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The AALL Spectrum® Blog is published by the American Association of Law Libraries. Submissions from AALL members and other members of the legal community are highly encouraged. Opinions and editorial views expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of AALL. AALL does not assume any responsibility for statements advanced by contributors. The previous Spectrum Blog was located at aallspectrum.wordpress.com.
5/4/2015 7:15:55 PM

How to talk about race in the library? 2/3

In Part, 1, I shared three suggestions for how to approach talking about race in the library:
1. Pay attention to your needs
2. Be knowledgeable 
3. Be impeccable with your word

In this post, I continue to share my thoughts and suggestions on how to talk about race in the library.

Photo courtesy Wendy on Flickr Provided under Creative Commons License Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

4. Know your own triggers.

Chances are they are triggers because they are hiding untrue assumptions. For instance, one of my triggers is people saying that they are color blind. What they mean to say is that they personally treat everyone the same regardless of race.

However, this term has been deconstructed and rejected in activist circles because so called colorblind policies generally reinforce the hegemonic culture (and normalize oppression) while claiming to be unbiased. In other words, colorblind institutional policies pretend to be fair, but disparately impact women, older people, people of color, working class people and people from other cultures (there is only so much assimilation that a person can do without giving up their identity, an identity that enables organizations to leverage the diverse views of employees in the service of creative problem-solving).

But it took me a while to figure out that those words were a trigger and why. The stressful thought at the heart is if they are uttering these words then that means they do not respect me. Looked at from another perspective, when I hear their words and interpret it using my knowledge of the subtext even though they may have meant it with the best of intentions, I am being disrespectful to them. Moreover, every time I retell this story I spread the pain around needlessly and if I’m just telling myself in my head, I am prolonging my own pain. So this brings me to number

5. Do not believe your stressful thoughts.

Ever. Question everything and never take anything personally. Try to separate out the facts from your story about the situation. What actually happened? What is your story about what happened?

6. Demonstrate empathy, but do not allow others to use their emotions to dominate you.

“Because whites live primarily segregated lives in a white-dominated society, they receive little or no authentic information about racism and are thus unprepared to think about it critically or with complexity.” (White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo 2014).

Some White people in America experience a lot of pain, confusion and resentment around race issues like affirmative action, white privilege and minority scholarships. Being called racist is to them what being called the N word is to people of color.

“No one can be authentically human while he prevents others from being so.” Paulo Freire

I believe that there are people (of all races) who consider themselves racist and are self-righteous about it. I have empathy for them because the same judgment they are using to judge others, they turn on themselves with the same force and self-righteous racism cannot exist without fear and self-hatred. Most people would not identify as racist. Most people carry around some culturally influenced stories that have racist implications that they have not examined. American culture is rife with racist cultural stories, just think about Thanksgiving and Columbus Day.

It’s hard to avoid ever saying anything that has any kind of racist, sexist, or classist implication because to some extent, we have all “internalized negative and inaccurate racial”, gendered, and class-related stories (Can You Love Them Enough, Goodman 2015, p. 69) . I don’t think being PC in all of your speech makes one automatically completely free of unexamined racist thoughts and I don’t believe that it makes you racist to have an occasional unexamined thought (with racist implications) drift across your mind, even when you blurt that thought out before fully examining it. This may be a reason why some White people are afraid to talk about race, they are terrified of being chastised for uttering some unexamined thought that may have a racist implication that they have not yet identified. Whatever the reasons for White Fragility, when you are engaging in a conversation with White people about race issues, try to be acknowledge the reality of their emotional pain and have compassion, to help them learn and respect their courage for engaging in the conversation.

Extremist political parties intentionally use racist propaganda to divide the working class. The emotional pain that some White people experience as a result of believing racist propaganda is real. So even if you disagree as to the source of their pain, if you want to be able to talk about race with them, then you need to acknowledge and respect that pain and craft your communication strategy taking that into consideration.

Part 3

Posted By Catherine Deane at 5/4/2015 7:15:55 PM  0 Comments
5/4/2015 6:54:39 PM

How to talk about race in the library? 1/3

Photo shows, Blog Author and Panelist Justin Hua at 2015 Dr. MLK Commemoration on Vanderbilt Campus.
Photo issued under creative commons license: Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike CC BY-NC-SA 

In my last blog post  I explained why you might want to foster a work environment where you can and do talk about race. We need to talk about race, to overcome our biases, and become actively anti-racist so that we can create library environments that are positive and welcoming to diverse patrons and library employees.

“White people often believe that multicultural / anti-racist education is only necessary for those who interact with “minorities” or in “diverse” environments. However, the dynamics discussed here suggest that it is critical that all white people build the stamina to sustain conscious and explicit engagement with race. When whites posit race as non-operative because there are few, if any, people of color in their immediate environments, Whiteness is reinscribed ever more deeply”  (White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo 2014, p. 66).

I was recently invited to speak on a panel discussion at the 2015 Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration at Vanderbilt University. This post is an adaptation of that eight minute talk.

I’d like to share with you the skills that I have developed for talking about race in the workplace. Here are my suggestions, based on my own struggles and filtered through the lens of a decade of college courses in the social sciences. I have 10 suggestions for People of Color (but others might find it helpful also) to help them talk about race in a way that suits their goals. In the interest of clarity, I am dividing up these 10 suggestions across 3 blog posts so that I can explain each one adequately.  I’ll post them all at once so you can read the whole thing if you wish.

