NDLC feelings, as Hamilton feelings

Well. So. Some administrators said some things today that I should probably try to write about so as to not internalize it unhealthily, but I feel so reluctant to do it that I wrote up this post that I’ve been procrastinating on instead.

This is the Hamilton post that none of you asked for, and you are getting anyway. For context, I wrote the original on my flight back from the National Diversity in Libraries Conference. And in many ways, this is actually my reflection on NDLC, but sometimes, when you feel vulnerable, it’s easier to speak through metaphors or analogies.

One of my favorite themes in Hamilton is the balance and tension between patience and impatience in collaborative enterprises, and if that sounds a little familiar to you, it might be because there was a #critlib chat on this topic in library/social justice work awhile ago. Among other things, the chat brought up the idea that “patience,” usually touted as a strategic strength, can also have the effect of doing little more than reinforcing the status quo. In Hamilton the character Alexander Hamilton embodies impatience, exhibiting a restless drive throughout much of the musical, and the character  Aaron Burr embodies patience, exhibiting an almost-military-seeming capacity to suppress action right up until he finds an advantageous moment. They display both the best and the worst of these respective approaches to career and life. Hamilton’s career rises incredibly quickly, and he persuades countless people over to his perspectives by sheer volume of passionate writing, writing that pours out of him “like he’s running out of time.” But he also makes enough enemies that he is shut out of the Presidency, and history shows us that the person that this character was based on has, until this century, been as effectively un-written from history as his political opponents could manage after his death. Burr, by contrast, has a philosophy of waiting things out. In his political career, he waits to see “which way the wind will blow,” and he reframes his inaction during critical moments from “standing still,” to “lying in wait.” He rises to power in his own way, becoming a Senator and rubbing shoulders with many future Presidents. But then again, he also gets shut out of the Presidency by Hamilton, who kinda irrefutably points out that Burr is all ambition with no substantive values. And history also shows us that the person this character is based on is generally two-dimensionalized, and he’s known mostly for that one little murderous crime of passion. (Did HIS dad argue that he shouldn’t be put in prison for a violent crime because moments of misjudgment shouldn’t be allowed to throw off the track of a seemingly bright career, I wonder?)

I see a similar balance and tension between patience and impatience in library work, in work in academia, and in social justice work. I was raised and taught to “wait for it”, to pick battles carefully (and thus, to doubt the significance of all potential battlegrounds), and to prioritize strategy over tactics. That said, I was probably extra-taught these things because I was an incredibly impatient kid; I almost didn’t learn to read because I thought that the early-reader books available when I was 6-7 were not worth my time, and it was faster and usually less of an insult to my intelligence to just talk to people. In a lot of ways, the tensions between choosing patience or impatience is actually choosing between my gut/nature and my education. When I think about whether to be blunt or diplomatic with my admin about problematic aspects of and problematic situations in my residency program, when I think about language to use with white allies, when I think about whether or not to call out laziness in some Asian American social justice work (I’m Asian American btw), when I think about establishing consensus in committee work, this is always my challenge. Do I wait for my moment at the risk of never acting, like Aaron Burr, or do I say my piece/do my action and to hell with the half-assed allies I lose, like Alexander Hamilton? For the moment, I’m experimenting with letting my Hamilton out a little more; I’m dealing with a very deeply entrenched status quo in my workplace, my profession, and my country, and generations before me have tried patience for long enough. And as a self-care measure, I’d really like to let myself have the opinions that I have, unapologetically, more often.

NDLC was absolutely rife with discussions that revolved around the patience/impatience balance and tension. There were a lot of folks having vigorous discussions about the issues behind diversity-in-the-workplace initiatives, and a lot of folks talking in-depth about their public-facing work and its short- and long-term ramifications. Sometimes, the talks and discussions delved deep, and sometimes, they were kinda like inspiration porn. In the deep-delving conversations, there was a sense that we all wanted to get out and do all the things NOW. In the inspiration-yay talks, there was sometimes a sense that some folks in the room were impatient to delve deep, but reined in because too many people still needed to talk about basic stuff like the general importance of critical information literacy. Sometimes, there were amazing talks given by POC and LGBTQ that got jaw-dropping questions/comments from the audience that were either full-on white/cis/het fragility or else  demands to be spoon-fed the ingredients to assuage their white/cis/het guilt (“Tell me what to say/do! Teach me about your oppression!”). One person actually asked a presenting resident librarian, “So you mentioned code-switching to conform to norms of professionalism; that sounds hard, what can we do to help you stop having to do it?” I  almost said, “Try not to be a douchebag” aloud from my place in the audience, but I chose patience instead. Sometimes, the informal conversations were folks of marginalized backgrounds sharing safe space, holding space for each other, expressing sympathy for impatience. Sometimes the informal conversations involved a lot of emotional labor to try to meet other people where they were, over and over, and that took up a lot more of my capacity for patience than I thought it would.

