This is for Andromeda!
(I will come back and edit after I post this to describe stuff a bit more)
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This is for Andromeda!
(I will come back and edit after I post this to describe stuff a bit more)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29
One of the more interesting things about my experience as #gsisc14 yesterday was feeling kind of out of place based on the presentation I gave and my own position relative to the two major kinds of people at the colloquium. The group was mainly comprised of either academics and/or information professionals. I feel like my presentation stood out for being classified in either.
While I was technically there as an information professional, the content of my presentation had very little to do with my job. I tweeted at one point that I wish I hadn’t mentioned my institutional affiliation because the work I was describing has nothing to do with my institution, so it shouldn’t be given roundabout credit for the work that I do around my community-based web archiving project. The project, rather, was started because as a member of a certain community, I felt it was important. And my presentation was definitely more about my position within this community, rather than how I make money.
I very much was also not there as an academic and, indeed, a great deal of my presentation on ethics was a not-so-subtle calling out of academics for how they exploit marganilized people online. Beyond this aspect though, it was more apparent in my entire lack of citation or mention of any academic discourse in my presentation (and paper). The ethical considerations I discussed within my presentation were developed via participation in intellectual communities situation outside of academia. While, sure, these communities don’t exist in isolation from academia and many individuals have various ties to the academy, the ways that the ideas are articulated and developed aren’t academic (indeed, often are about resistance to academic ways of expression).
As much as I have conceptual issues with identifying as an activist, it really does seem the best way to situation myself within a colloquium like #gsisc14. I was definitely more there as an activist than either an academic or an information professional. I mean… this is pretty self-apparent in the preamble to my presentation where I acknowledge my position as a settler on Indigenous land. This is a fairly common thing to see at more activist oriented spaces/gatherings, but I think I may have been the only person to do this yesterday.
Conceptualizing things this way helps explains some of the intellectual disagreements I encounter with other librarians or academics — we aren’t really articulating ourselves within the same domain of discourse.
As an example from some tweets yesterday… I mention in my presentation that I fully support the ‘right to be forgotten’. Which, in the context of my presentation, is a claim I’m making about marginalized people (and to be even more specific, a claim I’m making about people of colour with multiple overlapping sites of oppression). This claim was not a universal one or one that should be understood to apply to all people. But, on twitter (who, to give credit, may not have had the context of the presentation) I get people playing the devil’s advocate asking about what happens when overtly oppressive privileged people want to exercise this right…
My response is, of course, why is my discussion being derailed right now?
But, of course, this question is pretty reasonable within the decontextualized, general, abstract discourse that academics prefer. It is also pretty reasonable in a professional discourse that is often policy based, thus interpreting my claim as being about or primarily relevent to policy decisions (where this kind of hypothetical is necessary within policy discussions).
In activist types of discourse… playing the devil’s advocate is derailing. It serves to disrupt productive dialogue and discussion by recentering privileged people. It is also very aggravating and irritating.
A great example of how this disjunct between activist styles of engagement vs. academic ones is my discussion with Wayne Bivens-Tatum over the enlightenment:
I had one Twitter interaction with nina de jesus regarding the Enlightenment where we each decided that we were right even though we completely disagreed with each other, so pretty typical for an Internet discussion. source
I guess… First, I’m not sure why either of us needs to have ‘convinced’ the other. This certainly isn’t why I engage people. Moreover… I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have debates or discussions about my humanity. Enlightenment thought is an ideology where I literally cannot exist (not just as a human, I don’t exist within the ideology). He has his opinion, I have mine. My opinion happens to be that I’m human and that I do, in actual fact, exist. I see no reason to think that my ‘opinion’ is something I should be willing to discuss with anyone. If you disagree with me… well, I can’t really say anything to you because, um, I either don’t exist or I am not a human being, according to you.
I think people will get on better with me, or be better able to understand why I engage in discourse the way I do if they keep the “nina is an activist” in mind, rather than trying to situate me within either academic or professional discourse. I actually think that this is what I’m going to start writing in my bio for the professional things I do. Heck, I’m going to update my twitter bio once I’m done writing this.
To anyone whose looked at the demographic data of librarianship recently, it isn’t any big secret that the majority of individuals working in the field are white women. This is just a simple fact. Concurrently, it is also a fact that in many different areas and discourses the default ‘human’ is white (cis/het/able) men. This leads to the interesting phenomenon that occurred yesterday at the Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies Colloquium whereby it is clear that “women’s” issues within the field are still relevant and important in a larger social context by the internal community dynamics are often smoothed over in the discussions.
