Sunday, February 26, 2023

Who Are the Real Lurkers?

Back in November of 2020 a ghastly photoshopped image was circulated by Republican operatives in Howard County. Do you remember? It was relatively early in the COVID pandemic, well before vaccines were available.

As most of us planned very different, and smaller, Thanksgiving celebrations this year, the folks over at ReOpen Howard saw fit to post one of those tawdry photoshop jobs for which our local Republican Party has become infamous. There, standing on the the outside looking in a dining room window, table set in holiday finery, lurks the County Executive. 

The photo is captioned: The typical Thanksgiving scene across Howard County today. (Look closely)

There you have it. There’s a world-wide pandemic and the amount of human suffering is continuing to balloon beyond what most of us can comprehend but, that’s not the problem for ReOpen Howard. No, they want to make sure that you know the real problem: there’s a Black man outside your window who doesn’t belong there and he wants your stuff.  - - Window Dressing, Village Green/Town², 11/39/2020

This week brought a far more ghastly - - and completely true - - mental image of Craig N. Glendenning, Howard County Auditor, “staking out” an event held at the Equity Resource Center in the Howard County Library’s Central Branch. That’s the image that would give me nightmares.

Why was the county auditor out there lurking in the dark? I’ve seen people making all sorts of excuses, but honestly, underlying the entire scheme was that someone had “a bad feeling.” A group of Black people (women) were getting together at the library and they must be up to no good. They must be watched. 

The entire investigation was based on ignorant assumptions, such as:

Alpha Kappa Alpha, the organization hosting a reception at the Equity Resource Center to celebrate an exhibit about their significant local history, is primarily made up of Black women. Tonya Aikens, Director of the Howard County Library Sytem, is a Black woman. Therefore she must be a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha and is giving them special treatment (in violation of library rules) to further her own social or career standing. (My words, based on the report.)

Ignorant assumptions. Clearly from someone who is ignorant of the importance of the Equity Resource Center at the library and of the historical significance of Black sororities and fraternities to the progress of Black Americans since Emancipation.

Glendenning, “tipped off” by someone we will probably never know, investigated this anonymous tip in a process that looks very much like assuming guilt before having all the answers. (Read the library’s report, which lists his actions and the library’s response.) Perhaps Mr. Glendenning doesn’t get enough work investigating things because he certainly threw himself into this with zeal.

Zeal, yes. Good sense? No. 

The Library System has released a thorough report of the auditor’s assumptions with detailed responses to each one. You can read it here. A few items of note:
  • Ms. Aikens is not a member of AKA. 
  • The reception was the result of a library partnership with a community group which centered around a library exhibit. 
  • Any monies spent came from AKA, not the library. 
  • It was not a private event.
The overwhelming majority of racism happens unintentionally, without white people’s knowledge. Racism is so engrained into our society’s infrastructure—indeed, at our nation’s social and economic foundation—white folks’ actions are often racist accidentally, even automatically. - - Johnathan Perkins, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, UCLA

Those Black people all stick together.
You can’t trust them.
They make everything about race.
If they’re in high places it’s only because of affirmative action or through personal corruption.
You have to watch them every minute.

Library Director Tonya Aikens has taken quite a bit of abuse on social media for instituting the “Brave Voices, Brave Choices” initiative. There exists in Howard County a quite vocal contingent who do not want one penny of their tax dollars to be used in initiatives that address issues of race or equity.  It is precisely those same folks who have been lapping up assumptions of malfeasance on the part of Ms. Aikens. 

If you are angry and resistant to learning the truth about American history, and/or having community discussions about issues of race, what could be more useful to you than besmirching the professional character of a community leader who stands for those things? It’s a quick way to turn the attention away from things you don’t want to talk about and onto sensationalized personal attack instead.

Just like photoshopping the County Executive lurking in the window rather than addressing the public health challenges of the pandemic. 

While we contemplate ignorance and assumptions, it occurs to me that this week has been a prime example of a well-known colloquial expression, which means:

To unintentionally reveal one's true intentions or motives, sometimes resulting in negative consequences.

Attacking libraries and librarians is a new trend in both national and local politics. Its proponents rely on accusations based on ignorant assumptions. Don’t let them succeed here.

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