Imagine I’m on a panel at ALA or a library conference of your choice. Imagine I’m partaking in spirited and humorous, but respectful banter. Imagine an exchange of ideas and a healthy debate. Imagine, suddenly, that I decide to bust out with a relevant quote from one of my favorite, though purposefully offensive, comedians. Pick something from Sarah Silverman or Amy Schumer. It doesn’t matter which joke. Pretend that while the quote is slightly relevant to the conversation at hand, it’s mostly just offensive, inappropriate, disrespectful and just plain rude. Now, imagine that some people in the audience get the reference and some don’t. Imagine I’ve upset people in the panel and the audience. Image that folks on Twitter and Facebook have gotten wind of my awful comment and want me to apologize.
- I immediately state that I cannot fix what I’ve done (instead of asking what I can do to fix it)
- I talk about how I’m facing unpleasant consequences due to my actions
- I mention that Schumer (or Silverman) has a huge following with tons of Google hits that refer to her jokes
- I start blaming the internet for daring to discuss my misstep
- I also blame old people who don’t get the Schumer reference
- I once again talk about how my inappropriate behavior has made my life difficult
- I THEN FINALLY SAY I’M SORRY
- I restate how I have been victimized in order to garner sympathy
If you insist on throwing around a word like “slut” at a conference, realize that you’re surrounded by a mostly female-identifying audience who may not appreciate your choice of words, regardless of whether or not you’re quoting someone else. Realize that not everyone is going to get the reference. Realize that it’s not their responsibility to recognize every pop culture reference ever uttered (Maybe they grew up in another country! Maybe they’re more of a reader than a TV watcher! Maybe they don’t like sketch comedy!). Realize that even if people recognize the quote, they still retain the right to be offended by what you said. Realize that you are a librarian. You are not a stand-up comedian. You may be naturally funny and edgy and extremely clever, but you are not starring in your own HBO comedy special. Conferences are just another workspace. Consider if you’d use that word in front of your boss or employees. When you say that you don’t feel safe, realize that unsafe for you is being called-out on your actions, while unsafe for other librarians is being touched without consent (happened to me in Philly! Thanks guy who tried, repeatedly, to hold my hand even though I kept pulling away!) or having to deal with sexism/homophobia/racism/threat of physical harm. Realize that the ALA Code of Conduct (which I realize probably does not cover Canadian conferences) exists to address this very sort of behavior because it has been a problem in the past (and realize that unsafe spaces continue to be a problem for conference participants). Realize that you are free to say whatever you please to whomever you please, but, in turn, people are free to voice their displeasure. Freedom of speech does not equal freedom from criticism.
More important than all of this, though, is that we all need to learn how to apologize to our peers. Believe me, I need to learn this too, because I say plenty of stupid things all the time. My foot is in my mouth for a good 80 percent of the day. I’ve got that extra abrasive blunt New Yorker thing that, while I try to keep it in check, ultimately can get the better of me sometimes. Often I have very good intentions, but say things that don’t reflect that at all. When I offend someone, my first instinct consists of protecting myself and my self-esteem while trying to explain away my behavior. When I say the wrong thing, I can proceed in two fashions: My first option is to sort of apologize, but then list every excuse possible to shift the blame on anyone and anything but myself. I can then mention how hard my life is now and talk about how I am a victim in this situation. OR: I can say that I was sorry. I can say what I did was wrong. I can say that I realize that I upset people and that I will do my very best to do better in the future. I can ask for forgiveness.
Saying that you’re sorry is not easy. Apologizing can be difficult and uncomfortable, especially if we feel like we’ve been misunderstood.
The world of librarianship is hectic and lively and chaotic, full of different perspectives and personalities and attitudes. We are going to upset each other, even if we don’t mean to. To better interact with each other, we can be mindful of the words we use. If it sounds like a slur or a gendered/racial insult, just skip it. Find another word. And when we screw up and say the wrong thing, which we will all do at some point, we can apologize thoughtfully and respectfully. We can see what we can learn from the situation and try to do better.
Next time I say something extra stupid, I promise to apologize in a way that will make you all proud.
~Love and Libraries, Ingrid