But I said this was a post about Hamilton, so let’s go back to that. Like so many things in my life, I loved Hamilton unreservedly for awhile, and, after some thought, I now think of it as a bit of a problematic fave. (Is there any such thing as a non-problematic fave, really?) It feeds pieces of me that have starved for longer than I have existed. But then, there are other pieces of me that instinctively reach up to be fed when I listen to it, and remain empty. Like, the white-taught feminist part of me (“There are so many [women] to deflower?” Is that supposed to be funny? Is that really ever just a joke?). The intersectional feminist part of me (Will there *ever* be a sympathetic WoC character who isn’t forced into the “strong/tough/withstands it all” WoC stereotype or the “magic lady bits” WoC stereotype?). Even the piece of me that loves the central aspect of the show (placing people of color in central roles of known history as a way to frame our present realities) sorta comes up a little short. Lyra Monteiro made an interesting point that the casting of Black people as Founding Fathers has an effect of actually erasing Black people’s narratives of the time period; in suspending disbelief regarding the race of the Founding Fathers, the audience sees a stage full of Black people and may not realize that there are actually no Black characters in the story (except Sally Hemings, yikes), even though there were definitely Black people in the real-life version.  Hamilton also has fans who sometimes come up with ideas that I find… difficult to identify with. For example, I love Star Wars, but I feel that the Star Wars parody of Hamilton’s opening number with a white cast kind of reads like denial of white privilege, particularly as applies to separating white privilege vs. socioeconomic privilege (“Luke the son of Anakin,” poor desert farmer, as Alexander Hamilton). Similarly, I love the weeping angels from Doctor Who, but I don’t particularly find the meme paralleling what they do and what Aaron Burr does very diverting, when Aaron Burr is singing to us about is a central conflict in human experience, whereas the weeping angels seem to have their power mostly to allow the Doctor Who directors to experiment with a camera-as-invisible-participant conceit.

NDLC gave me some of those feelings also. The mere fact that it existed, that it happened feeds a piece of my professional core that has been extremely underfed for some time. It was so amazing to be at a library conference where at least half of the attendees were people of color, the code of conduct appeared in the front of the program rather than the back, and there were codes in place to facilitate respecting individual privacy privileges in  photos of the event. There were also some pieces of my professional self that remained unfed at NDLC. For example, I went to more than one talk about multilingual collections in academic libraries as a service for international and ESL students, something I’ve had some hangups about ever since I was asked to select Chinese-language electronic resources way back when. The talks didn’t cover measures to ensure that those collections really constituted language justice, or about supplementing those collections with research services. It really bugs me when librarians prate about “serving” international students with materials in non-English languages, when we don’t know that it is necessarily international students we are reaching, and we don’t teach about how to find those sources and cite them in English-language research. And, as is normal, there were also some folks at the conference whose ideas I found difficult to swallow. No, you are not trapping me into giving examples on this one. All told, I’m glad in my guts that I got to go to NDLC, and if any person who may not wholly get it asks, all I will say is that it was amazing. You, my readers, I hope, understand that it was a little more complicated than that, and that it will all take a long time to process. I met a lot of truly amazing people. And I feel I can congratulate myself for having successfully navigated a very social conference despite some of ye olde depression symptoms having been on the rise for about 3 weeks.

Jesus be a Revolution

In the past two weeks I have been severely disappointed by white men in power. The first, a pretty prominent person in libraryland, took the opportunity to say All Lives Matter after the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Then refused to engage when called out on it. And what’s worse is that I’m still early career. For all my big mouth speaking at conferences and writing all the things I still need to be careful. There are many many years before I reach retirement age and I can’t be burning bridges without careful consideration of how it might affect me in later years. Which, as you can imagine, is just another level of violence. BUT at the very least we are not CURRENTLY working together so I can just let it cook.