Some people yesterday took my morning session tweets to be a call for increased instersectionality. They weren’t. Not least in part because of recent discussions about the misappropriation and misuse of ‘intersectionality’ by non-Black women:1
But at the end of the talk, their was a question and answer section. I had decided to ask her [Patricia Hill Collins] a similar question I asked Kimberle Crenshaw. How do you feel about the ways white feminists have taken your work on intersectionality as a feminist way to be more inclusive while erasing the creations as part of a Black feminist tradition and without a dedication to Black women’s lives in any way?
She gave an anecdote. She asked if the House of Blues was still in Cambridge or Boston. We said yes. Recently I was at a Bootsy Collins show there, maybe a year ago. So yes, it was there. I was so suprised when I arrived. And she elaborated on why with her anecdote.
She said what has become of her work on intersectionality and Crenshaw’s as well is what has been done to Blues, Jazz and Rock. When I went to the Bootsy Collins show I was actually appalled at how WHITE the audience was. these are NOT true Bootsy fans or lovers. but once whiteness gets their grasp on something they love that Black people have created, they have to make it more and more inaccessible to Black people while also whitening it to be no longer noticeable as a Black creation.
So, no my tweets about how many of the morning presenters were talking about white women only wasn’t about asking them to be more intersectional.
Rather, the tweets were more about a plea (an echo really, of past generations) for these white women to remember that they are not the default librarian. That their experiences within the field (especially in a historical context) are not universal and that treating them as such erases the reality and lives lived by women of colour.
One example from the opening panel… Melodie Fox’s talk discussed legal meta-narratives of sex and gender around the editions of the DDC (see here for full description). Early on, she mentioned the historical feminization of the profession and read some white guy’s explanation for why librarianship is suitable work for women… except that he was talking about white women. And so was she. But at no point was this mentioned.
I especially find discussions about the professionalization of librarianship, as well as its relative low-paying status to industries requiring similar levels of education but have a more balanced gender distribution or are weighted towards men, faily interesting in the ways that the race of these white women played a significant role in their ability to be professionalized in the first place.
When we think about the three classic women’s professions of teaching, nursing, and librianship, we can easily begin to see that these women’s professions in the early days were really for white women. The fact that these are considered professions whereas domestic service, for example, is partially a function of white supremacy.
Domestic servants are not today and could not ever have been ‘professionalized’ in the same way. Why? Well, because domestic service as a ‘job’ really only came about (if we are talking about the US) because white slave owners had to start paying their recently emancipated servants. Prior to this point a lot of the ‘positions’ were occupied by enslaved Black women. This is also true of nannies, farming, and a whole host of other ‘jobs’ that relied on forced Black women’s labour.
This is why discussions of the professionalization of librarianship must mention race. It is just as important to how the field and profession are constituted and created as gender. Librarianship might be devalued because it is women’s work, but it is valued because it is white women’s work. Both of these realities operate at the same time. This generally holds true for any discussion about how ‘women’ entered the workforce… as if Black women and other women of colour hadn’t already been forcibly working for centuries under colonialism.
In many different panels and talks, there was repeated mention about bringing in or using feminist ethics/epistemology/discourse within librarianship to do make the field better. And yet, for the same reasons I resist (white) feminism, I have to say I’m largely unmoved and unimpressed by the necessity of this based on what I heard yesterday. By assuming white women as default woman and librarian, by assuming that white women’s experiences within the field are universal and generally applicable, I find myself deeply unclear as to what changes feminism could possibly bring about within the library.
While, sure, it is true that men are over-represented within library management, it is still true that management is mostly white women. Presumably, given that the field is (at least according to most stated professional ethics) fairly progressive and liberal, how is the solution to bring in (more) white feminist ideology going to make a difference to the white women already running the show? Or is the idea to put different kinds of white women (eg white feminists) in management instead of the supposedly not-feminist white women currently managing libraries?
Am I mistaken to understand that one of the prevelant ‘solutions’ discussed yesterday was to essentially solve white women’s problems by applying more white women’s ideologies to the situation? That, essentially, what the situation calls for is a Nice White Lady™?
