And we’re all people together

We have an organized response, almost two weeks after the Black Caucus of American Library Association (BCALA) released their statement condemning the location of ALA’s 2016 Annual Conference in Florida. I’ve had the enormous privilege of working with other members of the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA) to discuss what the location means to us as Asian and Pacific American librarians, how we can support our brothers and sisters in BCALA, and how to move as a profession towards respect, equity, and justice. And after two weeks of emails, side conversations, Google docs, and various committees, BCALA, ALA, and presidents of ALA’s ethnic affiliates have released a follow up statement.  So, I’ve been following some of the discussions that have been going on, butthis statement below isn’t mine:

CHICAGO —The values of diversity, equity, and inclusion form the foundation of the library profession and our professional associations. Those values have been challenged by the discriminatory enforcement of the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida and the fact that ALA’s 2016 Annual Conference is scheduled for Orlando. The Executive Committee members of ALA and the BCALA Executive Board have actively engaged in conversation to determine the best solution to this challenging dilemma. That conversation has been extended to the Executive Boards of AILA, APALA, CALA, and REFORMA with a decision to issue a joint statement of commitment and action.

In response to BCALA’s concern regarding holding the ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida, in 2016, the ALA Executive Board thoroughly explored the options for moving the conference. ALA started by clarifying the facts underlying conference site selection, the implications of trying to move the Orlando conference, and the prevalence of Stand Your Ground laws across the United States. The contracts for Orlando were negotiated originally in 2000; the Stand Your Ground law in Florida became effective on October 1, 2005. Cancelling the hotel and convention center contracts would result in a minimum fine of $814,000. Conferences as large as ALA must be scheduled for specific sites and contracts signed at least 7–10 years in advance. At this late date, it would be highly unlikely that ALA would be able to find another site with availability during our window of late June/early July 2016.

Most troubling is the growing prevalence of Stand Your Ground laws. Twenty-two states have laws that allow for that self-defense provision to be asserted (as of August 2013). An additional 21 states have enacted laws that allow for self-defense within one’s home (called Castle Doctrines). However, each state has implemented and applied the Stand Your Ground laws differently, and it is the interpretation and application of the Stand Your Ground Law in the Zimmerman and Dunn cases, as well as the Marissa Alexander case, that has heightened the urgency for discussion and action.

With that information in hand, our ALA’s Executive Committee and BCALA’s Executive Board decided that the best way to respond to the Florida situation is by turning it into an opportunity to educate, build awareness, and advocate for equitable treatment, inclusion, and respect for diversity. We have agreed on the following actions:

  • Town Hall discussions of racial diversity and inclusion in our profession, association, and communities.
    • Major topic of Membership Meeting at 2014 ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas.
    • Topic of discussion during Virtual Membership Meeting on June 5, 2014.
  • Support for conversations and actions at the state level facilitated by state library associations or other organizations within the states.
  • Formation of a Special Presidential Task Force involving members of the ethnic affiliates and ALA to (1) develop programs and other opportunities for members to learn about and engage in the issue, (2) build strong advocacy and awareness while at the Orlando conference, and (3) develop communications directed toward the public. The Task Force will be formed immediately. The goal is to use the Orlando conference platform to provoke a national dialogue.
  • Collaboration with local Black and Hispanic/Latino community members and organizations in Orlando to determine the best ways for ALA members to be supportive of them.  This will include compilation of a list of African-American and Hispanic/Latino businesses in Orlando for ALA members to patronize.
  • Outreach to national organizations with vested interest in the Stand Your Ground laws to build alliances and collaborative efforts in advocacy and public awareness (e.g., NAACP, La Raza, Urban League).

Most important to all the ethnic caucuses and ALA is the public and honest conversation that will be generated by our actions. We are committed to building more diversity and inclusion among our members, the field of librarianship, and our communities. We invite all members of AILA, APALA, BCALA, CALA, REFORMA, and ALA to engage with us in moving toward a more just society.

With respect,

Barbara Stripling
(American Library Association)

Jerome Offord, Jr.
(Black Caucus of the American Library Association)

Heather Devine
(American Indian Library Association)

Eugenia Beh
(Asian Pacific American Librarians Association)

Lisa Zhao
(Chinese American Librarians Association)

Isabel Espinal
(The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking)

Macey Morales
Media Relations Manager
American Library Association

So… what do I think…

Let’s start positive. Very positive, the condemnation of Stand Your Ground laws, and the Zimmerman, Dunn, and Alexander cases. Plus, a pretty wide number of groups is represented in this document, which represents an even wider range of engagement!

Pretty positive, the action items are documented, to keep us accountable to each other. The decision to keep the conference in Florida, and to make sure that we support local communities seems fair to me. As long as it happens. As long as it’s a real commitment to local libraries and activist groups and businesses, and not looking through Yelp for businesses to put in the program and says “Remember to eat at black restaurants!”

Less positive, the action items don’t assign a lot of responsibility outside of the already vested ethnic affiliates. I’m a little worried that this could turn into members of the ethnic affiliates trying to have conversations that other library professionals still don’t want to have.

