Floetry: The Least

It was literally the least they could do.

The very least human dignity should be able to expect.

I told a friend yesterday that I was “overjoyed” for the family and friends and loved ones, but that was a lie. I was trying to muster up some elation, even just some relief. This is good news, right? I should feel that, right?

But I don’t. Because it was literally the least they could do.

Auntie Zora says if we’re silent about our pain, they’ll kill us and say we enjoyed it.

That’s how they get us, you see, tossing out picked-over scraps from the bountiful table they call “justice” and then expect us to shuck and jive in joy over what we’ve been found worthy to receive.

They’ll even beat us dancing: “Look! What a relief! Let us celebrate together in unity!”

Translation: “I abetted your destruction. I’m not sorry. But whew, I did the bare minimum to stay ahead of the game as always.”

For them, I will not celebrate. I will not absolve. I will not find relief.

For us, I will take this small moment of victory. Find grateful joy. Recharge to fight another day.

After all, that’s how the ancestors got us this far. That’s how we’ll get our descendants to where they are/will be.

It was the least they could do. But we’ll see to it they do more.

Dedicated to Brother George Floyd, his loved ones, and all of our own who have lived, loved, and murdered.

#ShutDownAcademia #ShutDownSTEM

Here is the text of my out of office message for tomorrow’s #ShutDownAcademia #ShutDownSTEM:

Subject: Away and Not Responding in observance of #ShutDownAcademia

Today I am away from my desk and not responding to email in observance of #ShutDownAcademia #ShutDownSTEM, a day of reflection and learning on ways to engage more effectively in anti-racist practice and activism: https://www.shutdownstem.com.

I will not be reading or responding to any emails received today. Instead, if you are someone who does not identify as Black, Indigenous, or a Person of the Global Majority (Person of Color), I encourage you to take at least a portion of this day to reflect on ways you can grow as an active accomplice in the fight against racism.

If you do not identify as a Black person in particular, I encourage you to take at least a portion of this day to reflect on ways you can grow as an active accomplice in the fight against anti-Blackness.

In addition to the resources on the #ShutDownAcademia #ShutDownSTEM site, I recommend the following posts from my blog, At the Intersection:


I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote a while back that really captures where my heart is right now:


Ode to the Ancestors

It’s exhausting Mr. Du Bois,

that double consciousness wears me thin

I’se tired

Ms. Rushin, my bridge is broken down,

sagging, ain’t taking nobody else nowhere

I gotta take off this mask

Mr. Dunbar, it itches my face and gives me a rash

I’m hungry, starving

Ms. Simone, but all they offer me is the trauma of that strange fruit

My voice is hoarse and I don’t wanna sing no more

Ms. Angelou, I just wanna break out my cage and fly

But I’ll be alright

Ms. Clifton, we’ll celebrate this life I have shaped

I’ll be okay

Mr. Hughes, that dream deferred is still a dream comin

I thrive

Ancestors, because your legacy is my strength

In solidarity,

AH

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.

Your Learning Hurts

I’m in yet another diversity training.

It could be today or yesterday or three years ago or probably two years hence. The timing doesn’t matter, the details don’t matter. The experience is the same.

It’s a good training. The facilitators are thoughtful and probing; the material is challenging. But one thing is the same.

Other people’s learning hurts. I keep coming back again and again to Kate Rushin’s The Bridge Poem, feeling like my back is breaking under the weight of white people’s learning.

Every anecdote, every question, every look of bewilderment is a tiny microaggressive knife stuck in, cut by cut, wrought on my body and soul, already sore from ancestral trauma. And that’s just after I get into the room. That’s not counting the news I’ve read, the encounters I’ve had on my commute, the experiences that have swarmed me just by virtue of opening my eyes to begin another day.

Yet I have to sit in this room and smile and be tender and gentle, while the white fragility and the defensiveness and the skepticism washes over me like a bath of the hot acid of assimilation, anything to wash away that part of me, my Blackness, that is good for our diversity but too much for their comfort. I have to sit in this room and smile and be tender and gentle while my white colleagues struggle and strain and strive to talk about literally anything else but that which is my affliction and my pride, my blessing and my curse, day in and day out.

There are parts of my physical self that I don’t have the luxury of ignoring. Again and again, I am confronted with the realities of how I move about in this world that was not made for me, never made for me. There are parts of my identity that I don’t have the luxury of acknowledging because they get swallowed in my attempt to stay ahead of my racial life. It is a privilege I have and I use liberally, just to get through the next day. And yet my heart aches for my fam who walk in their intersectional identities, by choice or not, and slog through that matrix of domination and oppression Patricia Hill Collins named for us.

I want to explore other aspects of who I am. And I want to rage over the way the world treats my Blackness. I want to be the angry Black woman. I want to be more. Sometimes, I want to be less. But by my own choosing.

I’m just tired of sitting in this room and smiling and being tender and gentle. I want to be done with all that.

I want y’all to learn without killing me. Do you think you can manage that?

Floetry: Ode to the Ancestors

It’s exhausting 
Mr. Du Bois, that double consciousness wears me thin
I’se tired
Ms. Rushin, my bridge is broken down, sagging, ain’t taking nobody else nowhere 
I gotta take off this mask
Mr. Dunbar, it itches my face and gives me a rash
I’m hungry, starving
Ms. Simone, but all they offer me is the trauma of that strange fruit
My voice is hoarse and I don’t wanna sing no more
Ms. Angelou, I just wanna break out my cage and fly
But I’ll be alright
Ms. Clifton, we’ll celebrate this life I have shaped
I’ll be okay
Mr. Hughes, that dream deferred is still a dream comin
I thrive
Ancestors, because your legacy is my strength

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.

 

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

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.