The other reason is that I think many of the topics were fine as they were. As in, they didn’t and don’t necessarily need to talk about women of colour if they don’t want to. But saying, as one presenter did, that ‘you don’t have time to talk about race’ is disingenuous because you are talking about race. Especially if you are universalizing white women’s experience. My point, in part, here is that if you want to talk about white women only, just say so. But framing your discussion about ‘gender’ with white women as the default assumption by just talking about ‘women’ is only to enforce this racist notion that white experiences are universal. What I’m saying here is that your talk is, whatever you might think, already about race. So, mark the race of the people you are discussing. If they are white, say so. ↩
Cecily’s latest post has me feeling all the feels this morning. I’ve talked about this sort of thing before1. And recent articles about social networking as social surveillance further drive home one of my oft repeated points… that I do as I do on this blog, twitter, etc. because I am human and refuse to be anything less (or more).
Interestingly, I remember the social media class I took in library school where I pointed out that it would be an interesting change of pace for me to get punished for something I said vs. who I am. This is especially ironic given my current legal predicament which is, yes, about something I said but, as I’m learning, this doesn’t mean that is isn’t also about who I am.
I’m not sure whether or not I’m the sort of person who might be perceived as a ‘tall poppy’. It is hard for me to guage as a person who has always been hyper visible to power and peers. From the racist, gendered, and homophobic bullying I experienced as a youth to the racist, gendered, transmisogynist bullying/abuse I experience as an adult, I have always felt visible. Of course, this feeling is reflected by reality because, sadly, I have always been visible. My youth (and much of my adulthood) has been spent longing to be invisible. Longing to fade into the background so I can just quietly live my life. So that I can live. When I think about these concepts of being a tall poppy, of being a ‘rockstar’, I truly can’t understand what they mean. Not on a personal, visceral level2.
Of course, given the paradoxes of oppression, I write all this as it is commonplace for my self to be erased in discourse around these topics (and most professional ones, for that matter). I exist not as an individual human being but as a token. As an abstract concept for a lot of people (if I — or people like me — ever even occur to them at all). I exist as a statistic. As one of the approximately 11% of poc in academic librarianship. My humanity is lost in what I represent…
All of this means that everything I do, regardless of intention, means that I stand out. Simply by existing within a massively homogenous profession, I stand out. But it also means that my peers and colleagues are always watching. And I’ll stand out if I ‘conform’ to stereotypical expectations for people like me, if I embody the model minority. I’ll stand out if I fail to live up to this expectation. If I’m too good, forces will endeavor to ensure that I don’t get ideas. If I’m not good enough, punishment will be swift and disproportional.
If I stand here and simply say that my ‘professionalism’ is to exist as a human being, then I’ll eventually be pushed out (my time is coming, I’ve no doubt).
And, yeah, I guess I do want to know where those of us standing in the unflattering spotlight exist within these frameworks. I want to know what we are to do if we are neither tall poppy or rockstar, but still…still so very, very visible. This kind of hypervisibility isn’t a privilege. It doesn’t bring you any advantages. Nor are my comments here an expression of paranoia. I know people are watching. I see it in the expressions of disgust every time I exist in public. But, c’est la vie.
My last blog post about Nice White Ladies™ kind of delved a little into what the implications are of my recent article, “Locating the Library in Insitutional Oppression”. The general implication of the post and article is that working within a library necessarily means to be complicit in white supremacy (as institutional oppression)1.
As should be clear, the meaning of ‘complicit’ depends on the subject position of the labourer within libraries. For people of colour to be complicit in our own oppression generally means making bargains with power that allow us to obtain individual and singular gains, at the cost of selling out our people and selves. This doesn’t imply, however, that we are ‘oppressing ourselves’, rather it means that we have to compromise and allow our selves to be subjugated by power in order to continue to survive. Indeed, living with the cognitive dissonance and mental strain of making these bargains is part of our oppression, rather than a contribution. Recall Foucault and the panopticon, which describes how power operates to get its subjects to police themselves, rather than having to use overt force.
For white people working within libraries, however, the case is different. They do not make bargains with power, because they are power. They, collectively, constitute an important and necessary part of the ‘institution’ which oppresses via white supremacy.
As noted in the blog post, this isn’t about individuals and their actions. Since the library itself is structured and maintained via (both external and internal) mechanisms of institutional white supremacy, it becomes hard for individuals to enact or engage in any meaningful resistance to this structuring logic.
