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!

selfie photo of April in large conference hall

To ALA and Beyond

I just got back from the 2018 American Library Association Annual Conference in New Orleans, and I actually feel invigorated.

selfie photo of April in large conference hall

Me, waiting excitedly to see First Lady Michelle Obama at ALA Annual 2018

And that’s saying something given how the U.S. Supreme Court just upheld the President’s ban of Muslim folks while he still orders the holding of thousands of children of color in cages.

Being invigorated this year is also huge because this time last year, after the 2017 ALA Annual in Chicago, I came back demoralized and exhausted by whiteness and then eventually harassed by white supremacist trolls.

But at this ALA, I made some changes. I took more breaks and surrounded myself with colleagues of color and allies. When I could, I took myself out of spaces and situations that felt tiring, leaving me more bandwidth for coping with the spaces and situations from which I couldn’t leave. My parents came for a day, and I soaked up some much-needed familial love. In short, I made my self-care a priority, and it paid off.

I also had the opportunity to present in two wonderful programs that really left me feeling encouraged, hopeful, and ready to keep doing the work.

April's conference badge with ribbons for Speaker, Spectrum Scholar, pronouns she/her/hers, Wakanda Research Library Staff, and Council

Obligatory badge pic

The first was a panel with Nicole Cooke, Miriam Sweeney, Cynthia Orozco, Stacy Collins, and Elvia Arroyo-Ramirez (in absentia) titled “Bullying, Trolling, Doxxing, Oh My! Protecting Our Advocacy and Public Discourse Around Diversity and Social Justice.” During the session, we each shared our stories of suffering extensive harassment online, by phone, and in the mail, from right-wing white supremacists angry about our public social justice work. We also talked extensively about the lack of meaningful (or any) support we received from our institutions and professional organizations, including ALA, and suggested better, more productive ways for providing support to harassed professionals. I shared my experiences after last year’s ALA, when I received hateful tweets, emails, and voicemails from white supremacist trolls about my post on race fatigue. I even had people calling my library and university administration about me. It was a devastatingly traumatic time, but I made it through with the support of my family and wonderful allies and friends, like the women with whom I had the pleasure of presenting. The room for our panel was packed, and we heard from several attendees who were eager to take the conversation further in developing plans to provide support for victims in the future. I was also delighted to learn more about Stacy’s Anti-Oppression LibGuide, an amazing resource for supporting folks from marginalized communities and educating potential allies.

My second session was a workshop I led on “Breaking Below the Surface of Racism, Whiteness, and Implicit Bias,”  which was part of the Association of College and Research Libraries series of programming. I figured we’d be sequestered in a tiny room and there’d be a small group of folks who are already heavily involved in this work. So I brought 40 or so handouts, thinking I was being optimistic.

Y’all.

The room was HUGE and packed. There were 500 attendees for my workshop. FIVE HUNDRED.

And we had a great time. There was a wide diversity of attendees, white and people of color, from all types of libraries (not just academic), from all different levels and ranks of work or management. Everyone was very engaged and eager to participate in the group and plenary discussions that I had arranged. After all, antiracist work is active and collaborative, so we put that into direct practice during the workshop. It was a room full of people willing to learn, teach, share, make mistakes, be corrected. There was an amazing collaborative, supportive energy flowing through those 500. And it was made even better given the fact that my parents were also in the room. What a beautiful, beautiful time. Ryan Randall got these community notes started and others filled in if you want to check them out.

So, it was a good conference for me, on the whole. Add on top of that getting to hear First Lady Michelle Obama dialogue with Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden and to hear actress extraordinaire Viola Davis speak, and I can’t help but to feel invigorated and surrounded in my Black girl magic.

Don’t get me wrong, our very white, cis-het, middle-class profession still has a ways to go. It wasn’t all roses. At our last session of ALA Council, many of my fellow cisgender and gender-conforming colleagues refused to be bold and stand with our genderqueer and trans colleagues on a resolution that would aim to have 100% of conference bathrooms be gender-inclusive. We ended up with a weak compromise that only calls for a “sufficient mix” of gender-inclusive and gender-specific bathrooms, a resolution that really changes nothing of the status quo. And what was more disheartening was hearing the arguments being made for “safety” and the “comfort” of the oppressive majority. It felt grossly familiar to stuff many have lived and the rest of us have read but in our history books. We need to do better.

We can do better. And I’m determined that we will. My ALA Council term ends next year, and I’ve already submitted my candidacy for another term. So, we’ll see.

But in the meantime, I’m taking this renewed energy I’ve got and pushing forward with the fight. To ALA and beyond!

black postcard with multicolored hand outlines in background titled "Pushing the Margins: Women of Color and Intersectionality in LIS," edited by Rose L. Chou and Annie Pho

I’m super excited about this new volume edited by Rose Chou and Annie Pho, Pushing the Margins: Women of Color and Intersectionality in LIS, coming this fall from Library Juice Press. Get one!