As a young librarian in the field, no one told me about the microaggressions that I might face in the field. In fact, no other librarian of color mentioned it either. Seemingly, it’s something that you just deal with or something you talk about with your friends AFTER you leave librarianship all together. However dealing with microaggressions as either a young, person of color, gay/lesbian/trans, religious, disabled, or otherwise marginalized person cannot be ignored. Instead of being a passive recipient as I was in the past, here are some ways you can change the conversation.
- First, confront the microaggression head on. It’s easier to shake your head and walk away when a harsh statement is thrown your way, but it’s not the best for you. Acknowledge the statement (i.e. “Where are you really from?” or “Your hair looks good that way! You look less confrontational that way!”) and start the conversation. Simply saying “this statement makes me uncomfortable please refrain from this language in the future” can help. Most people, especially in the workplace, do not want to be seen as insensitive. Starting the conversation in a non-defensive way can provide a learning opportunity for your fellow co-workers. If you are uncomfortable speaking with the aggressor directly, involve Human Resources (HR). Although this seems drastic, you must protect your well-being in the workplace. Keep a running tab of the aggressions faced with dates and how you addressed them. This will give the manager an idea of the issues you're facing. HR will be able provide a safe place to voice your concerns, and hopefully, find a solution.
- On the flipside, you aren’t the “Rosetta Stone for Your Community”! While most people are genuinely curious about different cultures, sometimes the questions come off as intrusive. For example, someone frequently asking where your family is truly from OR how did you learn to speak English so well. Remember, you are a library employee, not the interpreter of your culture. You do not have to constantly explain your culture to anyone in the building! If a fellow employee consistently asks you questions about your culture, feel free to change the topic. Or simply say, “I don’t feel like speaking for my entire culture, I only speak for myself.”
- Find something you enjoy outside of work. This seems like an obvious one, but everyone needs an outlet. Whether its reading, knitting, running, etc. find something that makes you happy outside of work. This will not only help lower your stress levels, but remind you that there are enjoyable things in life during stressful times. For example, is there a local chapter of a multicultural association in your area (Black Caucus of the American Library Association, REFORMA, APALA, AJL, etc.)? If so, join them! Most memberships have library school student or first-year librarian rates. Becoming active in one (or several) of these organizations can help remind you that you aren’t alone. Membership can also help you find a mentor that’s been through similar experiences. If you’re more introverted try following some online spaces such as the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT) Twitter page.
I’ve learned to handle microaggressions in the workplace, but I’m not made of stone. Looking back now, I wish someone would’ve provided me with a list of this nature. Hopefully, someone will not deal with any of the issues I’ve faced.
How about you? Has anyone else learned any valuable skills when faced with microaggressions?
Amanda M. Leftwich is a circulation supervisor for a small arts college in Philadelphia, PA. When she's not in the library she's watching fantasy/sci-fi t.v. shows, studying aromatherapy practices, travelling, or looking for her next foodie adventure! She tweets @thelibmaven.