#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?

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!

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.

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.

Building and Being Welcome

It’s that time again.

A new school year is beginning, and for those of us who work in academic libraries, it’s a time when our work ramps up. Students flood our campuses and library spaces; teaching faculty race to finalize syllabi and set up last-minute instruction sessions. New materials bound in awaiting processing for what will undoubtedly be heavy use throughout the year. It’s a fun time. And for those of us who work in this space, it’s a familiar time.

But it’s not familiar for everyone.

This morning—as I sauntered through the morass of humidity and the aroma of eau de garbage that is New York City in late August, sipping on my tall latte with almond milk and two pumps of vanilla syrup (sigh, yeah, I’m one of those)—a fellow Black woman stopped me in front of the library doors and hesitantly asked, “Excuse me, but where did you find a [insert name of big corporate coffee shop here]?” She seemed new to the campus and unsure. Even in the course of our brief interaction, I saw that she moved and spoke uncertainly, like she wasn’t sure if she was allowed to fully inhabit the space. I also noticed that she moved past several other people with similar cups but less melanin to approach me with her question. I gave her a giant smile and replied, “There’s one right on that corner. You’re almost there.” She grinned in relief and solidarity and made a beeline in the direction I pointed. She’d found a familiar face to guide her to what I’m sure was a familiar place.

Black and white photograph of Welcome sign

“welcome” by ☻☺ via Flickr.com, CC BY-SA 2.0

As we’ve been gearing up for orientation and the start of classes on my campus, I’ve been reminded of how alienating our institutions can be for some and how important it is for us to do what we can to those folks know they belong. Institutions of higher education can be very white, male, ableist, colonial, classist, hetero- and gender-normative spaces, and for those who don’t inhabit those identities, they can feel like harsh, uninhabitable planets. We all put in a ton of labor in our jobs already, I know, but to the extent we can, we should each make an effort to seek out those most marginalized and carve out a place of welcome in these spaces in which we work.

We should also make sure we’re all sharing in this additional labor and not just relying on our colleagues from marginalized identities to do this work. There is a role that members of privileged groups can play in crafting welcoming spaces. Treat folks with dignity. Interrogate your biases. Don’t make assumptions. Look beyond and step beyond unspoken norms. Engage in microaffirmations—those small acts of encouragement and solidarity that show a marginalized person that you acknowledge and respect their belonging in the space. These things can seem minor, but to a new student, faculty, or staff member who already feels marginalized and out of place, they can make a world of difference.

I hope that woman found what she needed at the coffee shop. But more important, I hope she found welcome and belonging while in the library and that she continues to find welcome and belonging there and everywhere else she goes on campus.

How to Become White Famous

With Jamie Foxx’s new Showtime comedy series on tv this past fall, it’s got me thinking abut what it takes to become “white famous.” You know, when a person of color in the entertainment industry goes from just being known and celebrated by their communities to being super-famous and widely celebrated because white people “discovered” them. (It’s kind of like how Columbus discovered America. Actually, it’s just like that.)

There are so many examples of entertainers of color who have achieved white fame—Beyoncé, Jackie Chan, Jennifer Lopez, Jamie Foxx—I thought it’d be interesting to look at some common threads that pop up when entertainment by or about people of color suddenly makes it big among white folk.

So, here are a few tips on how to become white famous:

Tell a story about famous white people.

White people love nothing more than to read/watch/listen to stories about themselves. They love their accomplishments. And if you can manage to make their stories even cooler than they actually are, all the better. Ask Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of the musical Hamilton. He retold the story of one of the many white founding fathers in musical form with rap and R&B and presto! white people the world over lost their shit. Many of the rest of us knew Miranda from his show In the Heights—it also had rap and salsa and even some Spanish. But nah, that was about colored people living in a colored neighborhood; it wasn’t white famous material. When he tells the story of a famous white guy, he can even go so far as to remake the entire cast of characters with actors of color and white people still fall head over heels for it. (Well, not all of them. A group of white performers tried to sue the show’s producers early on for “discriminatory” casting.) The key, though, is that the entire story is about white people. (In fact, the only actual character of color in the show is Sally Hemings who makes a minute appearance during a Thomas Jefferson number at the beginning of the second act.)

Tell a story about white people being “reverse oppressed” by people color.

Not only do white people love reading/watching/listening to stories about themselves, they love reading/watching/listening to stories about themselves being “reverse oppressed” by people of color. It lets them cross their proverbial arms in self-satisfaction and say, “See, they don’t have it so bad. We don’t treat them any worse than they treat us. We all are hurt by racism.” Ask Kumail Nanjiani, the creator and star of The Big Sick. His film is about how he fell in love with a sick white woman and bonded with her family while his Pakistani family and community, in all their backward non-Western ignorance, refused to accept the interracial relationship. White people loved this film and are really mad that it wasn’t nominated for any Golden Globes. I mean, what’s not to love? It’s got ignorant, stereotypical brown people, with extra points for the overbearing maternal brown women characters. It’s got the innocent heart-rending love of a beautiful white woman, the prize of any brown heart. It’s got the kind, accepting, well-meaning, super-progressive white family full of support and racial utopian-kumabaya-why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along “color-blindness” (apologies for the ableist language here). My goodness, people, the white woman is sick! And the brown people are so unaccepting of her! The film is based on actual events, so it’s horrible that Nanjiani’s partner had to suffer so much with her health. Nevertheless, with the caricature brown folks and the up-play of white sympathy, it is a white person’s dream romantic comedy.

Tell a story about people of color being oppressed and then rescued by the timely arrival of a couple “white saviors.”