Not very positive, that second paragraph sounds very ‘splanatory. I understand the desire on ALA’s part to justify their decisions, first to hold and then to keep the conference in Florida, but I’m wary of saying “it’s too expensive” or “its too hard”, because it can sound like money or difficulty were an explanation for not pursuing the safety and inclusion of your members. And I dislike the phrasing that makes it sound like “ALA started by clarifying … the prevalence of Stand Your Ground laws across the United States”. I don’t want people to think that somehow ALA is this big white organization and the ethnic affiliates are outer members that needed Stand Your Ground explained to them.

ALA represents all librarians, and people of color are working with their fellow information professions as fellow members of ALA to make sure that our profession reflects diversity/equity/inclusion.

Librarians are just other people

We have politicized identities and political views. We want to be heard and respected for our views. The murder of Trayvon Martin and subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman did neither of those. Nor did the murder of Jordan Davis and the subsequent verdict for Michael Dunn (he was convicted of attempted murder of the three other boys in the car, but not of Jordan Davis, despite the fact that he fired all of those shots). So the Black Caucus of the American Libraries Association has released this statement:

Black Caucus of ALA Denounces ALA’s Decision to Hold 2016 Annual Conference in Orlando, Fla.

For immediate release: March 10, 2014

Media Contact: Jason Alston,

The Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA), condemns the American Library Association’s (ALA) decision to continue with plans to hold the ALA 2016 annual conference in Orlando, Fla. in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict and that state’s refusal to revise or repeal “Stand Your Ground” laws, which were included in jury instructions in Zimmerman’s trial for second degree murder for fatally shooting unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. in 2012.

BCALA believes that “Stand Your Ground” laws enable a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality against African-American men perceived without merit to be threats or assumed without evidence to be engaged in criminal behavior. Kenneth Nunn, a professor at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, wrote in the New York Times in 2012 that, “African-Americans, black males in particular, have been constructed in popular culture as violence-prone and dangerous,” and that this construct produces a fear in Americans that deadly force against such people is consequently reasonable in general.

BCALA therefore contends that Florida law should require more than perception of a threat before use of deadly force is deemed justifiable. BCALA predicts “Stand Your Ground” will be used in future killings where racial bias played a factor in the actions of the accused. Months after the Zimmerman verdict, another travesty of justice occurred when a Florida jury failed to convict Michael Dunn of murder for shooting into a car and killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Dunn said he fired because he felt threatened by Davis and other Black teens in a car Davis was riding in, but the unarmed Davis had not exited his vehicle or physically confronted Dunn. Dunn was convicted only for attempted murder after he continued firing at the vehicle as the teenagers attempted to flee.

BCALA believes that ALA, which claims various commitments to diversity and tolerance, should have begun plans to find a new venue for ALA 2016 following the July 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman. BCALA must question ALA’s true commitment to diversity and racial tolerance when ALA, North America’s largest and strongest library association, still plans to hold its largest and most financially lucrative function in a state that has become Ground Zero in initiating weapons laws, as well as voting policies, that potentially put the rights and safety of African-Americans at risk. ALA annual conferences are generally well-documented and publicized, and BCALA fears that librarians, 20,000 strong, conducting business and spending money in Orlando will negate any claim that librarians have to being advocates of equality and social justice.

BCALA, rather, is committed to creating, supporting and cheerleading initiatives that facilitate success in young Black males. The organization is particularly encouraged by President Barack Obama’s recent unveiling of the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, which the president hopes will, “(I)mprove significantly the expected life outcomes for boys and young men of color (including African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans) and their contributions to U.S. prosperity.” An initiative to support Black male success coming from national leadership will hopefully catch on with those who otherwise wouldn’t care or would see these youths as a threat.

BCALA was formally established in 1970 and remains the forefront networking and professional development vehicle for African-American librarians. An independent non-profit organization, BCALA sponsors scholarships and travel assistance, produces a quarterly publication and holds a biennial conference. BCALA serves in an advisory role to the American Library Association and collaborates with other ethnic affiliate organizations on diversity initiatives in libraries. More information about BCALA is available at

Colorblind Notion Aside Colleges Grapple With Racial Tension

hashtag NoDuh.

Does that post-ironic combination of spelled-out # and nineties catchphrase adequately identify me as part of the “post-racial” millennial generation that the New York Times is identifying as decidedly non-post-racial? Might we simply say that we, like our American ancestors are still a racialized society? One student in the articles says that colorblind would be a nice goal, even if its unrealistic. Personally, I am not a fan of colorblind. Colorblind leads to weekends like the one I had recently:

Saturday– at a local museum, an older, African American woman came up to me and my friend and asked if we had tried the interactive part of the exhibit. We looked at each other and replied “No, not yet. Etc., etc.” She seemed a confused. Maybe we looked confused? Nope. She tried again slowly and loudly “No English?” Didn’t we just reply to her in English? We tried again. “Yes, but we just got here. We’ll take a look at it later.” Instead of replying, she walked away.

That’s an uncomfortable situation, no doubt. Unfortunately, things like that do happen. How we respond matters.