The same cannot be said for the second man. He told me and my colleague in no uncertain terms that we are only worth being here because of our skin color. Period. No mention of our qualifications or experience. Nope. Just a token body to trot out and use to show how they’re taking “diversity and inclusion” seriously. So now just to toot my own horn, let’s see I’ve:

  • spoken on 5 panels
  • done a poster
  • published 3 things
  • got accepted into the Minnesota Institute


but nah. That doesn’t mean anything, right? And it has been a couple of days and I have to keep reminding myself that I am a kickass librarian. That I’m not just a black body. That I’m human and worth being heard. And I hate that this.

So I’ll just end with a tweet I saw today

JC be a Revolution

AMC Reflections

Firstly, I would just like to say that the overall vibe of AMC was not really my sorta thing. The whole “let’s constantly talk about/process our feelings” thing is SO not my thing. At one point I was in a session and I jokingly texted a friend “let’s bring repressing feelings back.” So as a conference I think it was one of the most emotionally draining conferences for me as someone who is both an introvert and a private person. Sometimes I don’t want to introduce myself and get to know my neighbor! Sometimes I just want to sit in the back of a lecture and participate minimally.


On the other hand, AMC was exactly what I needed. It was the first non-library conference that I have ever been to. And I think the panel I was in (Librarians of Color Survival Guide) was one of two “academic-y” sessions that I saw throughout the entire conference. And it was amazingly refreshing. Cause like I can do the academic jargon. I can speak like an elitist dick. But it takes a mental shift and doing it exhausts me. Whenever Ana and I are working on something I will explain a concept, and she will make it all academic-y and it’s like….right I’m in academia now. If only we all had such good friends/colleagues who can take the simple language and make it jargon-y! But then like at the same time, why is that the norm??? Like why is that we say things in 15 words that can be said in 5??? Being at AMC really drove home just how academic the twitter chats are (so not just critlib but others as well). When I reflect on the vast gulf between the casual language spoken by the librarians at the AMC panels and the “casual” language of the librarians on twitter it blows my mind. Like to the point where multiple times during the conference I had distinct moments of just marveling on the true accessibility of language being used by the session organizers.

Many of the sessions were done in a breakout-reflective style which had its pros and cons (more on the cons later), but it meant that there was more time to actually talk to other librarians and community organizers about things. Often I hear about how the best parts of ALA conferences are the conversations had over dinner or during downtime. Many AMC sessions cut out the middle man and created an organized and safe space for those conversations. In fact, the thing I liked most about AMC was the mixed crowds of the sessions. Librarians, artists, community organizers, non-profit workers, all spoke and contributed their thoughts and experiences. It made for truly interesting conversations about what can be done in communities.

In contrast, library conferences such as ALA feel speaking in a giant echo chamber. For the most part, those conferences are librarians speaking to other librarians. And while there’s definitely a need for that as well, it sometimes feels like that is all we do. We talk about library communities without any actual community members in our audiences. After a while the gulf between what we think the community wants and what the actual community members want can grow wide. Librarians were connecting directly with those working in the community and talking about change. It was awesome.

Also in terms of just respecting the conference goers it was pretty great. The conference badge had PGPs (preferred gender pronouns) on them, the lanyard color changed depending on whether or not you were comfortable being documented/photographed in some way, and on the back of the badge, there were helpful numbers including ones for medical attention.

But in some ways it was incredibly inaccessible. The sessions as I mentioned before tended to be breakout style. So it meant constant moving around within the actual sessions. And many sessions had icebreaker-type openings which again resulted in a lot of movement throughout the day that I wasn’t really prepared for. There must be a way to break away from the lecture style session that isn’t as inaccessible as the breakout/world cafe style session. But that balance was not seen at anything I went to.

I think the biggest difference between AMC and any library conference I’ve been to is the community of people. Perhaps because the focus of AMC is very grassroots and social justice, and it takes place in Detroit, I was not the only black person there. I was not one of 2 or 3 or 5. I was one of many! I was not the only queer black femme, but one of many. I met queer API folk who understood the anti-blackness in their community and worked to fight it. It was one of the most welcoming (too welcoming at times for my grumpy misanthropic heart) spaces that I have ever been in. It didn’t feel lonely or alienating like library conferences can feel (even the small ones). It felt…safe. Like a truly safe space.

