Leadership and (Racial) Crisis

In this country, we have watched, and some of us have experienced, racism in its many forms for many years. The economic, employment, health, education, housing, technology, wealth (and on and on…) disparities exist and some may say (now that these are being brought to light in different ways) they are shocked by hearing this “news.” But to many people, these disparities are not shocking; they are real – they are a way of life. The impact of these disparities is felt each and every day. That they are brought to the surface – again – after the killing of George Floyd, however, seemed to be a wake-up call for many people – including many leaders.

In defining leaders I’m not talking about those necessarily in titled positions. I watch as some of those titled leaders refuse to / choose not to / don’t have (or make) the time to acknowledge their colleagues who are hurting. I watch as these titled leaders roll out the seemingly obligatory statements. I watch as some of those titled leaders find it so difficult to say three words, “Black Lives Matter!” I watch as some of those titled leaders feel they are being attacked because people are demanding justice. I watch, and I ask myself, “Is this leadership?”

However, I see leadership in so many other places. I see it in a friend of mine who called to say that he has “found his voice” and he’s been speaking up at his place of work in order to effect change there. I see leadership in the students at many institutions who are demanding justice for Black students (and faculty and other traditionally underrepresented groups) on their campuses. I see leadership in the people who organize protests to draw even more attention to the systemic problems of racism and calling for changes in these systems. And I see leadership in my friends and colleagues who demonstrate their activism every day in so many ways.

These leaders understand that to change the systems of oppression, we must all be vigilant in our words and actions as we hold ourselves and those in positions of authority (myself included) accountable for our collective actions. In the last week, I have seen several references to “performative activism” and “keyboard activism,” both referring to the fact that, for some people, their words/actions will not be sustained. And certainly, there is reason to believe they won’t be sustained as this is not the first time we’ve been here. My fervent hope is that this time, with sustained pressure and action, especially from the often unsung heroes – these leaders – we will see positive changes for Black people in America.

#BlackLivesMatter

Let’s all rise in response to the third question in the cartoon below…

Statements and Accountability

Since the brutal killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis, we have seen the entire country – indeed the entire world – rally for racial equity and justice. We have also seen many institutions of all kinds release statements “in support of Mr. Floyd and his family,” or “against racism and oppression.” For far too long and way too often we have seen and read statements like these. My own place of work has issued not one, but two statements in the last week. Some statements though, ring hollow as if they are done under duress (and maybe they are, I don’t know), while others seem to be sincere and give a sense of hope that there will be some action taken towards a better, brighter future. There are several of the latter type that I have seen, but I will draw your attention to four in particular. My reason for choosing these, when you read them, should be obvious.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that we all stand together to end racism and I believe in the (what I hope are good) intentions of these statements and the often heartfelt sentiments behind them. I do find myself asking, though, when will we move beyond the statements? What ACTIONS will we take to move towards this just society to which so many of us make reference? What does that just society even look like? In a conversation with a friend recently we asked that very question. His response to me was a very simple one; “We don’t want to be killed by the police.” It seems simple doesn’t it. And when, as in this case of George Floyd, the police officer responsible for the death of a Black person *is* arrested and charged, as the Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison puts it, “history shows that trying and winning a case like this one is hard.” [MN Attorney General Ellison Press Release, June 3, 2020, accessed June 4, 2020].

Is “not being killed by the police” enough justice to end the systemic racism and oppression we see and some of us experience? Where is the accountability behind these statements? When we say in these statements that we will do this or we will change that, how long does it take to make these changes or to do these things? This is hardly the first time we have made these statements at our various places of employment, so what have we – collectively, as a society – done since the last time we issued one of these statements? Where is the ACTION? Where is the CHANGE? We can call out racist rhetoric, for example, and then in the next (or even the same) breath also say we must protect “free speech.” What message does that send to the person against whom that rhetoric was directed? It says you don’t care!  At least, that’s what it says to me. This is a very simple example of the type of change that can happen, but doesn’t. And it makes me angry. And it makes me sad.

And yet, with all these emotions (and more) and with the most recent acts of racism occurring while in the midst of a pandemic, I push on. I go to work, I share my thoughts, I encourage my colleagues and friends and they encourage me. And some of the people I expect to care, or who I’d think would (or should) care, are silent. But, I push on! These two pieces below have been circulated a lot – at least in the circles in which I travel. I’m not sure I could have said it better.