Again, great examples are taken from cataloguing. We have entire books written about how institutional oppression works within cataloguing. If you are a cataloger and work using either the LoC or DDC classification schemes (which I imagine is most cataloger’s working with Canada or the US), how exactly are you to resist the white supremacy encoded by these classifaction schemes? Yes, you can propose new subject headings. You could re-classify stuff and put in a call number that would be incoherent outside of your individual library (possibly even within your own library if you are the only person doing this).
So what can be done? This sounds like just a bunch of theory with no praxis, doesn’t it? It also seems so huge to attempt to change/transform/etc an insitution when individual actions appear to have very little impact on the institution itself…
This is where collective action comes into play. No, it is very true that individually white librarians can do very little to effect any real, substantive change on libraries to resist or dismantle white supremacy. The solution is for white librarians to begin working collectively towards these goals (and, obviously, librarians of colour should most definitely get involved where safe for us to do so2).
But the collective action has to be aimed at big changes. Not incremental or reformist ones. Note the cataloguing examples. From radical cataloguing we can see that some headway has been made to revise subject headings with the LCSH to use less offensive language and to stop erasing the lives of marginalized people… but this is too slow. The clearest solution is to either entirely revise the LCSH or entirely get rid of it and make a new system of classification. The clearest solution, but also the most difficult and time consuming one. Also, not the most ‘efficient’ one, which is a positive in my mind, since efficiency is desired by capitalism.
Or, if we want to talk about another low-hanging fruit. We often talk about the difficulty in diversifying collections. One of the biggest problems I find with how collections development discussions go re: diversity, is that they never, ever truly identify the real problem. The problem, of course, isn’t that librarians are terrible at making diverse collections (some are and some aren’t). The problem is that the publishing industry does not produce diverse products. Which also feeds into the lack of diversity in reviews (which are a key resource in collection development). For me, the solution here is for libraries to seize the means of production. Or to simply stop being only consumers of published materials. We can (and I think should) be publishing material from our communities. And, better yet, sharing this material with other libraries. Can you imagine the library collection ecosystem if we did this?
I recently saw a kickstarter for a platform intended to get self-published works into libraries. To me, this is easily the most ridiculous thing in the world. Here is an absurdly easy way to diversify collections. Individual creators are doing the hard work of producing and publishing. And libraries are doing what, exactly?
Anyway. One of the major implications of my article is that showing up (as a white librarian) and doing your job cannot be understood as a ‘doing good’. I know a lot of passionate librarians who think that just being and working as a librarian is doing good. Which, on a institutional level, simply isn’t true. Yes, if you help a unemployed person gain computer skills and find a job, this is a good thing. But it isn’t wholly good, because it maintains a system of capitalism whereby an individual’s worth is based on how productive we are. Obviously, the solution isn’t giving this individual a copy of Das Kapital and telling them to riseup against the bourgeoisie.
It isn’t easy (or perhaps even possible) to resolve the difficulty of knowing that your intentions are good and that you are helping people, with the reality of being complicit in someone else’s oppression. This is something that everyone needs to struggle with3. But this is a struggle that can often result in the conviction necessary to go out and change the world.
Again, while white supremacy was what I focused on within the article, it easily could have been any other institutional oppression.↩
I’m partly focusing on white librarians here because it is a simple fact that librarians are mostly white women. Thus, they (and white men) hold the majority of power within libraries. ↩
Yes, this includes me. I have my own privileges and struggle all the time with the ways I contribute to other people’s oppression. This is life in the world we live in.↩
A week or so ago, I tweeted this:
The biggest issue I’ve had with librarianship in general is that it is filled with Nice White Ladies™. And some Nice White Men™.
Sadly, this remains true. And since it turns out that my supervisor thinks I’m covered by academic freedom perhaps it really is time for a really frank discussion about the role white women play in white supremacy. As well as a discussion about racism, in general, in the library field.
A note on language: in the past few years I’ve favoured using ‘white supremacy’ over ‘racism’ because it is more exact and clear about the relationships of power that operate behind this type of institutional oppression. The unfortunate thing about trying to use racism is that we get super educated people like Richard Dawkins tweeting this:
Some people here think you can’t be racist against white people! Look it up in dictionary. Needless to say, no power asymmetry is mentioned.
This is a man with a doctorate telling people that dictionary is the authoritative text on racism. This, despite the fact that there are entire academic fields that study racism and that they do not use the dictionary as their guide. So you start talking about racism and you get a bunch of people trying to derail the conversation with absurd positions like this. Thus, I prefer to talk about white supremacy, since this is actually the organizing logic behind ‘racism’ as oppression. Of course, this comes with its own set of problems, but I’m okay with this.
