Post-ALA Fatigue and “Nice White Ladies”

So this post has been brewing for a while. I am not sure if all the recent big changes in my life (new coast, new job, etc) have just made me more sensitive to the toxicity of nice white ladies or the summer months have been making them worse. Probably a bit of both honestly. But it has been exhausting to be in librarianship recently.

Honestly, I wish I could say I could be more eloquent about this. If you want to read that post, go look at April’s. She does an awesome job at describing racial fatigue and how that plays out at ALA. Here are just some examples from my experience.

ALA Microaggressions (a few of many)

  • “I hear what you’re saying about diversity, but it’s all about diversity of thought and experience. Confidence and “leaning in” will cure any and all things when it comes to being a leader in your workplace/libraries.”
  • “Dealing with the book vs ebook debate during my ALA presidency is on the same level as you (Todaro) dealing with the Trump administration.” (Yes, this was said without irony and with complete sincerity)
  • Various one on one interactions with white librarians.
  • The entirety of the Hillary closing keynote.

 

Not to mention just the environmental microaggression that is just being in a primarily white space. Seriously, there are not a lot of things as uncomfortable as just being in a space where you are so very clearly the minority. The anxiety and unease as you wait for the other shoe to drop (and it always always ALWAYS does) is like what I imagine walking through a minefield is like. The worst. And I know it’s not just me. Aisha Mirza describes that otherhood in her personal essay “White Women Drive Me Crazy.”

We trot out that statistic all the time about libraries being hella white. Yeah…that one. And we talk all the time about the feminization of the profession and how men might be the numerical minority (though some librarians at ALA also wanted to talk about how that too is diversity and that aggression is so big it’s basically a macroaggression) but are disproportionately represented in library leadership.

But what hits me most at these conferences are how often white women act as oppressors. How their “niceness” and “civility” are just weapons used against me and so many other librarians of color I know. How their allyship is so tied to their own comfort. How they will employ their tears over and over again to recenter themselves in the conversation.

But it’s ok! Because despite my pain, my fatigue, my struggle, white women will make posts like this.

whitewomen1

I love knowing that my body is seen as diverse. Not as a person. But as a pat on the back. But don’t worry when challenged (can it be a challenge if POC are sharing their experience???), she’ll listen, right? Right?

whitewomen2

And the support is always there. I’m sorry we made you uncomfortable. Of course you didn’t mean any harm. Of course your statements can’t cause any harm. Aisha puts in her byline “Innocent until proven innocent.” And so let it be written so let it be done.

 

After ALA I went to go see my partner in Boston (we’re currently bicoastal which sucks to say the least) and it was so lovely to be in a space with another queer person of color who loves me. Who I could actually recharge with. Who I could be all of myself with.

Part of the reason I hate the rhetoric around vocational awe is because I cannot love a field that doesn’t love me. I cannot love a profession where I cannot thrive due to facets of my identity. And I do not want to. I will continue to do the work I can to make the field better, but I will not put my whole self into a field that does not accept all of me. All of my blackness. All of my radicalness and attempts at decolonization.

Perhaps white women who will inevitably read this–go past the initial defensiveness and really hear what we are saying. Why is it that April and I and so many librarians of color I talked to feel this fatigue at ALA and other library spaces? Why is it that awesome leaders in our field like Jarrett Drake are leaving the profession?

As for me, I’m going to take a step back. I’m going to continue what my vacation week started and rest, recover, and recharge. And maybe soon I’ll have the energy to jump back in.

6 thoughts on “Post-ALA Fatigue and “Nice White Ladies”

  1. “Post-ALA Fatigue and “Nice White Ladies””
    This is really an informative post and there is a lot to unpack in terms of the micro-aggressions that non-white or
    what we would call in Canada, “visible minority” librarians have to navigate in their professional lives each and
    every day if they happen to work in white space libraries where their voices are seldom heard with acceptance and
    much less in the way of respect or deference. I was in the library field in Canada from 1988 to 1992 but gave it up
    because the racial headwinds I encountered when I was working in a public library system in Toronto (supposedly
    the most multicultural city in Canada which did not matter one iota in my case) lead me to having bouts of depression,
    stress and even anxiety attacks. Consequently, I decided to leave the library profession before it killed me. I don’t know
    if the fault was my own that I was perhaps a bit too naïve and trusting that my racial background wouldn’t matter when
    I entered this field in the mid-late 1980s or that it was the case that Canadian (and by extension North American) society
    was still far too racist at the time and that non-whites were still not wanted in this particular field. For instance, in my
    library school class, I was the only non-white male; there were about 4-5 visible minority females and the other 30 students
    were Anglo-Canadians who were overwhelmingly female. At the time I left this field in 1992, diversity training for library
    managers (in the Toronto area, at least) was still just in its infancy. I don’t know if more sensitivity training and diversity
    training on the part of library/hiring managers would have made any more of a difference in encouraging me to remain in
    the library profession after 1992 – in spite of the indignities and daily micro-aggressions I had to put up with. Certainly,
    the lack of any mentorship or support structure to encourage non-white librarians to remain in the library field is one of
    the main reasons why I decided to leave it. I certainly wish any non-white or visible minority librarian the best and I respect
    their courage in deciding to remain in a profession that has certainly not always welcomed them with open arms or one
    which has mainly paid just lip service to the concepts of diversity and inclusion – even at the best of times.

    Henry Quon
    Vancouver, Canada

    Like

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