This is a response sent to CILIP via the CILIP BAME network, regarding the publication of an article about Dominic Cummings in the Information Professional magazine, the subsequent statement about the article, and the communications of CILIP with the library sector regarding these issues.
(I hope you can understand that this is a personal and emotional response and I have tried to represent the interests of my BAME colleagues who have spoken out and/or been in touch privately.)
I would like to provide a response covering several areas; the original article, the statement in response, the communications by CILIP and representatives, and (in a meta way!) this method of response. Please could my response be taken into consideration in its entirety and not form part of the CILIP BAME network statement?
Overall I would like to express my intense displeasure with how this has been handled even prior to the publication of the article. Of the upmost relevance and concern is the continued suffering of BAME information professionals who have been dealing with this for over two weeks with no recognition of what they and I have been experiencing, and I sincerely hope this will be addressed as a matter of urgency. Throughout this experience I have felt that you (Nick, Meg and CILIP) have either not engaged or engaged in a dismissive fashion, as though I have been blowing this out of proportion and it’s ‘just an article.’ However, as you are not BAME you cannot understand the impact this and the subsequent uproar has had on us, and I hope you are now able to appreciate that your personal experience of the world is not what matters here.
The original article
The email below from the CILIP BAME network (and I am not sure if this has come from CILIP HQ or the network itself) suggests that there is a belief that the offence to the article stems from Dominic Cummings’ association with Andrew Sabisky and the implication of his support of eugenics, which was in the media after this article was published. The fact that you could have easily used this as an excuse to retract the article originally but chose not to, is yet another concern. However, it is the ongoing work of Dominic Cummings and the government that he represents that has caused the offence, not only his link to eugenics; we have an overtly and confidently racist Prime Minister (and again, the toll of this on your BAME colleagues should surely be on your radar) and Cummings is closely related to this, on top of actual policies that have a detrimental effect on people’s lives. Even if you do not experience this yourself, you have a direct responsibility to be aware of this, to understand it, and act with a sense of human decency and according to your self-proclaimed ethical principles. Where is your support for human rights and equality in the platform given here?
Personally, I would like an apology from the editor or person responsible for making this decision, and a public retraction of the article. I would also appreciate some work being done with the editorial team and all of CILIP staff to understand what racism is, and what white privilege/fragility is. I would urge CILIP to review their editorial process and ensure that it can stand up to their ethical framework in the future, as it is hurtful and confusing to see an article giving a platform to a person who continues to actively and disproportionately harm BAME and other oppressed people. I cannot know for sure, but I assume that you do not have any BAME editors? The labour of this should not fall for them but we can see clearly how an echo chamber has formed, and the importance of diversity in ensuring different views are challenged.
The statement in response
I do not want to dwell too much on a comparison with the statement published in support of LGBTQ colleagues, and the statement regarding this article, except to say that your speed of response and the person delivering the response matters as much as the tone and content. This was yet another blow to the library BAME community, to see our allies so clearly supported by a statement written by Nick compared to such a dismissive one written by someone who is listed as the web manager. I find it an interesting reflection that in the case of the Scottish Poetry Library you were able to respond calmly and strongly against an external issue, whereas you are obviously struggling to deal similarly with an internal one.
I appreciate that you would want to write a statement rather than respond to individual tweets, but your statement did not address any of the issues around the emotional impact of the article, nor did it answer my many questions that I posted directly to you online. As a future tactic, I would again urge you to reconsider and to treat those who provide feedback and criticism with respect by directly responding to them rather than a blanket statement.
Honestly, I cannot bring myself to discuss the statement itself in great detail (even though it is so brief!) as I find its tone to be condescending and rude, and not worth my energy. The implication is that we have not read the article (where is the respect for professional colleagues) and that if we have, we have misunderstood. No consideration was given specifically to the impact on BAME people and was so clearly written from a white perspective. You also did not tweet it from your main account, which again lessens its impact and made it difficult for others to engage.
