The article was published on 29th January 2020 and the apology was issued almost six months later, after several intense and emotionally draining weeks of BAME people and allies calling for a response until we were eventually asked to provide (yet another) response to be considered by CILIP – mine is posted here and dates back to early March, three months ago.
Granted, we have had a pandemic in-between – but the sheer amount of work and pain that went into this just to get a semi decent response is completely farcical and not a sustainable method of complaint. Being able to gracefully say sorry, minimise the effort of the complainants, and promise to learn from those mistakes can be difficult but really shouldn’t take three months.
Should I be a suspicious person (and my years of reading Poirot have taught me well), I would think that this apology is interestingly timed with further media attention both on Dominic Cummings and the anti-racist movement. The impact on the people making the compliant should be motivation enough, and should be motivation enough to do it in a timely fashion.
When I wrote my response, I was hyper aware of the angry BAME woman stereotype and I have to show my privilege here as this is overwhelmingly an angry Black woman stereotype and something I only experience the edges of. Indeed, someone I once respected cautioned me to be “less angry” and to act with grace, as it is not how the library world works and otherwise nobody would listen to me* . It’s frustrating how this has stuck with me no matter how much I want to reject it, and I remember writing my response and trying to temper my emotions and anger to appear graceful, so that my words would be taken seriously. If only I can be graceful, maybe I will be able to get an apology. If only I can dilute my emotions and mold myself into what is acceptable, maybe I will be get what I deserve anyway.
However, this clearly has not happened.
With an apology comes an implied space for gratitude. Am I supposed to be happy/relieved/grateful to finally have an apology? Reading through the statement, there seems to be only one word to respond – thank you – we are brought up to be polite, to say thank you to a sorry. And yet I can’t say thank you, for the distress of BAME people following the article has not been adequately addressed, nor have any of the calls for specific apologies and responses to people’s questions been delivered. I asked for a personal apology and did not receive one. I pointed out that this complaint above all others was treated differently, and this was not addressed. The apology itself has not been widely shared.
No, I am not grateful.
For me, there is a reflection here about grace and gratitude and an uneven balance of the scales. Such grace is expected from us, dragged from us in overwhelming quantities due to the fact that any sign of anger is taken as an attack, as a confirmation of stereotype, as a gift to be easily weaponized and victimhood to be flipped.
To be angry is a privilege. To complain is a privilege. To be angry and then have your angry complaint registered, dealt with and appropriately responded to in a timely fashion is a privilege. One that we so publicly have not been afforded.
And to be grateful is to be graceful. To take in your hands what is so meagerly handed over and demurely say, oh my thank you, is apparently graceful. Hell no, do what you should have done in the first place please. (And oh god I am still saying please, such is the power of politeness!)
There is also further expectation of BAME labour, and this is something we have had an explosion of recently; performative white acknowledgement of privilege, of guilt, of past behaviour, in a tweet/blogpost/Instagram story/BLM events/my inbox. This shouldn’t need an audience; it creates a void, a need for someone out there to say well done, thank you for having the courage to say it, it needed to be said, you are demonstrating such grace etc. etc. until I puke. BAME people don’t have the time or emotional capacity to spare on you and we shouldn’t be grateful for it, or for any apology.
I am encouraged at least that an apology has been made and hope that this event at least can be put behind us. Just don’t think that I am glad about it!
For more information on the importance of complaint and diversity work, it is worth listening to Sara Ahmed (an ICON made flesh) – try this for starters:
*thanks, and screw you