Open Letter to the Archival Community re: Police Brutality

Prepared by the AWE Fund Organizing Committee
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June 3, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

With broken hearts and furious souls we acknowledge the past week of protest actions in response to police brutality across the nation. While these protests are in immediate response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, George Floyd is only one of countless Black people killed through acts of state violence and white supremacist terrorism that have been a reality in the United States since its founding.

Black lives matter. The undersigned archival workers support protests against the ongoing state violence being unleashed against Black communities, and in particular support calls for the defunding and abolition of police forces and the prison-industrial complex that disproportionally criminalizes, exploits, and annihilates communities of color. Reforming a system designed to destroy Black lives will not result in justice. We must work to defund and ultimately abolish these structures that have become the New Jim Crow

We acknowledge that archival workers, as recordmakers and recordkeepers, have been complicit in maintaining systemic white supremacy and must work daily to undo the harm we and our institutions have done. We acknowledge that the archives can be sites of trauma for our Black colleagues. We call on archival workers to join us in taking these specific anti-racist actions in their personal and work lives:

  • Read “Identifying and Dismantling White Supremacy in Archives.” Content produced in Professor Michelle Caswell’s Archives, Records, and Memory class, Fall 2016, UCLA. Poster design by Gracen Brilmyer.
  • Read “Truth and Reconciliation: Archivists as Reparations Activists” by Anna Robinson-Sweet (The American Archivist, Spring/Summer 2018, Vol. 81, No. 1, pp. 23-37). Determine one way your institution can take action toward reparations and advocate implementation. 
  • Learn about, support, and promote the work of Black colleagues in archives and public history. One example related specifically to police brutality is Documenting the Now, a project developed after the protests in Ferguson, and whose tools for archiving social media are now widely used. 
  • Critically examine your archival description, particularly for how Black subjects are described. Consult the Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia Anti-racist Description Resources to make your description more accurate and inclusive.
  • If you are white, refuse to participate in archival events such as conference panels and workshops, or to serve on committees, boards, or in other professional contexts where all participants are white.
  • Learn about, support, and promote restorative justice work like that being done by the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (Montgomery, Ala.), and associated Community Remembrance Project which document Black lives lost to racial terror violence, or the Human Rights Watch Call for Reparations in the Wake of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 which you can learn more about here
  • Learn about the ways in which your institution may exploit the labor of incarcerated people through external digitization initiatives, furniture procurement, investing in private prisons, and other, often obfuscated, aspects of institutional operations. Determine one way your institution can disinvest in prison labor and advocate for making that change. 
  • Donate to the Black Visions Collective of Minnesota or your local Black-led community group working for transformative justice. 
  • Donate to the Black Immigrant Collective, which amplifies the voices of Black immigrants in Minnesota. They highlight and make visible the impact of immigration policy and law enforcement on Black communities. 
  • Organize at your workplace — whether you are engaging in small batch solidarity, or in larger efforts to unionize your staff, you can help build a more just and equitable workplace. The group Labor Notes offers a book-length guide for people learning to organize as well as free online resources; libraryworkers.net is a developing hub for library and archives workers mobilizing in the context of covid-19.
  • Create and support Black spaces — spaces like we here, a supportive community for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) library and archive workers or BlackSpace — where people of color feel safe to express, share, and/or perform without the fear of institutional intimidation (i.e. process, protocol, procedure, and standardization). 

There is no shortcut to ending racism. As archivial workers, we have a responsibility to document — and labor to dismantle — the history of racism and white supremacy in the United States, including at our own institutions. The only path to racial justice is to keep on showing up, day after day, to do the work of building a more just and equitable present and future.

