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.

BUT

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

 

 

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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.