Our campus is holding an excellent extracurricular series of discussions on Race in America, Past and Present: Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Burden of History. I've been lucky to work with the facilitators -- a professor and an instructor from the history department, and the director of the Black cultural center -- to make a LibGuide with all the readings/videos and recommended additional sources, and to bring resources from the library to each in-person session, for folks to browse and potentially check out.
Yesterday's discussion focused on reparations, building on Ta-Nehisi Coates' 2014 article on the case for reparations. We talked about redlining, about the predatory and unregulated lending that cropped up to take advantage of Black folks who were categorically denied loans. We talked about the 1921 Tulsa race riot, where a mob of White men burned down the (fairly affluent and independent) Black area of town, killing as many as three hundred people. Students, community members, and faculty alike lamented how little is known about these topics. It reminded me of Debby Irving's anecdote in Waking Up White about her shock at learning that the G.I. Bill was not really accessible to Black veterans. How could something so egregious be so unknown? Why are we not taught this history? Similarly, NFL player Colin Kaepernick's protest to kneel during the National Anthem has raised shock at the (well-established) fact that Francis Scott Key was a slaveholder, and that a (rarely sung) verse of the Star-Spangled Banner seems to celebrate the death of enslaved people.
This morning, I'm thinking about what the role the library (or a library worker) plays in not just preserving this type of conveniently hidden-in-plain-sight information, but highlighting it. This seems related to the "discovered in the archives" trope that so annoys archivists -- yeah, we have stuff, and we (kinda) know what we have, but if other people don't, what good is it? As Josh MacPhee has said about the Interference Archive, use is preservation -- by using information, we help keep it for the future. Getting the stuff into folks' hands when they need, that's perhaps the challenge as always.