WILL UNWOUND #336: “An MLK Day Special – How High is Your Discrimmination Quotient?”January 17, 2011
The extensive, vigorous, and yet very civil discussion we had on the new sanitized edition of Huck Finn (poof, the n word is gone) got me thinking about whether I have ever been discriminated against or even ridiculed for any part of my being. Since today honors one of the greatest personages of American history, I thought it would be interestesting to check mychecklist:
- White guy …never been called a honky or cracker
- Irish guy …never been called a shanty red faced mick
- Catholic guy….never been called a mackerel snapper
- Old guy….never been called a geezer
What am I missing? I’ve covered race, ethnicity, religion, and age. That pretty much covers the waterfront, right?
Or does it? Now that I think of it there is when one area where I once had to overcome prejudice and bias: my identity as a librarian.
Near the midpoint of my life (51) just as I was beginning to get comfortable with the notion that libraries would be around long enough for me to make it to retirement as a library director, I was selected as the city manager of a city of a population of 170,000 and a city work force of over 2,000 employees. I held the job until my retirement 7 years later.
My selection (I beat out a number of candidates who had come from “normal” city manager backgrounds) was met with bemusement and skepticism from the local media. How odd they concluded that a librarian had become city manager. In their minds, it was like a member of the university chess team starting at quarterback for Ole Miss.
I don’t know how many times I answered the question: “How can you possibly run a large city with a library background?” I was even invited to speak at a local service club on that very vexing question. My answer to all the skeptics was the same answer that I gave to the City Council during my interview: What better preparation is there for city management than being a library director. Here were my points:
- A big part of being city manager is providing the relevant info that Council members need to make major policy decisions. Information management is the librarian’s stock in trade.
- The library is the city’s most heavily trafficked building by far.
- The library directly serves the most diverse clientele of any city department.
- The library gets more bang for the buck than any other city department.
- The library is the city’s leader in providing e-government.
- An experienced library director has extensive experience in reporting to boards and commissions.
That was my sales pitch to the skeptics. It was convincing and succeeded in getting them off my back. Winning over the respect of the city workforce was another matter, one fit for another post. But the answer had a lot to do with two words: “finger puppets.”
The two questions of the day, Unwinders, are these:
- Have you ever been the victim of bias or ridicule on the basis of age, gender, orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, or any other point on the diversity spectrum?
- Have you ever encountered bias or ridicule as a result of your identity as a librarian?