And so because of that, I would definitely go back to AMC. Despite all the overabundance of processing =P



Poppin’ the “Diversity Work” Cherry

Have you ever taken way too long to realize that something was up, and you should have asked a pointed question when you had the chance?

I spoke on a panel about diversity in libraries recently, and in the months leading up to it, I was so busy feeling nervous and honored that I didn’t realize that I was going to be tokenized and put in a position where I had to come up with a way to speak with the voice of both an oppressed minority and a privileged ally, on the spot, in front of a big, mostly-white audience. This is the first time anyone’s ever asked me to be a speaker for anything, and it was a pretty big thing; it was a big event at a big conference. I knew when I agreed to do it that it’d be at least a little bullshitty – diversity talks at big events kinda tend to be because the talks are either too big and abstract, or else they wind through too many situational anecdotes to make any sense. But I didn’t realize that it was going to be worse, that I was going to be called on to be “the race person,” and asked to speak personally about a situation that I’ve barely even learned to be a good ally in.

In retrospect, I should have figured it out a lot sooner; I knew the other members of the panel were a Muslim librarian and a leader of the LGBT roundtable. I also knew that there was a section of the talk about Islamophobia, another about transphobia, and another about race. I went in thinking that we were all going to present thoughts in each section. But what actually happened was that everyone else understood without explanation that a particular section was their primary responsibility. And when we got to the last one, and I finally realized that I was supposed to be the one to direct people in the room to talk about whether and how to support black activism in library use policies (seriously, me – I only just woke up a few years ago), in that half-second, my heart broke and I wanted to cry. Right there in front of a full room of people who had been led to believe that I’m a “thought leader.”

I gibbered something, and it was next to useless. Something about using ethical-dilemma situations to test whether your community’s needs, your library mission, and your library policy align, and not just blindly following policy or twisting policy to whatever situation is at hand. I probably should have pointed out that, as much as it may seem like anathema to rewrite your library policy or mission, it’s been done. And while I was up there, I also should have clarified that YES, it is vital to support black activism in libraries, and YES, you can find a way to strike down the naysayers because reverse racism is absolutely not a real thing.

But, y’know, I forgot to say those parts because I was mentally deafened by the roaring consciousness that they shouldn’t have asked a privileged Asian American academic librarian to talk about supporting black activism in public libraries, and I shouldn’t have consented to do it.

But I guess I already know from watching other people that that’s kind of how “diversity work” in broad libraryland goes. It’s great that people are talking about diversity in libraries more, but it’s also so, so worrisome to see how problematically it’s being done a lot of the time. It breaks your heart, even as it gives you hope. Sometimes, you have to try to come up with something impossibly insightful and diplomatic on-the-spot, and accept that you won’t do it as well as it should be done. And sometimes, you have to be big enough to recognize that somebody else’s voice would be more valuable than yours in a given conversation, and you have to step away from the speaking opportunity, no matter how much you want it. And I hope I never fail to see that again.

Pulse, Trayvon, and Annual 2016

I woke up yesterday morning grieving. I don’t know what happened in my sleep, because on Sunday, I determinedly went to my first Pride Parade and refused to be afraid. But the morning after, I woke up and was immediately conscious of feeling too heavy; every physical movement tells me that my body bears a sadness that I can’t yet fully capture in the reach of my thoughts. I actually remember this. Once, a gunman came and ripped my imagination of the safety of a place that I loved, too.

It isn’t just the body count, and it isn’t just that the bodies belong to queer and trans people of color. Or that so many queer and trans people of color across the US cannot even really muster surprise; most of us can only feel that congealed anger that we have known our whole lives, that old, old grief that we have inherited and carried for centuries. These are enough things to mourn on their own. But truly, what I am grieving about is the violence in the way the narrative of the shooting at Pulse in Orlando is being shaped; I know it will continue for some time to come. The violence in media outlets’ first Islamophobic volleys when ISIS claimed post-hoc responsibility. The violence in the slow, slow acknowledgment that so many of the bodies are Latinx bodies, for LGBTQIA movements are, even yet, so driven by whiteness. The violence in the gleeful “I knew it” responses to media probes into the shooter’s own sexuality.

