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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. Previously, the AALL Spectrum Blog was located at aallspectrum.wordpress.com.

The AALL Spectrum blog is no longer published. Previous posts are archived on this page.
5/4/2015 7:33:45 PM

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

This is my third and final post on how to talk about race in the library. If you have read Parts 1 & 2 then kudos to you for staying engaged in the conversation.

So far, I have recommended that readers do the following:
1. Pay attention to your needs
2. Be knowledgeable
3. Be impeccable with your word
4. Know your own triggers.
5. Do not believe your stressful thoughts.
6. Demonstrate empathy, but do not allow others to use their emotions to dominate you.

I have only 4 more suggestions.

Photo courtesy Anil Jadhav under Creative Commons License Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)  

7. Choose your strategy to match your goals.

“This racial arrogance, coupled with the need for racial comfort, also has whites insisting that people of color explain white racism in the “right” way. The right way is generally politely and rationally, without any show of emotional upset.” (White Fragility, DiAngelo, p. 61)

At the 2014 AALL Diversity Symposium, I was criticized post session and anonymously for displaying anger. For the dozen or so of you who were there, you would know that my tones were slow and measured and if there was emotion in my voice, it was gravitas at sharing my personal experiences of a racist incident that occurred in my office in 2013. My goal was not to make people comfortable, but to share my story with the intention of opening people’s eyes to the reality of everyday racism in the South today.

“I make a distinction between my professional educator role and my every day citizen role. Even though I strive to live my life in a way that treats people with compassion and respect, I do not feel I   need to nor am I able to be the perpetual educator. I do not invest the same time and energy with every individual I come across as I do with my students. When I have chosen to be in the role of educator, and this is my accepted responsibility (and for which I often get paid), I believe I have a personal and professional obligation to do my best to help students learn and grow (within reasonable boundaries.) I do not believe (nor expect from others) that I must do this with everyone I meet.” (Can You Love Them Enough, Goodman 2015, p. 72)

The strategy that you use when dealing with a racial microaggression from a professor during office hours may differ from the ones you use with a liberal friend who perpetrates a racial micro-invalidation without fully realizing what she has done.

The strategy you use on social media will be different from the one you use at a family reunion. What I am saying is that you have no responsibility to do any particular thing at any particular time, but actions have consequences, and you are responsible for your actions, so act accordingly. By dint of being not white and living in the south, conversations about race will come up (sometimes about predictable things and sometimes not). You will continue to have opportunities to contribute to the conversation. On any given day it is up to you to decide how you want to participate.

8. Accept that not every conversation will go as you might wish and just strive to get better at having conversations about race and racism. 

Practice acceptance and foster faith in the belief that we are all just bodhisattvas walking each other home.  Accept that everyone is exactly where they are at with regard to understanding how to get along in a diverse world and that is alright. Everything is exactly as it should be in our world, every bird, every flower, every blade of grass. I accept that sometimes in spite of my best intentions I will end up coming across as the angry black woman.

9. Set boundaries.

Know where your boundaries are and do some soul searching so that you know how to talk about race in a way that is authentic for you. Remember that you always have the right to remove yourself from the conversation.

10. If you spend all of your time explaining across a cultural divide, it can become tedious and demoralizing.

 Find some people who share your racial experiences. Sometimes the goal of your conversation is to get, emotional support and validation that you are not crazy and for that you need people who are capable of having the same experience.

Posted By Catherine Deane at 5/4/2015 7:33:45 PM  1 Comments
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