1. Pay attention to your needs.

Racist words and deeds, whether they are intentional or unintentional, egregious or just mildly annoying, tend to be tiring to deal with and can cause “sleep difficulty” and “Daytime Fatigue”. It can also trigger an elevation in C-reactive protein levels, which correlates to increased rates of diabetes, cancer and heart disease. My suggestion is that you take really good care of yourself. If you know you are going to have a conversation about race, you want to be physically, emotionally and spiritually prepared, but sometimes you may get taken by surprise by a racial microaggression and that is when it helps to be in a good mood. I use the smile test, if I can't crack a genuine smile, then I have no business talking about race.

2. Be knowledgeable.

Learn as much as you can about the current state of the United States with regard to institutional racism and the history of the people in America who exhibit non-Caucasian phenotypes. I say it this way to remind you that we are united by our experiences of systemic racism regardless of our separate cultures and as a reminder that race is culturally constructed. Also, give yourself a break, you can’t know everything.

3. Be impeccable with your word. 

Be precise when describing racist situations to others. This will preserve your credibility and make your arguments stronger. (It is some protection against others claiming that you are “playing the race card”, but ultimately, others will view you the way they want to regardless of what you do or say.) Focus on the facts of the situation. What exactly happened and avoid telling a story about what happened. For instance, “Someone came into my office and wrote the word Jigaboo on my whiteboard.” That is a factual statement and is different from, “Some racist jerk entered the sanctuary of my office and violated my personal space and sense of wellbeing by writing a racial slur on my whiteboard.” That is a story about what happened.

Also, lay the foundation for your argument by making sure that everyone is defining key terms in the same way. Often when white people talk about racism they are talking about overt racist acts of discrimination by individuals and hatred of another group because of the color of their skin and they do not realize how many actions, without specific intent, contribute to systemic racism or to our everyday experiences of racial microaggressions.

Part 2

Posted By Catherine Deane at 5/4/2015 6:54:39 PM  0 Comments
5/1/2015 2:33:21 PM

Book Review - Love's Promises: How Formal and Informal Contracts Shape All Kinds of Families

Love’s Promises: How Formal and Informal Contracts Shape All Kinds of Families, by Martha M. Ertman, 2015.  Paperback, 239 pages, $26.95.  ISBN: 987-0-8070-3366-1.

In Love’s Promises: How Formal and Informal Contracts Shape All Kinds of Families, Professor Martha Ertman examines how families are affected by the application of law to family issues from both the perspective of an individual whose personal life has been directly shaped by the law, and as a legal scholar analyzing the law.  Professor Ertman’s use of an easy to understand, plain language explanation of the law, which is supported with numerous citations to legal sources, makes this book a wonderful resource for a wide audience of readers and an enjoyable read.  

Organized into two parts, the first part of the book covers reproductive technology and adoption while the second part deals with cohabitation agreements and marital agreements.  In addition to the main topics covered in the book, it also includes a detailed introduction, an appendix with sample agreements, a bibliography, a notes section and an index.

The format of the book is slightly unconventional for a legal text in that it covers each topic from several different viewpoints.  The topics are covered first as a memoir, describing Professor Ertman’s own experiences.  Then for each topic there is a discussion of the basic facts of the law and finally there is an explanation of the law as it is currently applied and an analysis of the law as Professor Ertman argues it should be applied.
It should also be noted that Professor Ertman adopts very specific language to describe some of the central ideas in the book.  For example, throughout the book Professor Ertman describes the various contracts and deals used in many family relationships.  The term ‘contract’ is used in its normal sense to describe legally binding and enforceable agreements, like a prenuptial agreement.  The term ‘deals’ is used to describe agreements that are not legally binding but would govern various bargains that family members make with one another in order to move forward with necessary day to day activities, like an arrangement where one partner agrees to wash the dishes while the other partner agrees to mow the lawn.  During the course of the book Professor Ertman uses the concepts of ‘contracts’ and ‘deals’ to demonstrate how both devices benefit families and allow them the needed flexibility to structure agreements that work for their own unique situations.

Professor Ertman also distinguishes between different types of families and discusses how they are impacted by ‘contracts’ and ‘deals’.  ‘Plan A’ is the term used to describe the traditional idea of a family, generally a married husband and wife with children.  ‘Plan B’ is the term used to represent what is often described in other literature as a non-traditional family, such as cohabitation between unmarried partners or a single parent household.  While there is some discussion of ‘Plan A’ families, the main focus in this book is on ‘Plan B’ families and how they are affected by the use of ‘contracts’ and ‘deals’.

This book is appropriate for public, county, academic, and firm library collections.  In particular this book would help members of the public interested in learning about alternative arrangements for non-traditional families, law students and faculty studying or researching topics related to family law, gender, and contracts, and family law practitioners who are interested in exploring how contract law can benefit families.  For anyone still unsure of whether this book is suitable for their collection, I highly recommend reviewing the author’s very thorough introduction, which includes a detailed description of what is covered in the book, how to use the book, and a note on the language used in the book.

Shannon Kemen, 2015.  Reference Librarian, Robert S. Marx Law Library, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio. shannon.kemen@uc.edu 

Posted By Shannon Kemen at 5/1/2015 2:33:21 PM  0 Comments