Monday, February 19, 2007

Black History Month, the Library, and Aesthetics

The Brooklyn Court House has been celebrating Black History Month. I have enjoyed the events, but had not thought to involve the library. After a weekend in discussion with attendees of BAM’s ( African Diaspora movie festival, I understand how important it is to participate.

During one of the post-movie discussions, three black women from my gym class, all professionals, compared incidents of harassment by sales clerks who questioned their identity when they presented credit cards for purchases. Each woman had been followed through department stores by security. Such humiliations were wearing.

When I mentioned that my library had not contributed to Black History Month, they were very surprised. I had lost some respect, I sensed.

Their comment tied into another conversation I had. An attorney came into the library after what must have been a difficult day in court. He thanked me for the help he had received from the staff. He told me that the library had been a place for him to revive and decompress during hard days. We got into a discussion about how the library was a neutral space in the court house. It was place where people posed questions and made connections. I asked if he would be interested in a Friday afternoon tea hour in the library—he was interested.

We Court Law Librarians can get overwhelmed by “the undertow of the world,” (Robert Cole). Before these conversations I had not thought that the court library could draw upon its strengths to create an aesthetic space that could restore visitors and oppose the brutalities diminishing us. These conversations have given me a lot; I am fortunate to have received such confidences.

1 comment:

Betsy McKenzie said...

Good for you, Jackie! Sort of in connection, I read that Brown University (which was founded with a big grant from a slave-owner and now has a black woman president), has decided to develop a slavery memorial. In a short in the Boston Globe, it's reported that Brown is planning to raise a $10 million endowment to support public schools in Providence, RI, and create an academic center to study the issues of slavery and justice, and build up their African Studies Department. Brown can't help the roots of their original endowment. But there has been a certain amount of uproar about the slavery in Brown's past. I think this is a very well-considered and positive response.