Last November, I attended Facing Race, a conference organized every two years by the POC-run Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation.
I was particularly inspired by a workshop called Shifting the Focus for Racial Justice where the facilitators ramesh kathanadhi and Terry Keleher provided a framework for “how to recognize, challenge and disrupt institutional racial inequities.”
They started the workshop by grounding us in the reality that because of white supremacy, race is embedded in our systems. Two examples: our justice system (see Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and The Sentencing Project) and our educational system (see Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Can We Talk about Race?: And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation and research by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights).
In order to change a system to be racially equitable, race must be explicitly named during the decision-making process. Asking questions like – How will this decision impact communities of color? – creates space to investigate how a policy or proposal will either reinforce racial inequity or promote racial equity. Their two-page Racial Equity Impact Assessment guide describes this process in more detail.
During this workshop, I thought about the small independent high school I work at. We are an expensive, majority-white private school in a wealthy city. And like so many liberal educational institutions, we are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). That commitment, though, does not always translate into action or results. We need a more deliberate approach if we are going to live our values.
I brought what I learned from the workshop to my school’s leadership. And I’m excited to report that they were receptive. Last month, a multi-racial committee met to closely examine our DEI practices and make recommendations. I feel hopeful, but I’m also realistic. Making institutional-level change takes time and energy – to collaborate, to educate, and to plan. We have a lot to do, but I feel energized about the commitment of the committee.
Librarians can be catalysts for systemic change in their institutions. If your library is part of a larger institution, share the things you do in your library to promote equity and disrupt white supremacy with your supervisors. Academic librarian Ray Lockman describes practical ways to integrate microactivism into librarian work. An entire book is devoted to teaching information literacy from a social justice lens. Use your experiences to start conversations with the leaders of your institution.
If you have decision-making power in your library or larger institution, you can help create more equitable systems. Consider the impact of your decisions or policies on your patrons of color by using the prompts from the Racial Equity Impact Assessment. Learn about inequitable hiring practices and diversity initiatives from Jennifer Vinopal, April Hathcock, and Angela Galvan and integrate their recommendations. Read what Chris Bourg is doing at MIT.
I am inspired by these librarians who think critically about our profession’s values and are taking action so that our practice aligns with our aspirations.
Appreciations: Thank you to Race Forward, the librarians I linked to in this post, and my husband for proof-reading.