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I'll Come Running With A Heart On Fire

My only comment on the intarwebaggedon known as Racefail '09: The Failening! I'm sharing this not because I'm looking for a cookie or a "poor you" or whathaveyou, but because it's a bit funny.

(If you don't know what I'm talking about when I say Racefail, then I congratulate you. Also, Hi Dad! Here's some extremely brief context.)

Like so many, I'd been following Racefail, before it spread over so many corners of the internet that it became literally impossible to follow it all. At any rate, I saw a comment (forget where) with some suggested reading on awareness of race and racial understanding. That sort of thing. Now, I'm all up for raising my consciousness, plus I do have easy access to the joy and splendor that is free interlibrary loan, so what the hey. While at work one morning, I filled out a request for one of the books and left it at that.

Or so I thought.

That very afternoon I'd been schedule to teach a library instruction session to a graduate-level education class. These are pretty straightforward. Show them the library catalog, education databases, and other resources. One of those resources, naturally enough, is interlibrary loan. In the course of the demo, I logged into the system to show them how it works. That is to say, I logged into my personal account. About three seconds after I logged in, one of them raised their hand and then pointed at the screen. "Um, what's that book?" she said, pointing at the book request I had made just that morning.

The title of the book in question was, A Race Is a Nice Thing to Have: A Guide to Being a White Person or Understanding the White Persons in Your Life, by Janet E. Helms.

Don't misunderstand me, it's a good book (as I learned when I finally got hold of it). The title's just a bit...hm. One of my coworkers, also judging it by the title, asked me if it was something in the vein of Stuff White People Like. There are less charitable interpretations as well.

So, yeah. There I was, having to explain why I was requesting a book with such a potentially misleading title to a group of people who had little or no context as to why I was requesting it, never mind the fact that I was effectively a guest presenter (who hadn't finished his completely unrelated presentation) in someone else's class, which meant I had to be sensitive to what the professor wanted, and and! a class that was mostly female and various ethnicities, while I am a white boy at a southern university. The fact that I was relatively new to this debate-slash-argument was just the cherry on top. I'm all in favor of the teachable moment, but c'mon.

Now, I didn't shy away from explaining the book and why I was requesting it, but I found myself extremely aware of my words, wanting to avoid a Michael Scott event. I think I managed it. At least, no one rolled their eyes, which is what I find myself doing when watching Michael Scott's latest verbal atrocity on The Office, they all said, "Huh," or something to that effect, and we finished up.

So yeah, funny. For some values of funny, anyway.