There’s a pretty fantastic discussion happening in the library blog world, right now, spurred by the fabulous Cecily Walker’s post On Privilege, Intersectionality, and the Librarian Image. The also fabulous Andromeda Yelton adds her view in #libtechgender: the dangers of a single story (by the way, the video she embedded is pretty great). I’ve heard rumors that more posts are coming. I hope this post adds to the discussion, as well.
I commented on Cecily’s post, kind of to this effect, but I’ll put it here, too: maybe #LibTechWomen’s expansion into #LibTechGender isn’t going far enough, and we might want to consider #LibTechDiversity (or #LibTechInclusion, but I admit, I like the former better). Maybe we should expand all of these panels we’re having, to be “Diversity in Library Technology.” Not that I don’t think women face difficulties in LibTech and LibLeadership, despite being a majority of the broader profession, and we should absolutely talk about that; but there’s overlap with and differences between the difficulties faced by, for instance, a thin white cisgender straight-seeming able-bodied woman in library technology, versus someone who is not able-bodied, or whose skin color isn’t white, or whose native language isn’t English, or who is LGBT, or who shares several of these and other characteristics, including, possibly, being a woman.
I used to feel that we should address all of these issues separately. I realize now that I was wrong: If you can get people to be open and welcoming to one group, it’s not that much extra effort to get them to be open and welcoming in general. If you can get people to accept that their “fun”* is not more important than other people feeling safe and included, they will pretty much accept that across the board. And if you can get people to show up and listen to the stories told by one group, of their exclusion, harassment, and generally not being treated as a valued equal, then you can get them to listen to the stories of many people from multiple groups.
I think there’s a question among various majorities of librarytechland—and maybe libraryland in general—about what need there is for codes of conduct, for discussions of diversity issues, etc. I’ve already said my piece on that (for now!), so I want to focus on the other question I sense coming: What should we do? How do we help?
My number one piece of advice on that, besides “educate yourself on the issues and listen to people’s stories” (which is an ongoing process for me), is “try to be a good ally.” If you want to mark yourself as an ally, as someone who will listen and who will help and who can be trusted to try to do the right thing if someone is being mistreated, get thyself a Backup Ribbon to wear at conferences! Lisa Rabey and I bought some to take to ALA Midwinter and … pretty much whichever other conferences one or both of us attend. (They came! That photo is the actual box of actual ribbons to look for at library events!) You can also get them from the site I linked (or I can tell you where we got ours), to bring with you to conferences that you’re attending and we aren’t.
And I’d like to add, being an ally doesn’t mean being perfect. Mostly, it means listening and believing people and trying to do the right thing. More concretely, it means being open and welcoming to people of every background; advocating for diversity and inclusion; intervening if you’re needed and staying out of the way if you’re not (be smart about it, but as the article I’ll link below says, “err on the side of intervention”); recognizing that you’re not perfect or all-knowing, that you can (and should) listen and empathize but that you can’t ever fully understand an experience you haven’t lived; and apologizing if you do something wrong on any of those fronts. It means never trying to speak for someone else, or to equate your experiences** (it is the height of privileged behavior to explain any minority individual’s experience to them). It means deliberately trying to expand your definition of “everybody.” And, as I alluded to above, it means that, if you’re at an event and see someone being harassed, you’ll back them up; here are some tips for ways to be good backup, but not “a white knight”—I know this focuses on men and women, but most of its lessons are extensible.
If you can use your privilege to help someone who lacks it—or even if you share a lack of some specific privilege(s), but you can add another voice in solidarity and support—then you should. The Backup Ribbons are an attempt to help people feel empowered to do that—and, of course, to help people who may need backup to identify allies.
* You know what I mean, right? The obvious example is telling jokes that make one group feel “other” or “lesser,” somehow. There are more subtle examples, like having every social event at a tech conference take place in a bar, which excludes people under 21 and recovering alcoholics and also makes some people feel unsafe. More examples: choosing to hold an event in a place where it’s easy to get alcohol, or some other perk, without checking first to see if it’s accessible, or putting your love of wearing perfume/cologne (or eating peanuts or whatever) over the health of people with allergies or asthma.
** I do sometimes try to compare experiences, to see if I can understand better what someone else is going through. I think this is different. But if I ever screw up and seem to be equating my experience with yours, you can call me on it, OK?