Here is the source video for why I use “Nice White Lady™” to talk about a certain kind of librarian:
And if people want an example of what this appears like in the wild:
Here we have a staunch, white feminist saying that I, a twoc, should simply trust my fate to the legal system (while also being ableist). A white woman, a feminist, advocating and supporting the prison industrial complex is pretty much a clear example of how white women are complicit within white supremacy1.
But why are Nice White Ladies™ a major problem within librarianship? A significant portion has to do with respectability politics. They wish to have ‘discussions’ and appear ‘reasonable’ when it comes to certain things. They believe that, if we are having a discussion, that this means that a consensus or agreement necessarily must follow, otherwise the conversation is unproductive. They truly believe that, just by showing up and doing their jobs, they are helping the world and doing good.
Except, that this is impossible within a white supremacist institution like libraries. So far as people are willing to buy into the argument I presented in my recent article, this means that working within a library, as they currently exist, means to be complicit with white supremacy. This includes me2. What is interesting about this, is that librarianship has historically been populated by white women. This means that, in general, white women have a lot of responsibility for maintaining this white supremacist institution. And, certainly, given the employment record, they have been some of the prime beneficiaries of this insitutional white supremacy.
Also note: the Nice White Lady™ trope as presented in the video is about well-meaning white women who, by failing to understand their relative position of privilege over people of colour, end up doing nothing at all to help. These women aren’t bad or evil. That isn’t what this is about. This also isn’t about me calling all white women within librarianship white supremacists. That isn’t how institutional oppression works. This isn’t necessarily about individual actions and individual morality. Because the library is an oppressive institution by working within it, we become complicit in its oppressiveness. As stated above, this includes me.
However, because Nice White Ladies™ do mean well and are, to give them credit, legitimaately trying to help, it also makes them incredibly difficult to criticize or engage. Because many of them are passionate, engaged professionals who care very deeply about social issues. And they really and truly want to do good and make the world a better place. They are good women with good hearts.
But institutional oppression restricts the number of choices we have and makes it very difficult to truly exist as an ethical person. A great example is choice activism and/or conusmer activism. There is no such thing as ethical consumption in late capitalism. Literally nothing we do as consumers is ethical. End of story. We cannot make ethical choices because there are no options available. Not a single one. The best we can do as consumers is try and pick the lesser of many evils. And, unfortunately, what we think is the ‘lesser’ of many evils will largely depend on your personal beliefs and priorities. But there is no moral high ground here. There is no ‘better’ or ‘worse’ since we are all unethical consumers.
Fortunately, the situation is not nearly as bleak for Nice White Ladies™. There are ways you can work to stop being a Nice White Lady™. The very first? Start with trying to understand your position within white supremacy. Start looking and taking intersectional feminist type stuff seriously. And, since we are information professionals, start educating yourself about these issues. Soon enough, you’ll find that even though you remain a white woman, you’re no longer capable of being a Nice White Lady™. Even better, you’ll finally understand the difference and the point of this post.
Although, my role and complicity within libraries is, obviously, different because I’m not actually white and don’t benefit from my support of a white supremacist institution.↩
As discussion surrounding the lawsuit I’m involved with continues, the expected parade of respectability politics continues to claim that Lisa and me are not the ones who should be doing this. Or something. And, of course, there are many people who think we should have gone about this in a ‘professional’ manner, rather than how things are currently playing out.
This is a pretty puzzling position to take given that the ALA’s Code of Conduct only came into effect this year. And, of course, there are still many library conferences without CoCs. So, prior this at ALA conferences what, I beg of you, was the ‘professional’ and ‘respectable’ way to address sexual harassment?
Given that, since the details of the case went live, I’ve heard more than a few stories of women being harassed at work, reporting it in the ‘professionally’ accepted fashion, only to have nothing happen. And this is at work. Where things like sexual harassment are usually covered by some kind of law and often also covered by some kind of organizational policy. There are usually some kind of reporting procedure and ways to address incidents. All of which is meaningless unless said laws and policies are effectively enforced. In case anyone is wondering, “doing nothing” does not count as an effective method of enforcing anti-harassment policies or laws.
Given that, in the US, there are also 55 colleges under a Title IX probe for how they deal with sexual assault and harassment and that there are many many stories of victims/survivors attempting to go through the ‘proper’ channels only to be retraumatized by the police or the judicial system. Given all of this… please, what is the ‘professional’ way to handle incidents of sexual harassment at conferences?
