I begin this post by condemning the racists, white supremacist, and Nazi actions in Charlottesville.
The past few days have been extremely troubling, and left me wondering what I can do. I then remembered I was asked that exact question after the Charlie Hebdo attack in France. I put together this post: https://davidlankes.org/charlie-hebdo/
This morning I re-read it and while I stand by it, I don’t think it went nearly far enough, and I need to amend it.
In the post, I talked about three things librarians and libraries could do in the wake of a terrorist act:
- fight violence with information and understanding
- help the community develop their own narrative
- continue to be the resource for your communities to come together
I still think this is a good game plan for any library in the wake of violence and tragedy. Counter false and ignorant claims with knowledge and learning; help the community construct and disseminate their own story so that one is not imposed from outside; and continue to be a place the community relies upon. A library should be a safe space, but it will only be that if librarians continue to understand the threats all their community members face and work to overcome them.
What struck me upon re-reading the post was a stark difference in the situation between Paris and Charlottesville. In Paris, the worry was that a shocked community would turn against an innocent and valuable part of themselves, namely Muslims and immigrants. My post was a call not just for the importance of diversity, but an acknowledgement that immigrants and Muslims were part of the community and a need to come together a better understand each other.
In Charlottesville, there is absolutely a need to acknowledge that racists are part of the community, but librarians should not be giving them an equal voice or justifying their beliefs. Also, to be VERY clear, the community I am talking about here is the American community, not just one city in Virginia, or the South. Put simply there are times when a community must face the fact that parts of that community are simply antithetical to the ultimate mission of a library.
Racism is a state of ignorance. It deliberately denies the positive effect of diversity and inclusion. Purposefully living in a state of ignorance is counter to the values and mission of librarianship. Therefore, giving voice to racism does not further the conversation or learning of a community.
Now stating that racism is bad is a pretty obvious call. Talking about libraries not promoting racists views is also a pretty easy call. Here’s the thing, stating that as a librarian you have to choose or take a side in this situation is another thing altogether. It means acknowledging you are not neutral, and that as a professional you must take a stand against part of your community is hard.
Shouldn’t libraries be place for all voices in the community? No. Libraries are not neutral microphones placed in a town square open to all comers. They are platforms of learning that acknowledge the full range of the views in a community, but with the community develop and support a learning narrative that pushes against racism and bigotry.
I watched the press conference yesterday when the Virginia Governor, the Charlottesville Mayor, the City Manager of Charlottesville, and the city’s Chief of Police talked about outsiders and how their community would become stronger in the face of the racists violence. It was a moving moment. I am imploring the librarians in Charlottesville and throughout the country to be part of that process. To engage and model the power of inclusion and diversity. Don’t simply inform your population, help them learn. Don’t think that open doors are sufficient to be sanctuaries: actively engage and invite in people of all classes, and races, and creeds.
Don’t ignore the systemic racism and the passive attitude that allows white supremacy to fester. Understand also that your fighting the ignorance of racism doesn’t start nor end at the door of a library. Fight for better transportation options to allow greater economic opportunity for under-served peoples. Be a source of healthy foods and meals in the summer and food-deserts of our cities. Work to make a library card a symbol of equity to all people, not just those who can or choose to come in the door.
This is not about ideology or political party, this is about our mission: to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in our communities. Racism is antithetical to this mission. Period.
I will end this post as I ended my Charlie Hebdo post.
To my Charlottesville colleagues I ask, how can I help?