Tuesday, March 7, 2017

I Was Wrong, But I'm Trying to Learn

The tweet up there is the beginning of a long-ish thread. Each tweet (I highly recommend reading it in its entirety) made me catch my breath. I have been wrong about so many of the same topics. I'm sure there are a lot of us who can identify. I was originally planning to write something about community building for today, but then I saw Crocker's thread and knew I had to write something similar for LtaYL.

So, here are some things about which I have been wrong, oh so very wrong wrongity wrong, with a focus on library-centric ideas.

It's my job to make libraries better for marginalized populations and people of color. Oh, the arrogance in that thought. It makes me cringe just reading it, but I really believed that a few years ago. The idea that I was a knight in shining armor, no matter how well intentioned, still centered my experience and my role in fighting racism in higher ed and in libraries. Further, it ignored the voices of people already in the room. Yes, I do need to fight racism and sexism and transphobia and other prejudices whenever and wherever I can, but one of the most important things I can do as a librarian - and as a library administrator - is to shut my mouth and listen.

If there is nothing in my library's collection that makes my skin crawl, then I'm not doing my job. I can't be a first amendment purist anymore. Sure, the first amendment doesn't strictly apply to the work I do since it discusses government restricting speech, and I've always worked at private institutions. The thing is, I still took it as my job to represent culture in all its various expressions on my shelves. No, we can't ignore the Nazis - either in the past or in our present - but I can no longer blithely buy the kinds of books that represent Holocaust Denier theories as fact. I now know I've given a platform to hate speech, and that bothers me more than I can ever explain. I know this may be a little confusing to read, so let me put it in concrete terms for you: this change in philosophy is why I bought Glenn Beck in the past but refuse to buy Milo Yiannopoulos now.

Diversity initiatives are the answer. This is another complicated mess of an idea, but the core of why it is problematic is that the initiatives are just the beginning. In fact, Harvard Business Review has written about how diversity programs fail. Inclusion and acceptance are not the same thing. By putting all our emphasis on creating diversity, we end up working hard to get people on campus or in the library without considering making people feel welcome and heard and part of the conversation once they arrive. Even more, we need to stop putting the onus on the people around us who are members of one or more minority groups. I was raised Jewish and I'm a practicing Buddhist, and have repeatedly been expected to be the voice of "my people" in professional circumstances, so you'd think with my experiences I'd have grasped this sooner. However, my conditional whiteness (I'm in a minority but I don't read that way at a glance) has made things smoother for me. And one of my favorite definitions of privilege is that the biggest benefit you gain is the ability to be blind to the benefits it affords you.

Back to the thread that got me thinking in this way:

I'm with you, Katherine. Writing this post was hard, knowing the mistakes I've made in the past and knowing the mistakes I'll make in the future.

Despite frequent accusations that I am really a Time Lord, the truth is I'm human. I'm going to make mistakes. The important thing to remember moving forward is that I need to learn from them.

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