The thing is, is that I truly do get why #teamharpy’s approach to the case and our frank and unapologetic stance is making a lot of people unhappy. This is a polarizing issue, even without our attitudes1. But let me ask you: if (and I hope that if you haven’t you never do) you ever experience sexual harassment would you want #teamharpy on your side?
I have vague recollections of being the one starting the whole #teamharpy thing a while back. It actually isn’t something that was created just for the case. If memory serves, I started using the hashtag after saying something about not doing respectability politics. Even changed my twitter avatar to a picture of the harpy from The Last Unicorn for a while. I’ve been thinking a lot about the harpy from The Last Unicorn. Here is a quotation:
But the unicorn walked on, following the light of her horn, until she stood before Celaeno, the Dark One. For an instant the icy wings hung silent in the air, like clouds, and the harpy’s old yellow eyes sank into the unicorn’s heart and drew her close. “I will kill you if you set me free,” the eyes said. “Set me free.” …
The unicorn heard herself cry out, not in terror but in wonder, “Oh, you are like me!” She reared joyously to meet the harpy’s stoop, and her horn leaped up into the wicked wind. The harpy struck once, missed, and swung away, her wings clanging and her breath warm and stinking. She burned overhead, and the unicorn saw herself reflected on the harpy’s bronze breast and felt the monster shining from her own body. So they circled one another like a double star, and under the shrunken sky there was nothing real but the two of them. The harpy laughed with delight, and her eyes turned the color of honey.
I love this part of the book and the interaction between the harpy and the unicorn. The harpy is clearly portrayed as ‘bad’ but not evil. The harpy simply exists as she is. And the unicorn can’t bear to leave her stuck in a cage, even with the threat in the harpy’s eyes.
In a metaphoric way, the harpy in this situation is actually the issue of sexual harassment at conferences. Or it is the festering feelings that sink deep inside as you try to minimize, ignore, and rationalize your own experiences of harassment. The part that festers deep inside as you keep silent about your experiences because you are too afraid.
The thing a lot of critics don’t seem to realize… we didn’t create this ugly mess. It has been here all along. Lifting a rock to expose all the bugs and dirt doesn’t mean that, prior to lifting or after you drop the rock in disgust, that all of those things cease to exist. This ugliness is and has been here. It exists: “Under the shruken sky there was nothing real but the two of them”.
One of the saddest things, to me, when this all began (and I’m talking about the actual beginning, when I was first served the notice of Mr. Murphy’s intent to sue if I didn’t take my post down, retract, and apologize) was the first chat conversation I had with Lisa. One of the first things I said to her was that I had zero interest in throwing her under the bus. Her relief was palpable. Likewise, I’m not sure I’d have had the confidence or will to do this with anyone other than Lisa, since she has been so resolute since the beginning (I had my moments of wavering, largely because of the anticipated cost of defending myself). This initial discussion was sad because… I know how many times I’ve needed support only for it to be conspicuously absent once shit hits the fan.
But again I ask: who would you want on your side? Because, let me assure you, I’d still stand for those who criticize, if the need ever should arise. We all make the decisions we can live with. Of my many regrets, standing up for myself and standing with Lisa isn’t one of them.
We might be the wrong ones to be doing this… but as far as I can tell, we are the only ones who are.2
Although people are definitely trying to pin the blame on us for the polarization. Something that is a bit silly given that we have been 100% uncompromising about our stance on this since the beginning. I’m not sure why people would think that we’d compromise our stance just to better win ‘public support’ or whatever. ↩
Again, this should not be understood as a indictment against victims and survivors who need to prioritize their own safety, recovery, and healing. There is no shame in survival and taking care of yourself. This statement is meant simply as a factual statement, since we are the defendents of the suit. And, from what I can tell, we are the first do this publicly and not back down. ↩
I find myself continuously amused that I have become, in a small way, a poster child for free speech because I’m being sued for defamation. And a lot of people, for good reason mind you, are framing this case as being, in part, about free speech.
This is ironic for me because I’ve said, on several occassions now, that I don’t believe in entirely unrestricted free speech. As in, I firmly and fully believe that there are and should be restrictions on free speech. Normally, when I talk about this issue, I focus on hate speech restrictions on free speech as my go-to example for why unregulated free speech is actually a bad thing and can work to reduce freedom of expression for marginalized/oppressed people.
