A couple months ago, we all found out that another library had employed another white nationalist— he’d spoken at rallies– and I had just had it. It wasn’t a new problem or a new idea. Not for the first time, I thought “You can’t be this kind of jerk and do library work right.” A way fancier way to say that is to point out it’s antithetical, and you know I don’t mind nice things.
Even if you’re some king of compartmentalizing (gross) if you think you are superior to the folks you serve, if you imagine you have an inherent right to hurt and exploit them, you can’t be in their service. You can’t, and you shouldn’t, and we needed to acknowledge it and stop it. I scribbled on my white board, and started trying to think about what I could do to not be complicit in white supremacy through my inaction.
Then, on January 6th, a bunch of terrifying fascist racist yahoos cosplay sacked the Capitol. They might have murdered Congress! Instead they just trashed it, peed all over everything, and then forced a bunch of underpaid custodial staff (mostly black men) to clean it up. I was scared, furious, and ready for a fight. So I yelled on Twitter that I wanted to make a resolution to Condemn White Supremacy and Fascism and I needed help.
Y’all, one of the most gratifying and beautiful things about library work is that people show up when you ask for help. In minutes, I had a co-author/chief editor, Violet Fox— PS you should hire her for a job. I had a champion for Council process/resolutions wizard, Emily Clasper— PS you should hire her as a consultant. I had talented folks jumping in to help right and left.
I also stood on the shoulders of giants and want to acknowledge loudly that library workers of color did and do the labor (often thanklessly) within ALA– folks including April Hathcock, Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada, Ray Pun, Valerie Bell, and Oscar R. Lanza-Galindo to name a few (not enough). While I helped facilitate the work that got us to this most recent piece of progress, their work was foundational. It deserves to be celebrated, and part of what being an antiracist ALA ought mean is that it should not be minimized or marginalized.
On January 25th, 2021– just 15 days after I posted that tweet– ALA passed that Resolution. It did much more than just say we condemn ideologies.
Interjection: A Resolution is not a Statement.
Please know I will never put forward a document that is full of hot air lip service to social justice, and I think the same is true of most of your ALA colleagues. This resolution is doing the work (and so am I). Also, statements are good! We need them, and/but the resolution isn’t a statement.
A point that I’ve seen get made is that this is symbolic or merely a gesture. It’s not– the great thing about a resolution is that when it passes, it becomes policy, and policy (as long as we hold ourselves accountable) determines how we do work. So with that noted, what does that policy say and what does it commit us to?
Whereas Clauses: Basically, this section of any resolution amounts to “Look at this situation! Here are my citations!” It frames and contextualizes the resolved actions. In the case of the Resolution Condemning White Supremacy and Fascism as Antithetical to Library Work we had a substantial case we had to make.
Every resolution has to set it’s context. When Violet and I worked through our first draft, we knew what we wanted to establish:
- That libraries had encouraged white supremacy and fascism WITH neutrality.
- That we had made commitments to safe spaces and safe workplaces that white supremacy and fascism threaten.
- That ALA has taken steps towards acknowledgement and reinvestment (Spectrum Scholars, for instance) that we can and should build upon.
- That we needed to repair relationships and heal communities to move forward, and that means listening to BIPOC in ways that are safe and supportive.
- That we want the Association to be braver and more direct and antiracist and antifascist because it’s a proxy for the whole profession.
It took us 9 clauses and about 19 references (you can find them here! a glorious reading list!).
Resolutions Clauses: I know y’all want to hear about the action. Here you go!
- ALA acknowledged that neutrality rhetoric emboldens fascists and racists. Libraries are not neutral, and they never have been but the profession has debated neutrality for decades. If you are ever trying to make a case against neutrality, in a class, an article, a discussion at your workplace– you can point this out/cite this. ALA picked a side.
- ALA APOLOGIZED for both past and ongoing harms. Talk about necessary and overdue! The “ongoing” was the only amendment to the resolution, and it was a good one.
- ALA agreed to establish confidential and safe communication for BIPOC/others to give feedback and input for the association moving forward their feedback is meant to inform the work of the two working groups below.
- ALA charged a current group focused on social justice and intellectual freedom to look at neutrality rhetoric in existing documents and platforms and make recommendations/provide alternatives by July 1, 2021. Think about what our Library Bill of Rights and Code of Ethics may look like with this.
- ALA charged another working group under ODLOS to investigate existing, developing, and new antiracist and antifascist frameworks to explicitly incorporate in communication, advocacy, events, and organizational design. THIS IS THE BIG ONE. ALA committed to applying antiracist and antifascist frameworks to everything– as long as we hold ALA accountable and do the work as volunteers/members, we will have an antiracist and antifascist ALA.
- ALA will look into restorative and reparative measures = potentially more money for direct investment in antiracist work (expanding spectrum, BIPOC member support, the sky’s the limit).
- ALA will report back on progress towards applying antiracist and antifascist frameworks every 6 months. Forever. I am really proud of this– this is how we may become an antiracist and antfascist association, so long as we hold ourselves accountable.
You may be thinking, “Damn, there’s a lot of ways we could still not become antiracist and antifascist!” FAIR. Are you committed to an antiracist and antifascist profession? Being a member of ALA to hold ALA accountable and keep us moving the right direction is a great action we can take together.
This is what the plan moving forward looks like. Y’all THIS MAY CHANGE. Be kind to your volunteer colleagues– volunteer yourself. Be kind to ALA staff– just like all of us they’re facing furloughs and understaffing. Getting this done will take all of our sincere commitment and some labor. We have to work to make ALA and the profession better. I will not be having any comments that are not constructive– let’s try something instead.
I hope this helps you understand the context, argument, and next steps for the resolution. It was truly a group effort, and an act of service for the profession. Do you want an antiracist/antifascist profession? It’s in reach. We can have it if we do the work.