Becoming anti-racist


Paul Robeson with Antonio Salemme
Paul Robeson posing for sculptor Antonio Salemme. 

To the Princeton Community:

As outrage grew over the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery,  Princeton Public Library issued a pledge: we would redouble our efforts around racial literacy. Now that we’ve had additional time to mourn and reflect, and witness the police killing of Rayshard Brooks, we realize that serving as a neutral commons for the free exchange of ideas is no longer enough. As Angela Davis said, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

So our new pledge is to work with our community partners on an enhanced racial literacy we’ll call “anti-racist literacy.” We all have a part to play in this; since our mission centers on books and learning, our staff have started with suggested readings for adults, teens and children. This is a small step in what we expect will be a long journey toward a broader understanding. We are grateful for your patience as we work with staff and partners on new opportunities for programming and while we review our policies and procedures to identify areas for improvement. We fully realize we will be judged by our actions, not by our intentions.

We know now is the time for all institutions, even those that have done good work on racial justice in the past, to do more to demonstrate a core truth:  Black Lives Matter. Guided by our shared values of diversity, equity and inclusion, we will proceed by listening with humility and openness, then act with diligence and steadfastness. We will work with anyone who joins us in the goal of becoming an anti-racist society. And we will keep you posted on our progress.

Visitors to our Princeton Room are quick to recognize the bust of Princeton native Paul Robeson, one of the jewels of our public art collection. Few realize that the artist, Italian immigrant Antonio Salemme, was a longtime personal friend of Robeson who was inspired to create art of the singer after seeing his groundbreaking performance in Eugene O’Neill’s “The Emperor Jones.” Salemme created multiple works of art of Robeson, who would try out new songs while he posed. “I enjoy singing to you,” the singer told the sculptor. “You seem to get more than the voice, the music, the words; you know what I’m thinking, what I mean, what I feel when I sing.”

May we all reach that level of understanding.

— Jennifer Podolsky

Executive Director

 

Photo courtesy of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

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