Last week, Greg McClay posted on his site an email sent to the ALA Council listserv. He didn't comment much on it and definitely treated it as a joke, but I wanted to take a closer look at it. Most of the AL's readers probably either read or at least are aware of Greg McClay and SHUSH. For those few who don't know, McClay is an outspoken political conservative who has waged a battle against the politicization of the ALA that might be akin to tilting at windmills. Last year he ran an unsucessful campaign for the ALA Council, and this year he's running again. I support his candidacy, not because of his political views, but because he wants the ALA to stop making political pronouncements irrelevant to libraries. Whether you agree with his politics or not is irrelevant if you believe the ALA Council is too politicized. SHUSH readers also know that McClay likes to mix it up with the ALA Council and that he can be a bit heavy-handed at times, as I'm sure he'd be the first to admit. He takes as well as he gives and rolls with the punches. He apparently likes to be a lightning rod for controversy, as opposed to the Annoyed Librarian, who always treads lightly to avoid offending anyone.
I'm only bringing this up because I was surprised at how dirty an ALA campaign can get and how low someone can sink. Someone calling himself "Mark Rosenzweig" sent an email to the ALA Council accusing McClay of being an advocate of torture and genocide as well as a "bona fide open racist." McClay doesn't need me to come to his defense, and I'm not going to. He's a big guy, and if we put him and Rosenzweig together in a room I'm pretty sure McClay would win. And if this email is any indication of intellectual power, McClay would probably win the argument as well. I just want to look at Rosenzweig's strange email and analyze the claims, you know, just for the fun of it.
The email argues, no, let's just say asserts, that because McClay "ridicules ALA’s position in strong opposition" to torture and genocide that he is an advocate of torture and it strongly implies that he's also an advocate of genocide. So, the implication is that if anyone thinks that the American Library Association should not pass resolutions on political issues that have nothing to do with American libraries, then that means they are advocates of whatever the politicized ALA councilors oppose. It's all in how you phrase it, isn't it? Okay, who's for genocide? Raise your hands! It's the easy smear of the intellectually inadequate political ideologue. If there was a rationally defensible reason the ALA should take stands on these issues, then one could argue the case. Since there isn't, you get the smear tactics instead.
Well, I just want to go on the record. The Annoyed Librarian is opposed to torture and genocide. The Annoyed Librarian is unaware of any instances of genocide taking place inside American libraries, and if you exclude degrading supervisors and humiliating working conditions and possibly some very bad storytimes she is also unaware of any torture inside American libraries. Thus, the Annoyed Librarian is opposed to the ALA making resolutions about torture and genocide because those resolutions have nothing to do with American libraries. And if you think there is any contradiction in those statements, then you're just not very bright. If I wanted to engage in name-calling, which of course I don't, I might point out that people who draw illogical conclusions and distort facts and then publicly attack other people based on those distorted facts are vile and stupid. But I don't want to call people names, so I'll just leave it at that.
The biggest smear, the one really designed to stick, is calling McClay a "bona fide open racist." We all know that just calling someone a racist is a enough to make some people think they are. That's the biggest devil term around these days, now that "fascist" is going out of favor. Part of the problem is that so many people throw that term of abuse around these days it's hard to tell if it means anything any more. Open racism just isn't acceptable in most of America these days, which is why racialist critics have to look harder and harder to find racism. Though the context is a little confusing and strange, McClay seems to be an advocate of miscegenation among other things, which is hardly a statement likely to be made by a "bona fide open racist."
But let's consider the specific point that brought that accusation. From the email:
"Below is a sample, from last week, of his thinking, to my mind, a clearly racist swipe at President-Elect Loriene Roy.
You see for yourselves. I want to let you see it because I believe you are unlikely to come accross his blog where it appeared. I especially am appalled by the part where he snidely says: “Apparently her growing up in a wigwam is going to offer some profound insight on how ALA is run.” His supporters will jump to say : “And what’s racist about that?” You decide."Ok, I'm going to decide for myself. And I just want to say thanks for giving me this statement out of context and then letting me use my own reason. Very generous of you. I appreciate it, really.
McClay was responding to a post at LIS News. An "anonymous patron" wrote about Loriene Roy's election to be ALA President and noted that "Roy will be the first Native person to serve as president of the 130-year-old American Library Association (ALA) in 2007-08." To which McClay replied: "Apparently her growing up in a wigwam is going to offer some profound insight on how ALA is run. I’ve met Loriene Roy, she’s a nice person, but I’ve been given no reason by anything she has said to date to think she is cut from any different kind of cloth than current or past ALA presidents."
So is it clear this is a racist swipe at Roy? What is clear is that the "anonymous patron" was making an issue of Roy's "race." (I put that in quotes because the more I read about race and genetics, the less sense the term seems to make.) The official ALA press release about her election didn't have this statement. Here a quote from that release:
"In 1999, Roy founded 'If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything,' a national reading club for Native children. She also directs 'Honoring Generations,' an Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS)-funded scholarship program for indigenous students....Library Journal named Roy a 2005 'Mover & Shaker,' and she has received four Texas Excellence Awards for teaching and student advising. Roy received a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an M.L.S. from the University of Arizona. She is Anishinabe (Ojibwe), enrolled on the White Earth Reservation, a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe."
The ALA press release does note that she is Anishinabe, which is an unusual fact and completely relevant to her "If I Can Read" and "Honoring Generations" program. However, it doesn't make the claim that she is the "first native person" to serve as president of ALA and imply that is somehow relevant and important to being the president of ALA, as the "anonymous patron" at LIS News does. The "anonymous patron" is the one who brings up Roy's "race" and points to it as if it's a significant fact. I haven't met Roy, but I wonder if she ever said, "I'd make a great ALA president because I'm a Native person." (And speaking of meaningless terms, I do wish that if we have to single people out according to their "race" or ethnicity or culture or whatever, as some people like to do, we could come up with a better phrase than "Native person." It's an imprecise and stupid phrase.)
And consider the wigwam comment for a bit. What exactly was "racist" about it. Racists consider some "races" inferior because of their supposed inherent characteristics. Is a wigwam an inherent characteristic of a "race"? Or is it a cultural characteristic? And was the comment implying that "growing up in a wigwam" was a bad thing? That Roy was supposedly inferior because of this? Or was it implying that her background gave no reason to think she would be any different than other ALA presidents? Wasn't it in fact implying that regardless of her background she would be at least as good or as bad as previous ALA presidents? Thus, if you think past ALA presidents have been hot stuff, then this comment could easily imply that Roy will be the same hot stuff they were. This is where "race" becomes almost a meaningless term in the smearing email. Are we talking about race or culture? Culture, I assert, but it doesn't make sense to call someone a culturalist.
It's almost as if Rosenzweig himself was the "anonymous patron" who hoped McClay would criticize the LIS News post so this attack could be made. McClay certainly took the bait, and "growing up in a wigwam" is the result. But is this a remark on race? Or is it just a quick and possibly tasteless joke in reaction to an irrelevant comment on Roy's "native personhood"? You decide.