I learned that being white meant something in 2008. I had been a librarian for eight years and built the library at the small private high school I work at from scratch. That spring, a few of our students of color shared their experience of racial microaggressions (a term coined by Chester M. Pierce) from white teachers and students. Since our well-meaning liberal school was only five years old, I naively assumed that we were inoculated from racial prejudice. How could I experience our cozy little school so differently from my students of color?
That lily white bubble burst and well, you can’t unburst a bubble.
Since that momentous spring, I strive to understand how white supremacy operates in my mind, my personal and professional relationships, my parenting, my neighborhood, my school, and my library. I gravitate towards books, blogs, scholarly articles, TV shows, documentaries, and conversations about race and whiteness.
Librarians of color, native librarians, and white librarians have been investigating whiteness in the library profession in academic circles for at least a couple of decades. Recent articles in the journal In the Library with the Lead Pipe and other online offerings deepen the scholarship of whiteness in librarianship:
- “White Librarianship in Blackface: Diversity Initiatives in the LIS” by April Hancock
- “Soliciting Performance, Hiding Bias: Whiteness and Librarianship” by Angela Galvan
- “The Legacy of Lady Bountiful: White Women in the Library” by Gina Schlesselman-Tarango
I appreciate the precise scholarly approach of these insightful librarians. Their writing helps me name the racial dynamics I encounter in my library work and gives me plenty to think about.
Chris Bourg, a white librarian who blogs as The Feral Librarian, in her post “whiteness, social justice and the future of libraries” declares that the future of libraries requires that we that we “deal with our whiteness problem”. Yes! Yes! Yes!
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of societal systems of oppression in the library profession: librarians are mostly white! book publishers are mostly white! book reviewers are mostly white! Ahhh!!
Sometimes I think: What can I – a solo librarian in a library serving several hundred patrons – do about systemic racism? And then I remember: spheres of influence!
African American psychologist, professor, and author Beverly Daniel Tatum asked her students, after teaching them about systemic racism, to “create an action plan that translated what they learned into interventions in their spheres of influence – their classrooms, schools…” as a way of countering “the discouragement people naturally feel when they look at a really big problem like racism in our society.”
I created this blog to share thoughts, practical ideas, and resources for disrupting white supremacy* in the library. I want to connect with my fellow librarians already doing this work or want to be doing this work.
What are you doing in your spheres of influence to fight against the unbearable whiteness of librarianship?
*Loretta Ross defines white supremacy as a “many-headed Hydra” of which racism is one head. Other heads include patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, and classism. Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw theory of intersectionality is also essential to understanding societal oppression