I woke up this morning to an anonymous commenter sarcastically attacking me for writing that Stephen Abram should apologize for the “Jane, you ignorant slut!” debacle, and accusing me of failing to apologize for my own talk at Charleston. I’m not going to re-engage with that beyond saying that I did apologize as publicly as I could for hurting domestic violence survivors, and here is the link.
But it started me thinking. Thinking, as I prepped for my day at work today, a day which includes the first meeting of this year’s campus Diversity in Action Coalition, in which we will talk about how we support and engage our minority communities on our traditionally very homogenous campus. Thinking, as I surfed the morning’s online content in my librarianship Twitter, Facebook, and RSS feeds, where there’s this whole #TeamHarpy thing going on. #TeamHarpy exists because, as they note on their website, “Joseph Murphy (aka Joe Murphy) has begun legal proceedings naming nina de jesus and Lisa Rabey as defendants in a defamation lawsuit, asking for a total of 1.25 million dollars in damages.” The defendants claim their comments on Mr. Murphy’s public persona are truthful, and they intend to spend a great deal of money as they are forced to defend themselves.
Barbara Fister has also written on Inside Higher Ed about this case, and brilliantly concludes with a paragraph I agree with on every single point:
I don’t know Joe Murphy and all I knew about him was his reputation, which the lawsuit claims has been damaged by Rabey and de jesus, even though that damage actually happened long before they put anything in writing. (And if you think we shouldn’t talk about this because he’s innocent until proven guilty, remember this is not a criminal case and he is not a defendant, as de jesus has so lucidly explained.) It could be that he has been unfairly maligned for the past few years. But in a profession that’s all about the value of sharing information and protecting access to multiple perspectives, this isn’t how you defend your reputation. You engage. You discuss. You listen. You try to figure stuff out. You don’t attempt to silence people with punitive legal actions. If you do, you are doing it wrong.
(Except, in the interests of full disclosure, I have met Joe, and have been “nice shirt”ed by him, and as a woman who is loosely in his same age-and-career-path cohort, I was warned by other women about being alone with him long before Rabey and de jesus started talking about it on the internet.)
So. Here’s what I think when I think about what I’ve done online so far this morning.
- When you screw up you apologize for it.
- When others screw up you demand they apologize for it.
- When the disempowered and marginalized voices in our communities choose to speak, the majority needs to listen, and question, and debate, and learn.
- When people say things they believe to be true based on their own experiences, you don’t sue them for $1.25 million, you open a dialogue instead.
- When honest and open attempts at dialogue fail, then you make choices about when to take further more dramatic actions.
I guess your mileage may vary on those things, but they seem to me to be very fundamental to being good people who coexist with other good people in this world.
And I write all of this, this morning, knowing full well that we now live in a world of librarianship where I not only face an email inbox full of brightly vitriolic email for speaking my mind (a truth I’ve been living with for years), but also a world of librarianship in which I might be sued for more than a million dollars for writing something that someone else thinks is unfair to them. Well done, broader community of librarians. Well done.