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The culture of white supremacy, racism, ableism, sexual assault, and bigotry is forcing a structural upheaval at the Indianapolis Public Library. Workers (IndyPL) lost confidence in the library’s leadership to direct a library system towards equity, justice and true democratic principles, goals.
The courageous actions of Bree Flannelly set the recent crisis in action. At the May 24 virtual Borad Meeting, Flannelly, a Black woman who worked at Central Library, attempted to address the Board about the systemic white supremacy and anti-Black racism that structure the work culture there. Before she could speak, Board President, Judge Jose Salinas preemptively read a prepared statement in an unprecedented move intended to discredit Flannelly and the truth.
Before Flannelly could complete the first sentence of her statement, Salinas attempted to silence her, but Flannelly persisted through his antagonistic remarks. Salinas ultimately silenced her microphone. Luckily, two sympathetic board members Drs. Patricia Payne and Khaula Murtadha–both of whom are Black women–made Salinas back down, arguing that it was unjustified as Flannelly clarified she would not name anyone specifically. Flannelly’s powerful statement sent shockwaves through our library system that has created a moment for radical change that, if utilized correctly, could challenge and change the oppressive working conditions there.
A testimony opens the flood gates
Flannelly opened her statement to the Board with these words:
“You know something is wrong in an organization when the Equity and Inclusion officer quits. It baffles me to know that so many people don’t understand that white supremacy isn’t just the hatred of non White people, it’s the disrespect and disregard of non White people. It’s the obstruction of efforts to support non White people. It’s the refusal to acknowledge non White reality. It’s the refusal to punish, or even inconvenience White people who do constant harm to non White people. Most White people literally can’t perceive racism because it’s not directed at them, so what sense does it make to ask an office full of White employees about racism? These are the people who talk about broken drag queens, ‘porch monkeys,’ the hygiene of Muslim people during Ramadan and how they think African men stink. Do you really think they’ll admit that their culture is toxic? Literally every Black person I’ve spoken to, in or out of IndyPL, believes that what I’ve gone through is horrendous because they’ve gone through similar things. Some of the White people that I’ve tried to speak to about my struggles at IndyPL pushed this false narrative of ‘both sides.’ ‘Both sides’ imply that I’ve done something to deserve poor treatment. I have literally never spoken an off word to any of my coworkers unless I was setting a boundary that was habitually crossed. I don’t need a single friend in a work environment. I’ve actually come to prefer distance from coworkers because I’ve seen how quickly people abandon me if I’m an inconvenience to them or their White friends. What I and every Black person needs is respect and work appropriate support. We just want to do our jobs.”
She ended by calling for an independent investigation into the work climate at IndyPL, starting at the very top of the organization.
The library workers are represented by AFSCME local 3395, who have fought for the rights, pay, and morale of library staff since 2006. They seized this opportunity to call for the resignation of Board president Salinas and CEO Jackie Nytes. Nytes has served as CEO since 2013, just two years after her time as city-county councilor as a representative of district 9 (in some races running unopposed by anyone). Nytes used her position to stack power on the board to run the library “like a plantation,” as board member Dr. Payne put it.
CEO Nytes stacks power and silences dissent while she cloaks herself in “diversity”
“You have the house employees, which is not the word I want to use, but they’re receiving favor and the field employees are receiving punishment,” as Payne told the Indianapolis Recorder. Many of the employees on the receiving end of the punishment are Black women. The work culture is toxic and the staff morale is low which negatively impacts the services rendered to our most oppressed communities.
Nytes built her power with little accountability to the community as she brought failed politicians onto the library’s board. The quid pro quo was that it would help boost their weak political careers in the city while they would do her bidding.
The city county council is aware of the racism workers face at the library. Former board member Dr. Terri Jett, a professor at Butler University, called on the city to conduct an investigation, a call that unsurprisingly went unanswered. In what could only be conceived of as an act of retaliation, Nytes orchestrated Jett’s ousting from the board earlier this year.
Nytes and her cronies on the board built a climate of fear as she perpetuated a culture of oppression. Meanwhile, Nytes was happy to take credit for the work of workers, especially those of oppressed identities. When the LGBTQ Services Committee aquired the Chris Gonzalez Library collection, she was happy to take the credit. All the while, she censored Black library staff from voicing serious allegations of racism in the work environment. We do the work and leadership takes the credit. While library workers risk our lives on the frontlines of serving the people during an ongoing pandemic, library leadership hides in their homes or remote offices while telling us to stop complaining about legitimate safety concerns raised by library workers. There are currently no mechanisms for staff to bring up and address instances of racism, ableism, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia experienced at IndyPL.
In the face of oppression and silencing, workers and the union fight back
The union is working hard to create necessary change and a better work climate at IndyPL for both workers and the fellow workers we serve, including the homeless population. The Indianapolis Public Library is a public institution and its board should reflect the public it serves and not serve as some resume builder for those who wish to further their political careers. Nytes has one year left on her contract, but that’s one year too long for workers and marginalized staff. We need her gone now so that we can strengthen the work we are doing at IndyPL for everyone. Indianapolis deserves a better public library for the people.
Sign and share this petition that PSL Indianapolis is circulating this petition to support AFSCME local 3395’s demands:
- The resignations of IndyPL Board president Judge Jose Salinas and IndyPL CEO Jackie Nytes
- Increased community oversight and control over the public library and
- Conduct a climate study on staff morale and TAKE ACTION on them THIS YEAR!
The next board meeting is tonight, June 28 at 6:30PM at the Library Services Center. You can sign up to read a public comment in support of Black and other historically excluded library workers and patrons or a public comment can be submitted to be read here.
It’s up to us, the people, to stop it! We need to oust the racists at the Indianapolis Library and institute community oversight!