How We Are Called

What do you think about the strategy stores use to greet shoppers, the one where no matter where the employee is located when a customer enters the store, they’re expected to shout a greeting? I don’t like my arrival being announced like that so, the yelling doesn’t make me feel any more welcomed that if nothing were said.

I don’t feel as though my service is being personalized when a stranger on a phone or in a doctor’s office assumes the right to call me by me first name. Oh, I know expecting those younger than me, those I don’t know and those conducting busing to ‘put a handle on it’ reeks of imperialism, and I’m trying to fight it. In my neighborhood, it was the southern tradition of ‘Miss Mamie’ or ‘Miss Maxine’. In the schools where I worked, we never addressed each other by our first names in front of students so my friend/colleagues were Brummett, Butler and Fields. I want to view it as showing respect when it’s actually putting people in positions of authority and power.

It shocked me to move 60 miles west and be in a city and on a campus where everyone, everyone, everyone one uses first names. How we call people most certainly is cultural.

I’m also realizing how uncomfortable it is that everyone has come to know me as ‘Edi’. I know that’s been my own doing, thinking I’ve outgrown my given name, but I have to IMG_4637admit it feels odd when someone who doesn’t really know me uses such familiarity. I think my expectations are a bit like the French tu/vous where there’s an eventual, organic shift in how someone is addressed. But, again, ‘Edi’ is what I’ve put out there.

I’m ruminating on this now, after ALA, after meeting so many new people! I think most of the new people I met also follow me on Twitter. There were people who knew I had no idea who they were and there were others (who probably have a very large social media following) who really expected me to know them. Sorry, I really am not online that much! Still, I truly happy to connect with people who are doing their best to do the work and I’m really glad to meet in person because that’s when I think the connections become more lasting.

It does get aggravating, when so many white women (honestly, every single one) will say, “I’m so happy to meet you. Thank you for what you do. Please keep doing the work.” Annoying as hell because it sounds like an automated greeting. It is nice to meet you but why do you keep thanking me for doing what I do? My work is not a performance; it’s not meant to build followers on Twitter. My work disrupts fear and dehumanization and improves representation in youth literature. You may as well thank me for breathing. Keep doing the work? It grates to hear that verbalized. It feels as though the speaker is admitting they’re not doing anything. As I think about this, and think about the one simple, genuine remark I get from People of Color and from Native Americans over and over and I can see who’s in it to stay alive and who’s playing at diversity like it’s the thing to do. If you’re in it for real, then be for real. Let’s connect in ways that are real.

I wish I could remember who I was speaking to that admitted she was learning as best she could and I had to admit that’s what we’re all doing; learning as best we can. We’re all -everyone I recognize in the world- trying to figure out how to collectively create a world free of fear, hatred, injustice and imperialism. We’re not doing that if we’re just going along to get along. There are real life and death consequences here.

I have the freedom to decide how I’m called. I love the ancient proverb, “it’s what you’re called; it’s what you answer to.” If only we all had the freedom/privilege/wisdom to decide to what we’ll answer.

At ALA, I was called to meetings and appointments that kept me busy! I really thought I’d make it to sessions this time but wasn’t able to make it to a single one. The upside? I witnessed fewer microaggressions. The downside? I wasn’t in rooms were agendas were set and where transformative information was exchanged. The best side: I was able to connect with my people. I laid eyes on friends I hadn’t seen in years. I hugged and held on to people, felt their energy and was renewed. I had wonderful, long and personal conversations with friends, new and old. I drank Ethiopian honey wine, shared the best every trifle dessert, got moved to tears when Varian Johnson spoke, was laughed at for my mom jokes, wore my dress inside out and no one cared! I vowed to only pick up 5 books this conference to add to the dozens I already have in my TBR pile, but I have 3 cartons arriving via FedEx sometime today. DC is one of my absolute favorite cities, but I saw so little of it. I could have been anywhere in the world for the little bit of the city I saw, but my people were there. And, I saw most of them and hugged many of them. I got to meet with my fabulous Sibert committee and found a group of people I want to meet with and discuss books with for as long as humanly possible. Y’all, keep reading children’s nonfiction and suggestion your titles to us. We are definitely doing the good work this year. I ‘called in’ Sophie Blackall after her Caldecott acceptance speech based in white feminist theory and I felt that for once, finally for once, I left such a situation and all that remained was love. That’s how I’m going to fight the fear.

I spent much less time in the Exhibit Hall, but most of that time was with smaller publishers. I wish more of them could financially afford the privilege of being at ALA. Their offerings really need to be considered by more librarians.

I could go on and on about all that I missed but, I believe in no regrets. I’m calling this a successful ALA for me. One day, we may meet at ALA or NCTE or some event somewhere, chat for a while and when you ask if it’s ‘Edi’ or ‘Edith’ I’ll simply be able to say, ‘call me either, just don’t call me late for dinner.’ #momjoke


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