I bounced out of bed the morning of Thursday, June 18th, 2015, excited about another day, unaware of the tragedy that had happened the previous evening. But very early on I read of the massacre in the Charleston church. My thoughts immediately went to my friends Chineta and Reggie Goodjoin.
I wondered if I should call and ask Chineta, a pastor, whether she or Reggie had friends and family involved. Were they ok? It was still very early and I couldn’t find Chineta’s phone number. Morning life took over, and I didn’t call. A little later, on Facebook, I saw Chineta’s post “NO NO NO I am just learning that my good friend Sharonda was one of the people shot last night in Charleston…”
I still couldn’t find Chineta’s number. So I called Reggie and talked with him. But what could I say? What comfort could I offer?
I’m from India originally in a multicultural marriage and family. 30 years ago, Indians got to check themselves off as white in the US census forms. Except I knew I was a “darkie,” a “blackie.” Racism is alive and well in India just as it is in the many cultures around the world which prize light skin such as China, Brazil to give a few random examples. And, so my own racialization has been a long, slow, process. It is only recently that I’ve started to talk openly. I felt Chineta’s pain over the loss of Sharonda Coleman-Singleton. Even before Charleston, in April, D. Mark Davis’ reflection on White Privilege had touched me deeply. Chineta Goodjoin’s invitation to join her at a meeting of the Orange County Interfaith Alliance and to speak to The frustration of it all at the New Hope Call to Action Prayer Service moved me. I read what Cynthia Hurd, another victim of the Charleston shooting, a librarian always said: “Libraries are always inclusive, never exclusive.” I knew then that I must keep on speaking out about racism. I must also do something to help end it as well.
Why? What could I do? The why was easy. Cynthia’s statement reminded me of one of my most formative work experiences: an impressionable 20-something I had helped to catalog and bring online rare Freedom of the Press materials in the Special Collections Research Center, Morris Library, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Intellectual freedom which includes intellectual diversity was deeply ingrained in me. What I could do, though, to contribute and make a difference was a challenge. I had left academia 7 years ago and discovered a new life as wife, mother, writer and full-time volunteer! I was enjoying myself, deeply satisfied. My pioneering days in digital libraries and open access repositories belonged to the past, I thought. In the economy of grace, however, nothing is wasted and, the wheels had already been set in motion! Earlier in 2015 I had received two invitations: to teach Vocabulary Design and to write for “Reimagining the church.” The blog/column title ‘d come up with for Reimagining was A Mote in Minerva’s Eye: Seeing without categorizing and centered on issues of justice, with racial justice as a sub-topic. I had drafted a tentative outline for what I hoped would eventually become a robust research agenda around a new vocabulary that celebrated our human diversity. Here’s the preliminary description I wrote in May 2015, but never published: Biology, anthropology, have shown us that race as a scientific category doesn’t exist. There are only phenotypic variations among us such as skin color, hair and eyes color. In fact, species variation among humans is far less than it is among other species. Most educated people know that race is a social construct. Yet, we keep using it to explain individual differences and socio-cultural phenomena. I believe we do so for several reasons. Lakoff’s work, for example, has showed the influence of folk theories, mental models, and beliefs to which we unwittingly hold on in social constructions of reality. My own research has demonstrated that Vocabulary Control – the design, construction and management of categories in mono-lingual thesauri and other systems of knowledge organization – makes a difference in our learning. Now, after I had started to talk publicly of my own racialization, I began to think about other questions: How do the Christian Bible and the sacred texts of other religions talk about race? Might it be possible to develop a thesaurus around this alternative language? How can controlled vocabularies make a difference in the efforts to end racism? The Anti-racism digital library will help us answer questions such as these and many more. Join me! #AntiRaceDL #RaceIsNotReal #RacismIsReal #RisingForCharleston #BlackLivesMatter #SpeakAntiRacism
About the Photo: Casa means house in Spanish. Charis means grace in Greek. Casa Charis means House of Grace/Love. More in my book, Casa Charis: A Daybook of Freedom (2013).
Buchel, O. and Coleman, A. 2003. How can classificatory structures be used to improve science education? Library Resources and Technical Services 47 (1): 3-13. [pdf download] Last retrieved 24 July, 2015
Lakoff, G. 1987. Women, fire and other dangerous things: What categories reveal about the mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [pdf download] Last retrieved 24 July, 2015.