What I’m Thinking About in November

Long time no see! I want to pop in here and share some things I have been reading/watching along with my election thoughts.

Both the Parts and the Whole: Leadership and Systems Thinking
I read this in preparation for a meeting with my supervisor. I mentioned that I was interested in learning more about systems thinking so this was her suggestion. I thought this was a really helpful introduction into systems thinking and I found it easy to frame examples from my own life with a systems thinking approach.

  • Takeaway 1: Today’s solutions can become tomorrows problems if they are not well thought out (i.e. we look at the whole system and not just the problem in front of us). We must balance quick fixes with long term solutions so that we minimize the problems we run into later. Shooting the alligator vs draining the swamp.
  • Key Takeaway 2: Goal Displacement is what happens when we focus more on the “how” (i.e. bureaucratic processes) instead of the “why” (our organizational goals and values). I think many of us can find examples of this in our organizations.
  • Key Takeaway 3: We do not want systems with a lot of friction. Friction leads to exhaustion, cynicism and apathy.

Thinking in Systems (Chapter 1)
In this introductory chapter, I got a more in-depth overview of systems thinking.

  • When we are looking at systems (which are made up of elements, interconnections, and functions), pay less attention to the elements, and more attention to those interconnections or relationships.
  • If you want to know what the function/purpose of a system is, just look at what it does. Stated goals and aspirations are not the same as a systems function/purpose. This can be seen when we talk about anti-racism work. We can say we are doing the work, but if we aren’t ACTUALLY doing the work, it will be obvious.

Are white women going to fuck it up again in 2020
In this video, Kimberly Foster interviews Jenna Arnold, author of Raising Our Hands: How White Women Can Stop Avoiding Hard Conversations, Start Accepting Responsibility, and Find Our Place on the New Frontlines. 

  • This video really reinforced meeting people where they are. It makes no sense for me to give my Tr*mp-voting aunt a James Baldwin book and to expect her to read it AND to understand it. We must work hard to talk to the communities we are accepted into. I am trying to navigate how to have these conversations within my own family.
  • White progressive women need to practice more humility and stop performing wokeness for each other. This point comes from an observation Jenna made during her research. She talked about how progressive white women could never really get to the meat of conversations with each other. There was very little curiosity and a lot of one-upping each other on the fine details and nuances of social justice issues which obviously isn’t very conducive to action or progress.
  • Somewhat relatedly, this video reminded me of White Supremacy Cultures’ role in reinforcing this behavior from white women (and people in general). Off the top of my head, I think about defensiveness and perfectionism as characteristics of White Supremacy Culture and how this overlapped with what Jenna saw in her research.

From Being to Doing: AntiRacism as Action at Work
This was a an ALAO conference session by Ione Damasco that I watched asynchronously. I am always interested in how we can go beyond talking about issues to putting in some actual work.

  • Ione’s presentation went through some of the characteristics of White Supremacy Culture and offered liberating actions we could take against those characteristics.
  • My biggest takeaway from this  presentation was the mention of generous accountability coined by McKensie Mack.

Shifting the Center: Transforming Academic Libraries through Generous Accountability
I wanted to see the context in which the term generous accountability was used, so I watched this presentation by McKensie Mack (they/them/theirs).

  • McKensie also discusses how White Supremacy Culture and how libraries continue to perpetuate the characteristics. She also touched on how White Supremacy Culture makes accountability feel punitive, bad and scary due to the focus on defensiveness, perfectionism, etc.
  • McKensie reminds us that accountability should not be seen as punishment! This made me think about previous conversations I’ve had with people about cultural humility (or just humility) and being able to accept being wrong, learning from mistakes, and moving forward. Can you even imagine accountability that does not feel like punishment? This is something I will have to work hard to unlearn.

Challenging the Good Fit Narrative: Creating Inclusive Recruitment Practices in Academic Libraries
I read this article for a workplace discussion on EDI and this was pretty eye-opening. It talks about this notion of a candidate being a “good fit” and how this can be coded language to exclude people of color (or anyone outside the white supremacy culture norm) from the organization. I thought this was super interesting, especially how the research shows that most people can’t even articulate what a “good fit” is, but use it as a way to exclude people. Obviously there was a conversation about how this takes so many diverse candidates out out of the pool. This then leaves the impression that there aren’t enough people of color out there and is the reason why our organizations diversity percentages are pathetic. The authors talk about “extending fit” vs. “good fit” and how we should consider the former. We might actually want people who will come in and challenge the ways we see and do things. This is how our organizations can evolve.

So those are some of the things that have been percolating in my brain the last couple of weeks! Let me know if you read/watch any of them and have any thoughts.

As of writing this, Joe Biden won the Presidential Election and this has drudged up a lot of things to think about. I am relieved, but has shown me how the systems we are part of at a micro level are mirrored at a micro level. Let me explain.

We talk a lot about anti-racism work in libraries and how it should not be the responsibility of BIPOC to educate folks or to do the work on their own (and without compensation!) Everyone has a part to play, not just BIPOC. And most of the time, BIPOC are already doing the work with no credit or compensation OR with very tokenized acts of acknowledgement.

Now look at the voting demographics of this election, where we see Black people showing up for our democracy, leading many grass-roots organizations, and building communities despite the obstacle placed in front of them while the white vote continues to be split (weighed on the Tr*mp side). People on social media are thanking black voters and Georgia and I get that sentiment. But instead of thanking them, how about we actually listen to Black people? organize with Black organizers? pay Black organizers for their work? rebuild the systems that systematically oppresses Black people? listen to Black folks?

A familiar scene, just at a national level.

I’m not trying to be a bummer. I just wanted to share how jarring it was to make that connection between those two situations. Anyways. I hope wherever you are, that you are staying safe and that you can breathe a little bit easier tonight. I know I can.

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