Yes, this is still a story about white people. Look, do you want to be white famous or not? But in this case, you can actually tell a bit of the story of race oppression. The only caveat is that you’ve got to include at least one, preferably a few, white saviors to rescue the poor oppressed people of color from their degradation. Some of the best examples of this aren’t actually created by people of color but they do feature people of color as the main characters and have helped catapult some of colored folks’ careers, so that’s something. Basically, take any slavery movie—Twelve Years a Slave, Django Unchained, whatever—make a spectacle of the real degradation and violence of slavery, then add a well-meaning, abolitionist Quaker or two and you’ve got yourself a white famous hit. It even works for other time periods. Like, The Help wouldn’t have been so white famous without the sweet Emma Stone character to help the help tell their stories. Oh, thank goodness for kind white women! Or in the modern-day tv show Longmire that centers on the story of a Wyoming sheriff who often leaves his jurisdiction in the white world to invade life on the local Crow and Cheyenne reservations and lay down the law in aid of the poor natives. What would we all do without a strong white man to take charge of us! White people love stories like this because they can completely ignore their complicity in the ways of the “bad whites” and only identify with the grace and goodness of the “good whites.” Every white spectator reads/watches/listens to these stories and immediately sees themselves as the Quaker, the sweet young journalist, the fair and impartial lawman. It’s a sure shot to white fame.

Finally, if all else fails, tell a story full of racist stereotypes…BUT dress it up as irony.

Nowadays, even in this political climate, white people know they shouldn’t say or do blatantly racist things. They know better. And even when they mess up, they know they can always rely on irony and high humor to save their white skins. But what they enjoy even more is when they’re given the opportunity to enjoy some good old-fashioned racist humor without feeling bad because hey! it’s ironic! There are just too many examples of this to even go through them all. Apu, the supposed South East Asian convenience store owner from The Simpsons. Anything starring Jackie Chan. Madea from practically all Tyler Perry movies. (I know what you’re going to say about that last one: Hey! April, I thought Black people loved Tyler Perry? How is that white famous or even racist? Please. We pretend to love Tyler Perry the way Black folks pretended to love shuck and jive minstrel shows back in the 1830s. That kind of unabashed coonery has always been and will always be for “massa’s” amusement.) White people know they shouldn’t sing the “We Are Siamese” song from Disney’s Lady and the Tramp or “What Makes the Red Man Red” from Peter Pan, by the same company (Disney has always been hella problematic, y’all), but they figure they can laugh all day as thick-accented Jackie Chan kung-fus his way through rush hour with loud-mouthed Chris Tucker cooning it up at his side. These caricature characters of color are no problem in the name of modern-day irony. And mega-bonus points if you can combine these racist stereotypes with white characters from other types of marginalized identities. So Gloria, the young, buxom, heavily accented, shrill, money-grubbing, violence-prone Colombian wife of a wealthy old white man is totally fine because she plays opposite the old white man’s gay son and his husband. It’s totally fine, everyone, they’re a Modern Family. Also, irony. Ha.

As you can see, it’s not too difficult to become white famous. The formulae are pretty clear. The challenge, though, is staying white famous. Thing is, you can’t stray too far from the scripts. Remember when Beyoncé dropped Lemonade and white people suddenly remembered she didn’t belong to them? Yeah. They didn’t like that much. Of course, Queen Bey had already built up so much white fame that it didn’t faze her profile at all. But still, entertainers of color walk a fine line and have to be careful. In any event, if you’re aiming for that grand prize of white recognition, I hope these tips help. And good luck. Remember, though, us folks of color still see and love you. No matter what.

Pipeline as Meat Grinder

I just got off a group videoconference with members of We Here, a collective of librarians of color who gather every month online to chat about issues related to being one of only a few in a profession that’s 88% white. As we were talking, the topic of diversity initiatives, recruitment, and retention came up (as it often does). I’ve written quite a bit about our profession’s diversity initiatives in the past, but in the course of this conversation, I had a new thought:

Me: Y’all. Listening to this conversation makes me think that the so-called pipeline, when it comes to diversity, isn’t a pipeline at all but is actual a meat grinder. *shudders*

4978709667_edfdce7b2a_b

“Der Fleischwolf bei der Arbeit” which I’m pretty sure is German for “white supremacy meat grinder for diversity” (just kidding…a little); by Anfuehrer on Flickr.com, CC-BY-SA 2.0

It’s true. We take people from marginalized backgrounds and shove them into the meat grinder we call a pipeline. We churn them up in diversity residencies and diversity temp hires and diversity programs and diversity trainings. And then we spew out little white-sized (no, that’s not a typo) chunks for our organizations. We tell them to be people of color but not too much color. Be disabled but not too disabled. Be native but not too native. Be queer but not too queer. Be poor and working class but not too poor, not too working class. Just be a good little chunk with just enough quirk to make our organizational diversity look good.

Finally, we congratulate ourselves on how diverse we’re making our professional sausage, with no regard to the identities and backgrounds these folks held before they entered our grinding pipeline machine.

No wonder so many of our most talented leave the profession after a short while.

We assume that assimilating folks from marginalized backgrounds into our professional sausage is enough. We don’t work on our inclusionary practices or organizational cultures. We don’t work on providing systemic, long-term professional and personal development support. We don’t work on changing the ways we think about and treat people historically oppressed people in our workplaces. All of that is just way too hard. So meat grinder, it is.

I’m sick of the meat grinder mentality. We’ve got to do better. Many of us are starting to make those changes in our organizations from recruitment to staffing and leadership training. But we gotta do more. We’ve gotta do so much more.

That’s it. End of blog post. I’m not giving you any solutions here because quite frankly I (and many others) have done that already in other places. (Hello, click on all the links I put in this post for a start.) But also I’m not doing it because that’s not my job. This black woman is not here to save you. Save yourselves. Do the work. Go.