The violence in the library community, surrounding ALA Annual in a few weeks. To be clear, it seems like official statements have been prompt, and there are strong voices supporting queer librarians’ valid fears about attending Annual, and these *aren’t* bad things. But there is violence in forgetting, and I know that the first time anyone surfaced fears to attend ALA Annual 2016 was not just this week. It was when Trayvon Martin was murdered. Do you remember how you reacted to black librarians’ fears to attend Annual 2016? Is that reaction commensurate with your reaction to queer and trans librarians’ fears to attend Annual 2016? Whether the answer to the last question is “yes” or “no” (and the difference in body counts does NOT matter), we have an opportunity to think back and contextualize here. And I say “we” because, me too. I wasn’t paying attention at the time. I rankled and I wrote my local representatives, but I didn’t seek to know how the horrifying growth of black body counts across the country affects my black colleagues in the professional sphere.

If any of us look back and realize that we failed to pay attention, or worse yet, openly mocked black librarians for fearing to attend Annual (and yes, “we’re oppressed too” definitely counts as mockery), we have an opportunity to say “I understand now, and I’m sorry that it took so long, that it took all of this, for me to understand.” It might be too little too late, but failing to recognize how Trayvon Martin’s murder affects our black colleagues is a violence of forgetting. Failing to recognize disproportion in the response to our black colleagues’ needs and our queer colleagues’ needs for Annual 2016 is a violence of forgetting. Seeking validation for the fears of queer and trans librarians without validating the fears of black librarians is a perpetuation of violence within our profession. And we have to understand as allies that forgiveness isn’t owed to us; nobody owes us “thank you” for ceasing acts of oppression. We will just do it because we were wrong and now we know better.


Performing Cheer: The Struggles of a Black Introvert

Now anyone who has interacted with me in person for more than like 5 seconds would probably not call me the most extroverted person. I tend to be reserved when meeting new people, and even when I warm up to you, I’m never the most open person when it comes to my emotional state. Unless it’s shade. I throw that left and right =D

In any case, there was a meeting with my the department and program supervisors a couple of weeks ago to discuss the rotations and give/receive feedback. One of the things that really stuck with me was their criticisms of my demeanor. They all mentioned that because I was not outwardly demonstrative, it was hard to read my emotions. They took this lack as a negative-viewing me as withdrawn and unenthused.

And it has really weighed on me since. Even now, it upsets me just thinking about it.

White privilege means that there’s already an assumption of “service” where Black women are concerned. Whether it be physically (like being constantly mistaken as an employee) or emotionally (catering to white tears) it is exhausting. Combined with the research showing that black emotions are constantly misread in an exaggerated way, it makes for a rollercoaster of an environment.

Just imagine. Think about all the facial expressions and ticks you have. What is your face doing right now? Is it smiling. Is it frowning. Is it neutral? How do you think other people are reading your face right now? Maybe you should smile more. Talk louder. Oop! Not too loud. People will mistake you for angry. So on and so forth. Day after day after day without end.

Why is it not enough to do my job? Why must I also be happy and bubbly and cute? Why must I make sure that I do the “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” work?

~sigh~ And so the struggle continues.


School Librarian Identity Anxieties

So I was talking to my friend over the weekend about paths in librarianship and all that. And she mentioned that with the whole Minnesota Institute thing and the fact that I can’t seem to pass up a conference without proposing something for it (womp) that I’m sort of setting myself up for academia. And it’s just like…..am I? Do I want that? Is that a bad thing? I am so conflicted. I love being a school librarian. It made me so happy. But I feel like librarianship values academics….and only them. But at what point have I been out of the school game too long to talk about it? 5 yrs? 10? Is it possible to keep my ties to K-12 and be an academic? Don’t get me wrong. I love my current rotation. And health-wise academia is 100% the best play. I want to make a difference. I want to be a part of a community that changes libraryland for the better. And with how ALA is set up, the conferences most benefit those in academia. They def give more funding that schools. Taking a week off work just for professional development is more doable for academics than it is for schools. I mean this year Mid-Winter was like 4 days after Christmas break. There is no way I could have gone if I was a school librarian. And even Annual takes place during the school year. Those are a lot of days to have to get a sub and set up lesson plans and have the students be unable to check out books. And although things like #critlib helps build a community without physically changing locations, gaining power in librarianship is still mostly tied to “being in the room” as it were. But then I see things like the New York Collective of Radical Educators and I’m so envious! But I also remember the emotional exhaustion that came with being a school librarian. And the parents! Lord, parents are the absolute worst part of that job. And so I’m also worried that it’s a “grass is greener” situation that is happening. Basically, I’m all confused and anxious about what happens next after this residency.