From the Executive Director — June
I, like many Black Americans, am struggling to contain and compartmentalize the myriad of thoughts, feelings, and emotions battling for my attention in the wake of continued violence against us. The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor have sparked the current tide of protest and “wokeness” in our country, but the sad truth is that they are just the latest three in a far-too-long list of Black people murdered for having the audacity to be born.
In the wake of continued violence against Black people in this country, many businesses, corporations, and yes – even libraries – are issuing statements that condemn racism and say that these organizations stand with communities of color. That is not enough. Show us, don’t tell us.
We need you to do more than stand. We need you to do more than acknowledge a problem that has existed in this country since its inception. We need you to act. And that can look like many things. For individuals wondering “What can I do?,” read this article: 75 Things White People Can do For Racial Justice, and start with the first two things listed there. First, advocate that all on-duty police officers in your town are required to wear a body camera and that they must turn them on immediately when responding to a call. Second, advocate that your local police force mandates evidence-based police de-escalation trainings. These two action items alone will save lives.
For more resources (including books, articles, videos, podcasts, and curriculum ideas), I suggest starting with these two very thorough compilations:
- Anti-Racism Resources for all Ages compiled by Dr. Nicole A. Cooke
- Anti-Racism Resources for White People compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker & Alyssa Klein
What can libraries do? Start by accepting the fact that racism exists in our profession. According to 2017 Data USA statistics (drawn from the US Census Bureau) Black people represent 12% of the population but only 6% of librarians, and they’re the most well-represented minority group in librarianship. White people make up 73.6% of the population, but 85.9% of our profession. Racism is not the only factor in that imbalance, but it is most certainly one of them.
Be part of the solution. Ask yourself:
- What needs to change in our policies, procedures, and culture in order to create a diverse and inclusive work environment for our staff?
- What needs to change in our building to make the space feel welcoming to everyone in the community we serve?
Not sure where to start? Hire an expert to help you figure it out. Engage with a consultant who specializes in anti-racism work.
What can librarians do? Librarians are literally Masters of Research. We earned advanced degrees in this, folks. A simple Google search of “How can libraries fight racism” yields over 22 million results in less than 1 second. Put those research skills to use. Some of those 22 million plus sources are credible. Find them, read them, and use them to inform your actions.
Overwhelmed? Begin with the work of your peers, Kaetrena Davis Kendrick and Ione Damasco, in Low Morale in Ethnic and Racial Minority Academic Librarians: An Experiential Study for a better understanding of the challenges faced by your colleagues of color.
Worried you’ll do it wrong? You aren’t alone. Several friends have expressed this concern to me over the past few weeks. They want to tackle this work, but they aren’t sure where to start. My response? It doesn’t matter where you start. Just start somewhere. My children’s lives may depend on it.
Nancy S. Kirkpatrick, OhioNET Executive Director & CEO