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.