet they are my allies

My comrades

My friends

I should be grateful

Or so they say

They weaponize their niceness

And I’m tired of getting shot

Dedicated with much love and respect to M.S., D.M., A.M.H.², and all the other WOC sitting in the crosshairs.

My Fire, This Time

I’m reading James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time finally for the first time.

It’s beautiful to see my reality reflected in someone else’s words, even over the distance of several decades. In some ways, it’s disheartening to see how little things have changed; but mostly it’s empowering, just as it’s always empowering to connect to the ancestors’ wisdom for how to make it through to another day of struggle.

photograph of a single candle flame up close

“Still” by roujo via Flickr.com, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In his short book of two letters, Baldwin says some things that really sync with my current reflections on life in this white supremacist patriarchal world:

In a letter addressed to his nephew: There is no reason for you to try to become like white ppl & there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that THEY must accept YOU. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that YOU must accept THEM.

and

In a self-reflective letter: There appears to be a vast amount of confusion on this point, but I do not know many Negroes who are eager to be ‘accepted’ by white ppl, still less loved by them; they, the blacks, simply don’t wish to be beaten over the head by the whites every instant of our brief passage on this planet.

This makes me think about conversations I’ve had with family, friends, and allies lately. How I’ve grown past the point of wanting to bond with white people or even be a part of their world; how I’m now just struggling with them for the right to live my life, equitably, fairly, without their censure or policing or gaze. Free in my physical body. Free in my mind. Free in my spirit. To be my whole Black woman self.

It’s hard.

The thing is, it’s the so-called Nice White Folks™ who do the most damage, who stand most in the way of my freedom. Baldwin calls them “the innocents.” The ones who don’t believe they’re doing any harm, who hardily support “diversity” and “inclusion” and “multiculturalism.” As long as it doesn’t cost them anything. They’ll eat our food and learn a bit of our languages, steal our music and watch our tv shows, peer avidly into our lives as a form of “cross-cultural exchange” because doing so is free. They cede no power or privilege in treating us, the very real physical traumatized fact of us, as exotic anomalies for their amusement.

That makes me tired.

I’m tired of allies treating my presence, my very reality, as a problem that needs solving. As if I’m little more than part of a clogged pipeline that just needs a little adjustment over here, off to the side; again, not costing them anything. Sprinkle a little scholarship money here, a program there, some assimilation over here…it’ll all be fine; I just need to stop being “bitter” and “angry” and “divisive” and start being filled with gratitude for my generous white saviors. Who still have not been cost anything.

Yeah, well, I’m done with all that. I’m with Baldwin. Because ultimately it doesn’t matter if they like me or accept me or want me. It doesn’t matter if they understand me. I don’t have to continue squeezing the wholeness of my Black womanhood into tiny bite-sized, white-sized parcels that they can swallow. Because nothing will ever change that way. Nothing can ever change until they’re willing to accept the cost. There’s a price to be paid for the undoing of their privilege, for the dismantling of their so-called supremacy.

And how many of them are really ready to pay?