BOOKTRUCK COFFEE TALK: DON’T BE AN ANNOYING WHITE PERSON AT THE LIBRARY

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A few months ago, the Brazen Careerist posted “Don’t be an annoying white person at work” which hit several nails on the head for us. While the library world implies that it cares about social justice, even the the most idealistic baby librarian should be pretty befuddled to hear racist jokes at work. We’ve benefited from efforts to promote diversity in recruitment, but for retaining a diverse core of librarians, developing decorum across the profession would go a long way. So Tisha and I sat down in our respective Southern cities and talked about what such a library workplace would look like.

Mimi

 

Tisha: One of my co-workers made a comment to me the other day
Tisha: There is a particularly odious committee that we are both on
Tisha: and she was saying that I’ll probably be quitting soon and she’ll know cause I’ll show up to work with a bottle of Hennessy
Mimi: Did you tell her that you’ll know something’s up when she shows up with a box of crackers?
Tisha: I think I was too shocked to really say anything
Tisha: I know black folks like our cognac, but I promise you I don’t drink Hennessy. I drink Crown Royal, if anything, and yes I keep the bag.

 

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Tisha: I think one of the most important points about the article is that we all know blatant racism is totes unacceptable
Tisha: but little things happen here every day that are so demeaning
Mimi: yeah. which, from my experiences people don’t even know what overt racism is
Tisha: like my co-workers will always ask ME to go to the supply closet to get things for everyone in the office, rather than just walking there themselves
Tisha: or if I am sitting on the reference desk with a white person, I can basically read a book because NO ONE will ask me any questions
Tisha: because since I am black, I am obviously stupid
Tisha: never mind that the white woman I am sitting next to only has a HS diploma and works in ILL
Mimi: Yeah, and I also see librarians not even conscious of the vastly different approaches they take to patrons based on their appearances
Mimi: Which bugs me a lot- not even acknowledging that your patron base *is* different from you
Tisha: It’s a conversation that we never have. Besides paying lip service by subscribing to a lot of databases that cover the minority press or afro-american history
Tisha: No one ever talks about the total lack of diversity in our professional staff
Mimi: No kidding.
Tisha: It’s embarrassing! When I leave, we will have not one person of color manning the reference desk.
Mimi: Being a rubia, I have to remind people I’m latina and then I get told that I “don’t count”.

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Mimi: I think that just admitting that you don’t know where everyone’s coming from is a start
Tisha: Well, since when do white people care about anyone else’s perspective?
Mimi: I see a lot of younger librarians taking this enthusiastic, rah rah approach that’s kinda “take it or leave it”
Tisha: When you’re the majority, you don’t really have to worry about how other people think, feel, act, etc.
Mimi: Like my colleague who spoke at length about muslim students with “they” do this, “they” think this. Rhetorical otherness?!
Mimi: I also think that white, straight, middle class librarians have no idea that anyone else has to edit their lives to fit into normal conversation
Tisha: I can’t attend a meeting or training session without my skin crawling when my co-workers talk
Mimi: they talk about CHURCH
Tisha: that’s really BAD
Tisha: I had a co-worker complain DURING AN INTERVIEW about hispanics in Miami not speaking enough English

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Tisha: It’s interesting because a lot of the people that work here are Jewish
Tisha: and a lot of people who work here are anti-semitic
Mimi: didn’t you say that you didn’t even bother telling your coworkers you were Jewish?
Tisha: I never tell anyone I am Jewish.
Tisha: I love to wait until I hear how they really feel about the Jews
Tisha: because it always comes out eventually
Tisha: Because I’m black no one will say anything negative about black people to my face, but they love to put down the Jews!
Mimi: Yeah, people will tell me all sorts of Mexican jokes, then find out that I’m Cuban, and then kinda try to figure out if there’s enough similarity that I’ll be offended

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Tisha: I think specifically in libraries
Tisha: there definitely needs to be more done to bring people of color into the profession
Tisha: Losing the ILS school at Clarke-Atlanta has had a big impact, I think
Mimi: When I was looking at programs, I had this “oh shit” moment when I realized that I could only find two faculty in all the schools I was looking at, with hispanic last names
Tisha: And I find public libraries are better at recruiting people of color than academic libraries
Mimi: Well, I think that we need to address that library salaries will not attract or retain people who are seeking financial stability… Don’t get me started about class in all this!
Tisha: True, I think that’s where most of the problems with this profession begin
Tisha: the salaries are terrible and there is virtually no way to advance as a reference librarian
Tisha: besides myself, we have one asian librarian (who only does collection development and is never seen by students)
Mimi: and I think that we have to confront the hostile factors of this profession before we can really talk about diversity
Mimi: esp in the sort of sing-songy way that a lot of people do
Tisha: sigh

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3 Responses to BOOKTRUCK COFFEE TALK: DON’T BE AN ANNOYING WHITE PERSON AT THE LIBRARY

  1. clare says:

    There is a pretty good article in Essence this month called “Battling Bias: It’s Still About Race, but It’s Not in Your Face.”

    I didn’t know you felt that way about people saying you “don’t count.” For me, it’s like I feel like a fake unless I brush up on my Spanish every few years. But then again I recently asked my friend, who is 1/4th Uruguayan and who only ever learned any Spanish from her nanny, whether she felt guilty about using the Hispanic thing growing up and she said “No, I don’t! Once I put African American just to see what would happen!”

  2. Mimi says:

    Well, I don’t think anyone likes having their identity told to them by someone they don’t really know. Perceptions are a big part of bias- and I’m aware of the advantages I have from white privilege- by being read as white and speaking English as a first language. I also feel like this is the worst possible time to be flippant about Affirmative Action. Have you seen the entering class numbers for the UC schools?!

    In these times, and as I’m in an academic role, I feel a really urgent responsibility to be visible. (and to, obviously, work out things about my own cultural identity). The Spanish-speaking world has an incredibly racially stratified class structure, and I think a lot of 1st/2nd generation Latino-Americans need to confront that. But I’d rather be a part of the discussion and have students or colleague decide whether or not they want my solidarity than be defined by someone else’s narrow-mindedness.

  3. clare says:

    Well, I feel like having your identity told to you by a stranger is something that brown/black people have to deal with, while white-looking people have more room to define their own. That’s not to say that we don’t have a responsibility to take part in debates, because the UC situation is ridiculous.

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