On January 28th, at ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in Seattle, April Hathcock, an ALA Councilor and library leader, was verbally assaulted during a Council Forum. You can read April’s account here. This incident is egregious but merely indicative of the dominant culture of white supremacy that pervades libraries and library organizations due to the overwhelming whiteness of librarianship.
I have come to think of much of the passive white supremacy we see in our society and our workplaces as a form of cultivated torpor motivated by a fear of confrontation. Reading April’s account the most unsettling and least surprising thing to me was the lack of intervention during the incident. Collectively, white library workers of conscience need to rouse ourselves to action or we are complicit to the dangerous environment we allow to harm our colleagues. I mean that. Inaction is harmful, is dangerous, is wrong.
Here’s what I just wrote to ALA about it. Thanks to Ingrid Conley-Abrams and Anna J. Clatterbuck-Cook for great templates and inspiration.
Greetings, Ms. Jones and ALA Staff Members:
I am reaching out to you to ask that you take immediate action to address the abuse directed at April Hathcock during a Council forum at ALA Midwinter on January 28th. I am a long-time member of ALA and serve on the LITA Board, and I am passionate about our organization. That is why I am extremely dismayed by the Association’s failure to create safe spaces for our community. Abuse of any person is unacceptable and counter to our ALA values. To see a leader like April Hathcock, whose generous efforts on behalf of the organization are many and valued, be abused during an ALA Midwinter event is reprehensible and cannot be tolerated.
ALA espouses values of diversity and inclusion and proactively seeks to recruit members of color, but this incident (among others) demonstrates all too terribly the ways in which the Association- and I include myself in this- has failed those members and endangered them. It is a deep wrong that requires immediate and public action.
I am conscious of my role as an ALA leader in this, and want to let you know that I will not attend ALA events moving forward until ALA takes meaningful steps to address the unsafe, hostile, and unsustainable environment a racist culture- and that’s what we have- creates. In the event that ALA chooses to continue business as usual I will not renew my membership and will withdraw from formal association leadership.
I support April Hathcock and ask the following actions on the part of ALA:
1. April Hathcock’s attacker should face meaningful consequences- at minimum this person should be prevented from ALA Council participation in the future.
2. ALA needs to formally apologize to April Hathcock for its failure to ensure her safety and
3. Its subsequent, inappropriate intimidation techniques including an ambush meeting with ALA legal.
4. ALA must schedule and coordinate town hall events (ideally both in-person and online to provide opportunities for as many members as possible to attend) to talk about the endemic racism and white supremacy of libraries as a profession, in ALA as an organization, and the dangerous consequences of this culture.
And I do mean dangerous consequences. Without address and proactive anti-racist work, ALA risks and endangers its community and its future. I thank you for your attention and action in this matter.
Update: ALA has formally apologized and is taking active steps to address racism in libraries/its membership. The org is not perfect, but for now I am staying a member and will continue to try to hold them accountable.
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