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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Library environment far from tranquil for many Black employees

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The allegations leveled by Indianapolis Public Library employees regarding the CEO, Jackie Nytes, and the culture of the library demonstrate something is amiss.

That’s an understatement.

When you have multiple people across library branches in different positions saying the same thing, that’s a good sign there’s a problem. When you have a board member and former board member cosign those same sentiments, that goes beyond a sign. That’s clearly telling you something is wrong. Big time.

Allegations of racism came to light after a former employee addressed the board during a recent meeting. Little did we know those allegations were the tip of the iceberg. A deluge of complaints from other library employees soon followed, many contacting the Recorder to share their experiences.

It doesn’t matter whether board members or the CEO think something is wrong. The employees do. A lot of employees do. Many of them Black women.

It doesn’t matter that the library has crafted a strategic plan to become more diverse, equitable and inclusive if that is just pretty wrapping paper on a piece of coal. We saw many businesses and organizations jump on the DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) bandwagon in 2020. Many posting statements in white letters on black backgrounds and making promises of how they’ll do better but doing little in reality. What many of these leaders don’t understand is things are different today. When you make a statement now, you’re held accountable in ways you weren’t before. We’re checking to see if your Black lives matter statement aligns with your hiring practices, your retention and promotion practices and where you donate. You donate to causes you support, so you can’t say you support diversity while giving money to politicians who don’t.

No doubt many of these leaders are well-intentioned. They may even consider themselves liberals. Unfortunately, many white liberals have blind spots when it comes to racism, falsely believing they don’t have a racist bone in their body because they have a Black friend and support diversity, while secretly stereotyping Black people.

In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressly stated his disappointment in the white moderate. After calling them a “stumbling block in the stride toward freedom,” King went on to say, “Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

King was spot on then and now. To say you want and support diversity, but then to make Black employees feel you’re doing them a favor but they’re unwanted, unsupported and inadequately compensated misses the point of diversity. Who wants to feel unwelcome and treated as incompetent? I’ve experienced some degree of this, and I understand how it can take a toll on one’s health. Going into a toxic work environment day in and day out wears you down. Questioning if you’re capable of doing your job and seeing others praised for doing far less is hurtful. You start questioning your self-worth, as if what you do is who you are.

I’ve never understood people who enjoy making life miserable for others. I’ve never understood people who are so insecure and intimidated by others that they need to make others feel small just so they can feel good. These actions speak volumes about the character of people like this and none of it is good. Since we spend a nice chunk of our lives “at work,” I’m a firm believer that it should be as pleasant and toxic free as possible. We’re all adults and should treat each other as such.

Sad to say, but that doesn’t seem to be the culture at the library. The library board would do well to take heed to what their employees are saying and make changes quick, fast and in a hurry as my mother would say. I’ve loved libraries since I was a child. I’ve spent many hours in the library for “fun” (don’t judge). For me, libraries exude tranquility. Libraries are peaceful bastions of knowledge. I’ve never considered what it’s like to work in one other than it has to be so much fun to be around so many books. IndyPL has forever crushed that vision.

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