The laws that cover defamation represent a different kind of restriction on free speech. And, tbh, before this case not one I spent a great deal of time thinking about. However, because I am 100% about sticking to my convictions, this is actually a restriction I understand.
However, as evidenced by mine and Lisa’s decision to fight the case, I do not believe it applies in our situation. The defense against libel (defamation) is truth. I believed what I said to be true when I said it and, now that I’ve been reading statements from witnesses, I’m even more sure.
So, I guess this does end up being about freedom of expression at the end of things…
But this isn’t the framing I would pick for the case (even as I understand that this framing is the one most likely to gain broad support, given that we are a profession committed to free access and dissemination of information).
This case, from my blog post until today, has always been about victims and survivors of sexual harassment (or other kinds of sexual misconduct). My original post invoked the concepts of transformative justice because, yeah, as a woman of colour I do not have faith in the ‘system’ to adequately deal with these kinds of situation. The system is demonstrable hostile to all women who attempt to address wrongs via the ‘proper’ channels. It isn’t designed to support us, nor is it — and this is the most important thing — designed to get us to a place of healing.
Community accountability and transformative justice is not just about the direct individuals involved. It is also about the community as a whole. A way to collectively address harms, give support and healing to victims/survivors, and a way to grow/learn and become better. It also isn’t about simply ‘punishing’ the offending person and, idk, forever casting them out and making them a pariah. Most recently these principles have been discussed/applied within communities of colour as a way to deal with these situations without calling the police or sending people to prison. I don’t care about punishment. I care about harassment stopping and the silence around it ending.
And, yes, I very much would like to see more discussion and whatever about this vs. ‘free speech’. Because while I have a very immediate need to defend myself in this lawsuit, I also really would love that this case, as a whole, is taken as an opportunity for the library community to have some really open and frank discussions about what we want to learn and how we want to change so that something like this never happens again. So that harassment stops and that any and all people who experience feel comfortable and supported in speaking up about it.
From what I understand, there are some people — in the apparent interest of seeming ‘reasonable’ and ‘neutral’ — who are insisting that in the Team Harpy legal case that our plaintif should be considered ‘innocent until proven guilty’. There are a few things wrong with this framing.1
“Innocent until proven guilty” is usually a guiding principle for criminal cases. Our case is a civil suit. Neither Lisa or me have claimed that our plaintif has committed or been convicted of committing any crime. He is not being charged with any criminal offence. Nor will the outcome of this civil suit result in him or anyone being charged with a criminal offence.
Insofar as the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ principle applies to our case… I urge people to remember that Lisa and me are defendents. Thus, we are the ones who are on trial. If this principle applies to our situation then people should be considering us innocent until the courts decide on our innocence.
This is a defamation suit. This means that no one is constesting that Lisa and me said what we said. We said it. However, Mr. Murphy alleges that, by saying what we said, we:
have injured his personal and professional reputation, and have lowered him in the estimation of right-thinking members of society, generally, and, in particular, have caused him to be regarded with feelings of hatred, contempt, ridicule, fear, dislike, approbrium or disesteem. The defendants’ statements are clearly defamatory and impossible to justify. source
This? Isn’t true. But this is the central claim of the case. If you need to take on a ‘neutral’ stance of innocent until proven guilty, it is our innocence which must be assumed (because we are the ones being accused of wrongdoing).
Why? Because the way that this case is happening, especially since it is a civil matter, means that Lisa and me (Team Harpy) are, in actual fact, having to prove our innocence. Since the way you defend a charge of defamation is by establishing the truth of your claims.
This is why we have a call for witnesses.
I hope, though, that everyone realizes why this is such a terrible position to be in. This process of collecting witness statements in the ‘official’ legal way has the possibility of retraumatizing people who’ve experienced harassment or other painful incidents. I don’t want this. I’m so grateful for the people who’ve come forward to stand up with Team Harpy, but I so dearly wish that none of this was necessary.
But it is, because we have to ‘prove’ our innocence.
Something that appears to have been lost in all the hubbub and discussion about this is the fact that I don’t believe in the ability of the judicial system to deliver any kind of justice in any meaningful way. Since the case is being done in Canada, we have a judicial system that disproportionately incarcerates our Indigenous peoples. It is filled with the same systemic and institutional oppression as any other part of our settler state.