Monday– I told a few people about the woman at the museum. To my disappointment, reactions broke into two camps: white people and people of color. White people, in my small and unscientific sample, recognized the situation as uncomfortable and confusing. People of color identified the situation with racial assumptions– the woman connected my physical features with those of a foreigner rather than an American. So when I spoke American English, this woman treated me like a foreigner. Despite my mixed heritage, she saw me as an Asian, not a mixed race American.

So, no, we’re not post racial. And pretending that we are doesn’t make make it so.

Black Nannies and White Children (Happy MLK Jr. Day)

There are many good and important ways to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. today. You could go back and read his words, or someone’s editorializing his words, or have a conversation about race and rights in the United States (or abroad, MLK Jr. was interested in international affairs as well). Whatever you do, it’s important to remember that race relations in the United States, while it is certainly evolving, is still full of inequality. Ellen Jacobs explores the uncomfortable and inequitable position of nannies in her series “Substitutes”:


Jacob was especially interested in the economics involved in the nanny-child relationship. “Being a nanny is a low-paying job where love between the nanny and child is one of the anticipated but universally unspoken duties. This is an unusual expectation in a financial transaction,” Jacob wrote. (via


Nannies are overwhelmingly women of color working long hours for low wages and few, if any, benefits. You can see more of Jacob’s work on her website or at SohoPhoto Gallery through Feb 1.

I Like Mindy Lahiri

I like Mindy Lahiri. I like her and her creator, Mindy Kaling. The character might make kind of a crazy friend (the kind that that you love telling stories about later even though you’re really annoyed at her while those memories are being made), but she’s not a role model. She’s insecure and self-centered and boy crazy and that’s ok. Because that makes for good TV. Some people have wondered aloud and publicly “Why doesn’t Mindy Lahiri date an Asian guy? Why’s she always dating white guys? Does Mindy (the creator, not the character) not care about creating healthy portrayals of Asian American relationships? Is she trying to white wash her character? What’s going on? She could find a funny South Asian American guy to do an episode…”

You can see Mindy Kaling address her take on the character’s South Asian American-ness, or you can read mine. Which is this: Mindy Lahiri isn’t a role model, remember? I know, I know, singer and movie stars and professional athletes have asked not to be held up as role models, but this is a fictional character. She’s a fictional hot mess and racial pairings aside, her relationships aren’t particularly healthy. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it a liberating sign of social progress that women of color can play flawed characters that don’t reflect on an entire race?


A Rose is a Rosie is a Rosalita

Are white names worth more than black names? That’s the question for Unemployed Black Woman Pretends to be White, Job Offers Suddenly SkyrocketAre Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?, and black names and white ridicule. Two different questions emerge when this is framed in terms of institutionalized racism:

First, the economic ramifications. Does having a “white sounding” name make you more employable? Yes. Undoubtedly. A white name yields as many more callbacks as an additional eight years of experienceThat’s some serious economic inequality. How does that affect the accumulation of wealth across generations? Especially now, how does that effect unemployment during our economic recovery? I’ll let you guess that answers to those questions.

Second, the emotional ramifications. Does social ridicule of unique black names mean more than social ridicule of unique rich names (Moon Unit, Apple, Diva Muffin)? One might argue that ridicule is ridicule and therefore the effect is equal regardless of the cause. One might also argue that the stigma of being African American is greater than the stigma of being rich, and therefore the internalized racism and self hate that might develop through the former has a greater negative effect than the latter.

These are both interesting and important things to consider. You know what’s missing from this conversation though? An Asian American perspective! Specifically, mine. I’ve got a pretty white sounding name. Even my middle name, which is Chinese, is a homonym/homophone for a traditional white name. There’s often a moment of disconnect when people meet me in person, after connecting with me via phone or email. Sometimes it’s slight — a pause or a smile — and sometimes its downright ridiculous — people who walk straight up to a white coworker instead or say “NO, I’m looking for [WHITE LAST NAME].” Are these reactions their attempts to take back the white privilege they were ready to assign? That’s certainly an argument for the validity of hypodescent.

Do these personal slights make up for the advantages I might gain from having a white persona on paper? It’s impossible to prove where I might be if my name were different. Or where I’d be if I chose to not represent my commitment to racial representation and equality on my resume.

Do women who marry into white names deal with this?

RACE Exhibit Comes to Seattle

The RACE: Are We So Different exhibit is coming to the Seattle Pacific Science Center September 28, 2013 – January 5, 2014. To tie in with the exhibit, the city of Seattle is offering a series of workshops and speakers for individuals and groups interested in visiting the exhibit and creating a conversation about race and racial equity. You can find out more here.

You can find my reflections on the Boston installation of the exhibit, here.

So often, when I visit exhibits, watch films, or read articles about race I think “Well, that’s not groundbreaking news…”. It’s easy to start tuning things out because they sound similar to the things we’ve heard before. I find myself doing the same thing with Christian sermons– thinking “I’ve already heard that. I already KNOW that, so it doesn’t really apply to me”. But that kind of thinking misses the point. Why should the truth change?