A COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter Reflection

I remember around three months ago I was crying into my partners shoulder over COVID-19. It was this scary unknown force closing down life as we knew it. I feared not only for my life, but for the lives of those closest to me, including my partner and his family, my parents, and my fellow librarians. There was also this continuous ache in my heart for those who lost loved ones to COVID-19 and the families they left behind. I cried not only out of fear and grief, but out of anger that our country mishandled the response to this pandemic at every step. The anxiety and despair drowned me for a couple weeks, making all of my work feel meaningless, but eventually, I was able to get my head above water again. We settled into the new COVID-19 “normal” which involved putting our grocery order in five days ahead of time, never leaving the house (except for grocery pick-up), and awkward zoom meetings. Working at home during a pandemic is hard. Working at home during a pandemic and taking on the role of Latin American Studies Librarian is harder. Nevertheless, I persisted, trying my best to keep my head above water.

Then the news about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery began to circulate, followed by the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Black Lives Matter protests erupted around the country and police brutality continued to be an everyday occurrence on my social media feed. Then we heard about Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, Elijah McClain, Oluwatoyin Salau, and I felt like I was drowning again. The familiar feelings of despair, grief and anger consumed me. I spent a whole week or two bouncing between feeling stuck and taking action. I signed petitions, I shared resources, I donated, and I tried to spend some time thinking about how to enact meaningful change. But when we talk about changing systems, it can feel really hopeless. Can I really make a difference? I don’t know. But I will continue to try.

As a brief note, I want to acknowledge the privilege that I have as a non-black person of color. I have the choice to participate in these dialogues, to donate, to protest, etc. I even have the choice of stepping away when it all gets too much (which I admit, I have done in the past). But Black people don’t have that option. They can’t just pause because they are tired. This is their everyday reality. The least I can do is stick out the discomfort and use the privilege I do have to benefit others.

With that said, here are some of the internal conflicts that I’ve been working through

  • What are the privileges that I have as a non-black person of color
  • Am I even a person of color? (for those who don’t know, I am Puerto Rican)
  • How am I supposed to disrupt when I am so non-confrontational?
  • Where is my place in the broader antiracism conversations?
  • Is it possible to change the system from within, or does it need to be replaced with something new?

In talking about systems, our organization has made an effort to foster dialogues around equity, diversity, inclusion and antiracism, which I think is a start. I have a healthy dose of skepticism, especially as I learn more about how entrenched in whiteness our organizations are. For long-term change, I will continue to educate myself and reflect on my own experiences and biases. This is something that should be on-going and should happen regardless. The more difficult role will be to continue to voice my concerns and stand up when I see something problematic, try my best to be part of key conversations and decision making, and to ensure that we are still talking about these topics three, six, and nine months from now.

To end, I wanted to share a resource that helped me get through the overwhelming social change landscape:

The above graphic (and the corresponding framework found here) helped me understand that there were many different roles when working toward social justice. The work I do might look a little bit different than your work, and that isn’t inherently bad.

And in case you forgot, Black Lives Matter.