In 2004 when Janet Jackson won her “Soul Train Music Awards” award (OK, don’t ding me for keeping this quote), she said in her acceptance speech, “Black women possess a special indestructible strength that allows us to not only get down, but to get up, to get through and to get over.” And here we are, in 2020, as Black people, trying to get through. And we do get through, with the help of great allies and friends, and family and faith. Despite the fact that there are so many people who don’t take the time to understand the impact – physically, psychologically, emotionally – being Black in America, especially at times like these has. I see these people, and I hear these people and I want to say, “WAKE THE HELL UP! LISTEN TO ME! HEAR ME! SEE ME!” And then I think, what’s the point? They have no desire to, or they can’t, or they simply choose not to.

At those times, I can hear the words of a long time friend, saying, “don’t let anyone steal your joy.” And while I remain grateful for all that I have – MY LIFE, my faith, my family, friends, food, shelter, and other basic necessities – sometimes it just feels like there isn’t a lot of joy left to be stolen.

 

 

A Personal Message (about race in America)

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[note: this post is a slightly edited version of an email message I sent to all the staff at my place of work (MPOW) on 6/1/2020.]

Last week, a colleague at MPOW shared some information on effective ways to be an ally. She shared those tips in response to the overtly racist incidents that occurred in various parts of the country in the last few days. However, these types of incidents are not limited to the last few days. Rather, they are the latest such incidents that have been publicized widely (many more aren’t) and are indicative of a much larger, systemic problem of racism and oppression that permeates the very fabric of this country. As a Black man in America, that these incidents continue to happen and at what I consider an alarming rate, leaves me in fear – literally – in fear for my life. For my very existence. EVERY. DAY.

I share here two pieces from the Brookings Institution that sum up the systemic devaluation of Black (and I would add and Brown) lives and their take on what’s needed to hold police accountable for the specific action in Minneapolis. There are many other such pieces, but I found these two to be good summaries.   

In an email message from late last week, the president of my university referred to the institutional values of diversity, inclusion and respect. These are also the values we espouse specifically within the library. We also spent some time in recent years discussing how we live these values. These are not just some words on a shelf or on a website; rather there must be actions that accompany these words. 

I also recognize my privilege. Here at MPOW I have privilege by virtue of my position and I would be remiss if I did not use this privilege for some awareness and, hopefully, some positive change. I hope this brief post with some resources and additional tips will help you to be more engaged in the work of anti-racism. There are many ways to be involved and you should choose the path that is best for you. Understand that the work of being an anti-racist is difficult and it can be uncomfortable, but it is exactly at those moments of discomfort when the work can be most effective.  

Diversity trainer, Jane Elliott, created a  video, of which I am sharing only a clip. But this clip is powerful in its description of being a non-racist (her term). Condemning acts of racism is essential – as is taking other appropriate action. 

But what does getting involved look like? There are many ways to be involved in anti-racist work.  Below are some resources that may be helpful. 

    • Ask yourselves these questions (prepared by Jane Elliott, again, using her term of being “non-racist”)
    • Use the anti-racism resources prepared by Dr. Nicole Cooke, the Augusta Baker Chair of the LIS program at the University of South Carolina
    • Learn from the information found on the National Museum of African American History & Culture’s web portal, “Talking About Race.”

In addition, there are many organizations working on both the local and national levels to combat racism. Some of these organizations include:

This is not an exhaustive list by any means and I am not suggesting you work with *these* organizations. However, they are examples of some organizations with which you may wish to consult.

Combatting racism to create the “just society” to which my university president (and so many others) refer requires work from all of us. I hope you will join me in this work that is so important for a better future.

 

COVID-19 and Academic Libraries

The following is a letter from Candise Branum, ACRL-Oregon President As many of you may already know, the World Health Organization has publicly classified COVID-19 as a pandemic. Across the country, K-12 schools are shuttering, colleges and universities are moving curriculum online, music festivals, conferences, and sporting events are cancelled or are proceeding without fans.

Source: COVID-19 and Academic Libraries