Transformative justice uses a systems approach, seeking to see problems, as not only the beginning of the crime but also the causes of crime, and tries to treat an offense as a transformative relational and educational opportunity for victims, offenders and all other members of the affected community. source
I am not at all behind the notions of ‘punitive’ justice as most often enacted by our current judicial system2. The ‘accountability’ I discuss in my post should not be understood as a desire to see certain people punished. If this is what you take away from it, you’ve missed the central point3.
But whatever. The point I’m really trying to make is to not confuse or conflate ethics with legal principles or the judicial system. Laws are one attempt at codifying ethical principals but they shouldn’t be seen as the same thing.
I hope this makes it clear for everyone. If you are trying to believe the innocence of someone in this case… you might want to do it for the actual defendents rather than the plaintif. I mean. Really.
This post isn’t about me insisting that every must be Team Harpy’s side (even though I do believe this). It is about saying that if you are insisting on adopting a ‘wait and see’ attitude about the case out of a desire to appear rational and level-headed, you might want to rethink your conceptual framework.↩
Look at the last section of the post “Put victims first”, “Listen to victims”, “Believe victims”. This is what I want. Not the punishment of offenders. Especially not punishment that involves the legal/judicial system.↩
When I got into work this morning, I caught the tail end of a discussion started by @waharnum about whether or not tech-oriented mlis grads are leaving the field:
Library hivemind, is my impression that many new tech-oriented MIST/MLS are leaving the field for better prospects matched by yours?
Part of the ensuing discussion was about whether or not there were entry level positions available. However, this addition question has given me a lot of feels to process:
@adr I suppose related question: do we see new grads with tech interest/aptitude (if not a lot of experience) retraining and leaving field?
In many ways, I am this person. I’m not sure I count as a ‘recent’ grad anymore, but I suppose that I am (I think I convocated in Nov 2012?).
I was/am one of the recent-ish mlis grads with an interest in tech. When I graduated, I didn’t have that much experience. I had some, via a wonderful co-op experience with Islandora, but not a lot. At that point, I mainly had enthusiasm going for me, with some familiarity surrounding the workflows for digital preservation (and the architecture of at least one increasingly important open source software). My program didn’t have very many tech-oriented courses and I took what I could.
But, hey, I would consider the job I’m currently working in to be ‘entry-level’ in the truest sense of the word. I’m in a part-time, contract position. The tech skills needed when I started this job definitely required me to learn and grow — which is awesome, btw. But I’m not sure how many other entry-level tech positions I’ve seen. Or how many of positions I’ve applied at which might be considered ‘early’ career.
There are many problems/issues at work here:
There aren’t a lot of jobs. End of story.
We all know this by now. The job market sucks. One might think that the job market for libtech could be better than, say children’s librarians (and I think it might be), but it still sucks any way you look at it.
The ambiguity over ‘entry-level’.
What is entry level? Yes, I mentioned that my job is… but it is only entry level to the field generally not to my organization. There is zero room for growth in this position (I mean organizationally. I’m growing plenty re: knowledge and skills).
The problem here, of course, is that most institutions are simply too poor these days to actually invest in a new grad who is interested, but may not have all the required skills. And, given the market, why would they bother when they aren’t having any problems filling their positions?
‘Entry-level’ positions aren’t going to new/recent grads.
I know that academic libraries are kind of a different sort of labour market, but the reality is also that pretty much every ‘entry-level’ position I’ve applied for has gone to someone who usually has 3+ years of experience in the field already. On top of being able to (mostly, I assume) meet the unicorn requirements. Don’t get me wrong: the people who’ve usually ended up in the positions I’ve applied for are fucking fantastic.
But that is also the problem. I can’t compete with that. I don’t blame the institutions I’ve applied at for hiring them. I would hire them instead of me. It is literally the best decision they could have made. But this also doesn’t, you know, end up with me getting a FT job.
Um… so these are the biggest factors, I think. So long as we are also controlling for race/gender/etc. Like, my experience at Access and other libtech related conferences has mostly been positive. The culture, while it does inherit some of the issues of tech and library cultures, isn’t especially awful. It doesn’t turn me away.
What will (most likely) end up turning me away is realizing that I most likely will never get a FT position unless I retrain (go back to school, do a bootcamp thing, something). And while I’d like to think that if I do something like that, I’d come back… I’m not sure. Because, if I did something like that, I’d probably have to take out more student loans. And I’m already over thirty. And I’ve been too poor since graduating to actually start paying my loans back. This might mean just doing private sector tech jobs for a while and then trying to get back into libtech, but who knows?