Lorin Jackson: The Importance of Professional Friendships: WOC + Librarianship
by Lorin Jackson
Co-Founder of WOC+Lib
We live in a society that thrives off of an individualist narrative. Although there is no way Harry Potter would be Harry Potter without the people who supported him and encouraged him, the series still centers on him, as if it were only him making moves throughout the story. As if there can only be one…
There isn’t ever only one.
The hero-golden-child-narrative makes it seem like there is not enough room for everyone - this narrative is present in non-fictional academia, as well.
The idea seems to be that you are better off if you stand alone and achieve by yourself. This scarcity mindset works against us, and as I will attempt to explain, this perspective has its roots in some disturbing historical beginnings.
But, outside of the predominant hegemonic social paradigm, many cultures tell us that we are incomplete and shortsighted if we do not include and appreciate the contributions of others to our success - particularly our elders. The solo narrative is celebrated and built off of the devastating impacts of toxic masculinity, as well as capitalism.
We think our heroes work alone and they have enemies. Competing enemies are good for business, they tell us: Competition helps drive prices lower, helping create a competitive market for consumers where they get the best price. But, why don’t we ever question the fundamental assumptions built into that statement?
When we compete against each other in librarianship, no one wins. There is no “better bargain.” What we are left with after competition is only people who are not included and people who are left unsupported. I understand that sometimes we will all apply for the same scholarships, or the same programs, or the same jobs. I understand that we may not always achieve direct success from our attempts, but our friends might and shouldn’t that be celebrated? Why wouldn’t it be a feat worth celebrating, particularly with all of the odds that form against us? If our friends are successful in an undertaking, can they share their success with us and support us so that we can do better in the future instead of being seen as a formidable “nemesis?”
I have been a professional reference for friends who have gotten the job. I have supported my friends with editing their resumes, cover letters, and CVs. We’ve practiced interviews before they’ve happened and rehearsed that big presentation together that could set them up for a promotion. Look, we’re all we’ve got. While other folks may have had the privilege to just “know” what they need in order to be successful or have nepotism sail them into lucrative, prestigious positions in libraries, as well as elsewhere, often women of color and people of color in the working world have not had the same leg up. Working with each other and depending on each other reminds us that we are not alone, nor have we ever been alone, in order to make it as far as we have. The reciprocal, symbiotic nature of these relationships helps counteract the imbalances that honestly seek to destroy us and leave us isolated. Isolation in assists in our individual, as well as collective failure or defeat. Instead, LaQuanda and I encourage partnerships, collaboration, honesty, as well as vulnerability within the profession, with our colleagues.
No one understands you like someone who has had the same experience. This isn’t to say that there isn’t something we can’t learn from anyone - like us or unlike us.
There is a comfort, though, in not having to explain or answer questions about a particular experience. Translation can be exhausting and as many studies have indicated the stress of having to navigate those waters as a woman of color in the workplace, for example, has tremendous impacts on our health and well-being.
We can make our own support and we celebrate our own success, together. It is unhealthy, and frankly, unproductive to continue the same acts of competition between people of color, even in librarianship because this subtly reinforces the dynamics we’ve inherited from the times of chattel slavery. During that historical time and up to today, this scarcity mentality informed us that there were threats of not enough sustenance to sustain all of us. Jealousy or envy of how master treats each of us pitted us against one another when we know we are not the real enemy...it’s the system that created these relationships and divided our families and divided us against ourselves in the first place. When we continue to propagate this kind of competition between us as people of color, even in librarianship, we do the work of white supremacy for white supremacy, not to ultimately better ourselves or be more successful. And that, my friends, has to change.