This is the area that has hurt me the most, and I have experienced a great deal of upset, self-doubt and emotional labour in dealing with you as individuals and as an organisation. I do not know if it is a policy that you have (and I did email to ask about your policy) or whether I have been blocked/muted online, but my attempts to engage with you have been met with a brick wall. Why do you find it so difficult to hear us complain and feedback about things that disproportionately affect us? I cannot express to you how little I care about damaging CILIP or causing you public embarrassment – I want to dismantle structural racism and support my BAME colleagues, and yes this has meant challenging and criticising you but I would not expend my energy if I did not think it was necessary. As an action, I strongly recommend that you make your social media policy public as quickly as you can and demonstrate your adherence to it.
I have been treated differently, and whilst another person can send in an email via your ‘contact us’ form or tweet at you, and receive a response, I do not receive the same treatment. This is certainly an example of structural racism – not the racist act of a person and their beliefs, but a system set up to perpetuate inequalities that negatively impact BAME people. How else can you account for your actions? I hope you can treat me with some element of courtesy and respect to see that I am working for a cause and not some rabid internet troll; any disagreement we have is a professional one and I would hope that you treat it as such in the future. It is also relevant to note how BAME people, especially women, must act with calmness and facts when expressing criticism and challenging racism, compared to how white people are allowed to act. I suggest you watch this recent clip and reflect on your own white fragility.
You also made a comment on the phone about how those complaining were a ‘vocal minority,’ which is a deeply concerning statement. It suggests that you ignore criticism from individuals and cater only to what I am assuming is a silent majority, the group that you think must therefore agree with you? As there is a known issue with the lack of diversity in the library sector, it troubles me greatly that you would expect to listen to only a majority voice. Furthermore, this changes the discourse and makes you into the victim rather than the perpetrator – this is classic racist behaviour and a tactic I have experienced a number of times. I appreciate that this was probably a throwaway comment and I do not want to pile blame onto an individual, but again the repercussions of this onto myself and others have been heavily felt. It has affected my perception of myself as a reasonable and needed activist voice, and I feel as though I have been gaslighted to see myself as the problem. Again, a public apology would be welcome here and an acknowledgement of how you will treat all critical voices going forward.
On a personal note…
I do have a wider issue with the way you publicly display your commitment to ethics, equality, diversity etc. but in individual cases and in private you do not act according to your own values. This performative behaviour is disappointing, actively harms anti-racism work, and it sets the tone for how others behave in the sector. Specifically, it is the speeches you have made referencing myself and DILON, and the information on your website expressing commitment to these values right down to the books you have read (and who out of you has read them?). This has caused me ongoing harm and yourselves ongoing benefits; I am asked regularly about the work we are supposedly doing together, the speech is quoted to me and sent to me, used against me when I express criticism and I can only see how you would benefit by associating yourselves with the work we have been doing without actually needing to take any action. Nick, you especially owe me an apology for this. I did tweet you about it and then tweet again a week later asking for a response.
Method of response
As well as reiterate the comments about your communication above, I am concerned about how we are being asked to send in feedback to you and that this combined statement will be discussed by the SLT. This came via email to members of the network and allies only, and was not publicised online. Furthermore, I was told in a separate email that other comments were being taken into consideration, although it’s unclear whether this is emails and tweets I have sent to you asking for information. This was also not made public, and I have had to expend personal energy in ensuring a full response is gathered, even sending individuals the email who did not get a copy of the original. If you want to change the goalposts against one specific group of people (e.g. the tweets and emails about the SPL were handled in a different way) then you need to make it clear and hopefully explain why, otherwise you have made BAME people do extra work to ensure their voice is heard. As explained above, this is structural racism.
I appreciate that this is a lengthy statement and that I am asking you to read and respond to it in its entirety, but this is important to us as a sector and to me personally. The labour I am expending on a daily basis on dealing with racism in my life and working on change to support other BAME library and HE professionals is unsustainable and CILIP needs to shoulder some of this responsibility. This is why your performative equality and diversity work is so hurtful, and we need you to address this scandal, reflect and then move into a better space. I look forward to your responses and apologies, and learning about how we will be able to work together in the future.
Jen (in a personal capacity and representing DILON)