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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

the way it is...*

I participated in our twice-annually professional development yesterday.  Out of 120 registered, it's safe to say that 80% of them were white, young or middle-aged women. Maybe10-12 women of color (mostly Asian), and the rest guys like me. Hardly what you'd call a diverse group, at least by the standards of conventional wisdom--but that's not why I'm posting today.

One of the sessions had to do with how a library employee treats patrons who are known to be or appear to be mentally disabled. As I've written here on several occasions, I am being treated for bipolar disorder and Parkinson's disease--not a pleasant combination by any stretch of the imagination.  I decided to sit and listen to what the Chester County crisis management team had to say.  I'm glad I did.

About 5 minutes before the presentation started,  one of the visiting librarians started to sit with her friends.  One of the two already seated said to the one joining, "guess what the topic is here?"


"mental illness"

The woman stopped still, rolled her eyes, and repacked her things, with the remark,

"I work with those people all day",

in such a disparaging tone that there was no question about her opinion on the subject. She then (presumably) walked out of the room to attend another session, maybe a subject on which she wasn't an authority. As she was leaving, I asked her, out loud, which people she was referring to--twice.  She didn't hear me (or pretended not to) but I know her friends did; one turned towards me after I said it.

Now I didn't mention before that she was African American, working in a town (Coatesville, Pennsylvania)that had recently had a fiasco at the highest administrative level of their school district regarding racist texting that resulted in the superintendent and the high school athletic director no longer being employed by the school district.  I think it's fair to say, based on my own experience and observation, that if I'd made a major mistake like that in speaking of African Americans (referring to them as "those people"), she would have been on my case like flies on roadkill, and that I would not have a job.

Ever the gentleman I try to be, I sucked it up and listened, upset, through the presentation, listening to people basically admit that all their professional training didn't amount to a damn when it came to mentally disabled patrons. I contributed here and there but I stopped short of telling the assemblage about my condition. There's a lot of stupid people out there with antiquated, foolish ideas about mental illness.  What do I do to change hearts and minds?

I've got enough material for two additional posts in me right now, but classwork beckons, so I will close my post with this.

Coatesville Public Library staff, SHAME ON YOU.

*--Bruce  Hornsby and the Range, The Way It Is, 1986.
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