We must keep on moving forward, 

Amy Wickner
Jessica Chapel
Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook
Jeremy Brett
Alison Clemens
Steve Duckworth
shady R. Radical
Courtney Dean
Cory K. Lampert
Jennifer Pino
Jennifer Coggins
Carli Lowe
Sarah McLusky
Alejandra Espasande
Stephanie Milne-Lane
Rachael Cristine Woody, Rachael Cristine Consulting LLC
Sarah Wade, Getty Research Institute
Kit Messick, Getty Research Institute
azatuhi babayan
Rebecca Shoemaker
Lauren McDaniel
Sarah Jones, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Bridget Malley
Jennie Freeburg
Angel Diaz
Karla Irwin
Rosemary K. J. Davis, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University
Kate Melchior
Hannah O’Daniel McCallon
Terry Baxter
Stefani Evans
Supriya Wronkiewicz
Michael Sokol
Daniel Axmacher
Ruth Kitchin Tillman
Rebecca Thayer
Jimmy Chang, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Emily Minehart, Henry Crown & Co.
Kathleen A. Marx
Stacey Fott
Lisa Kahn
Alyssa V. Loera, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Chloe Noland
Emily Sulzer, Center for the Study of Political Graphics
Karly Wildenhaus
Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook,  Center for the History of Medicine, Harvard Medical School /         Medical Heritage Library, Inc.
Christy Bailey-Tomecek
Katy Rawdon
Samantha Cross, CRTKL, Inc.
Faith Charlton
Molly Brown, Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections
Christine Ferriter
Elspeth Olson
Pennington Ahlstrand
Carrie Stewart, UNLV libraries
Jessica Tai
Mary Leah Dwan, Archivist
Alexandra Dunn
Kristen Whitson
Jess Farrell, Educopia Institute
Ashley Toutain
Elizabeth England
Jennifer Kishi
Jessica Jones, Archivist
Joy Rowe
Anne Jenner, Northwest Archivists
Lydia Tang
Lindy Smith
Christina Velazquez Fidler
Kristy Sorensen, Austin Seminary Archives
Katharina Hering
Rachel Poutasse
Melise L. Leech, University of Nevada Las Vegas
Lindsay Anderson
Gabrielle Dean, Johns Hopkins University
Steve Ammidown, Browne Popular Culture Library, Bowling Green State University
Marie Elia
Rachel M. Cohen
Joe Carrano
Irene Gates
Rebecca Baumann, Lilly Library, Indiana University
Cate Peebles
Melissa Hubbard
Matt Bird
Tricia Bailey
Jessica Rayman, The University of Alabama
Ava Dickerson
John Robinson
Scout Noffke
Natisha Harper, ARLIS Committee for Diversity and Inclusion
Erin Lawrimore
Emily Mathay
Melissa Adams
Maggie Hughes, Huntington Library
Emily Lapworth
Crystal Rodgers, Labor Archives of Washington
Ben Kass
Emily Hughes Dominick
Allee Monheim, MLIS
Liz C. Phillips, UC Davis
Jen Wachtel
Brooke M. Black
Lynn Domingo, University of Washington
Laura Cray
Alice Prael, Yale University
Agnieszka Czeblakow
Alix Norton
Susan Fitch
Ernie Dornfeld
Burkely Hermann, Archivist
Alejandra Gaeta
Julia Kim
Michelle A. Shannon, University of Idaho
Amy Thompson
Maureen Maryanski
Courtney Berge
Valencia L. Johnson
Chloe Raub
Kimberly McCauley
Craig Simpson
Alexis Antracoli
Arielle Lavigne
Kathryn Dennett, Reversible Destiny Foundation
Christina Zamon
Tanya Hollis, San Francisco State University/Society of California Archivists
Kelly Bolding
Rachel Seale
Natalia Fernández, Oregon Multicultural Archives and OSU Queer Archives
Marietta Carr
Daniel Weddington
Beth Corzo-Duchardt
Gabrielle Bianca Visco, SJSU iSchool
Elizabeth Caringola
Stephanie Bennett
Lori Dedeyan
Christine Rank
Rebecca Pattillo
Emily Moore
Mathew Brock, Mazama Library & Historical Collections
Megan K. Friedel, University of Colorado Boulder Archives
Gwyn Hervochon, Boise State University
Lisa Mix
Julie Botnick
Annalise Berdini

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