Archive for September 1st, 2017

The Nazis in your library

Charlottesville Public Library. Wikimedia Commons.


Let me tell you about Walter. You know, the 68-year-old retiree that volunteers at your library. The older white gentleman who’s been faithfully reading to the kids at Saturday Story-Time every week for six years. Kids love Walter. The way he makes silly voices. The knowing grin when the pigeon can’t find his shoe or the mouse somehow gets into the bear’s house for the umpteenth time. The way he reminds them of Santa Claus, maybe. Walter is a great volunteer. He also happens to be a Klan member.

Or, let me tell you about Tyler. The junior political science major that reserves a large study room every Wednesday night from 5:00 to 7:00 for his study group. Always turns the key in on time. Never bothers other patrons. This week, Tyler and his friends are meeting to plan for a road-trip to join a neo-Nazi protest against the planned removal of a Confederate monument.

What about Kelly? She’s the week-end part-timer that covers the reference desk on Sunday afternoons. She’s always there with a smile on her face and an eagerness to help whoever comes to the desk. After her shift, she heads home to write her weekly post for a white nationalist blog.

See, here’s the thing. Librarians are arguing over whether or not to let white supremacists and Nazis and other hate groups into the library. About the library, they say, “you can’t invite into it people who want to publicly announce that they want to drive away some of them with torches and threats.” And, sure, when the alt-right shows up to the circulation desk with their tiki torches, you should absolutely kick their hateful asses out. If a neo-Nazi group wants to rent space for a public memorial service for a Holocaust denier, you ought to push back. If white supremacists are marching down your Main Street, by all means, resist them. Chris Bourg is right: “As an organization, we must condemn white supremacy in all its manifestations.” And we should call out tone-deaf arguments from white guys who think this is all some sort of abstraction about freedom of speech and who want to recite the ALA Code of Ethics as some sort of gospel.

But, odds are, at your library, you’re not going to have to deal with these sorts of things. You won’t have tiki torches at your circulation desk or neo-Nazis rallying by your makerspace. No, you’re just going to have Walter and Tyler and Kelly.

White supremacy is endemic. It’s part of the fabric of this country. And it’s good at hiding in plain sight. For every fascist wearing a Pepe shirt, there are a thousand more who aren’t. And the more we focus on the most egregious displays of hate coming from the alt-right, the more we risk overlooking the hidden hatred that lives right next door. The hate that perpetuates discrimination and inequality. Redlining loan officers don’t carry torches. The high-income hipsters whitewashing Harlem aren’t carrying Confederate flags. George Zimmerman wasn’t wearing a white hood when he shot Trayvon Martin. Remember, after the white supremacists rally, they go home, take off their silly costumes, and blend back into white, suburban banality. And how do the Walters and Tylers and Kellys blend in? Because we let them. We nice white folks let them. To me, that’s more frightening than any rally.

So, while librarians argue on the Internet about whether to punch a Nazi or let the Klan hold a rally in the library, kids are listening to Walter the casual Klansman read about an owl who can’t fall asleep…and they’re loving it.

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