Friday, April 3, 2020
Library for white people
In the evening the curbside pick up at my library finally died down. And once again myself and a couple of co-workers were talking and complaining about the situation.
You know the situation, don't you: State in lockdown, managers run amok, pandemic ingratiating itself slowly and murderously into the heart of the city, library under weird delusions of being some kind of emergency service, random chaotic rules at my library... You know, THE SITUATION.
One of my co-workers was telling the outrageous story she heard at a smaller branch she also worked at. It was of one of our colleagues who was more like me, that is, outraged. Outraged at staying open in a pandemic, then, outraged at staffing in a pandemic with a paltry two weeks of sick time handed out as largess by the county. Then outraged at violating the Governor's order to pretend that curbside pickup of bestsellers is some kind of essential service he just forgot to mention in his Shut Down order. But this outraged colleague the story was about is black. And she apparently very publicly proclaimed something like "I don't see why we're keeping the library open, risking everyone, just to get a few books for old white people!"
The story was told like that person had really gone too far. "That's a little much to say, isn't it?" The person telling it seemed to suggest.
But myself and the other colleague listening to it were only taken in for a half second. Then the other shoe dropped.
It dropped hard when we reflected.
Holy shit. Exactly!
My library is wonderful. Its constituency is magical. It is full of struggling youths from the Job Corps down the street. There are Mexican and Central American Immigrants, a rich selection of our local Somali population, and a wide cross section from our Hmong community. It's full of black people and European transplants, Native Americans, Chinese ex patriots and just people, amazingly, from everywhere. It is visited constantly by the developmentally disabled, people recently released from prison trying to adjust, and people with grave physical disabilities.
It is a fucking American melting pot.
Day to day this is so normal to me it is sometimes beyond notice. All these people everywhere, but there it is. That is my American Library, Minnesota USA, believe it or not. It is the Rainbow of the World.
But now, suddenly, we are not that library at all.
We are under a "Shelter in Place" order from the Governor, running some curbside pick up scam. And as this kind of library we are making 50 to 100 people, criminal people, as I like to point out, supremely happy every day, much to my regret.
And every single one of them is white.
Every single one of them!
My co-worker told us the story. She made the quote "I don't see why we're keeping the library open, risking everyone, just to get a few books for old white people!" And the two of us listening looked at each other, stunned.
We had helped hundreds of people over the past few days.
"Have you delivered a book to anyone who wasn't white?" We asked.
"Nope." We answered gob-smacked. "Not a one." None of us had.
Although now, reflecting on it I realize it wasn't an accurate statement. The pick up has not only been used by old white people. There have actually been quite a few white people in their thirties who have used it too.
I guess some kinds of people are just prone to being hyperbolic.