Before I learned I was white, I was often confused by the reactions of people of color to various events in the news. I was in college in an African American History class when someone who had been watching TV elsewhere (the internet was just a baby) burst into the class to report that O.J. had been acquitted. The energy in the room became charged with the white students upset and the black students cheering. I have no recollection of the ensuing discussion, likely because I blocked it out.
Fast forward to 2008. I loved the high school I worked at and I loved the students. I could not remain confused when a beloved student, one of just several black students at the school, told me that a white student asked her if she lived in the ghetto and another white student asked her if she owned a TV.
I was tempted to ‘lone wolf’ those white students: Their parents must have taught them to be racist. They were just being obnoxious teenagers. But when another black student told me that her white U.S. History teacher asked her if he was getting the history of slavery right, I thought: Ok, WAIT there’s something bigger going on here.
Hearing about those painful interactions was the catalyst that fueled my curiosity. I needed to know how racism really works because racism in a white liberal independent school was the last place I thought it would appear.
My naivete was short lived. I quickly learned that white supremacy, the ideological and philosophical root of racism, is embedded in all of our systems and has been since the founding of our country. White supremacy is literally everywhere and my naivete is a perfect example of how insidious it is. I did not know about white supremacy because the system is designed for me to be oblivious to it.
The thing about systems of oppression is that if you aren’t actively working against them, you are working for them. Cecily Walker in her recent keynote “Dismantling Whiteness and Oppression in LIS through Community-Led Collaboration” at the Library Information Technology Association’s Forum asked white librarians: “How are you upholding white supremacy?” She went on to state that, “Silence looks like a ringing endorsement for the status quo. Any time you are supporting the status quo, you are reinforcing whiteness in your library.”
Has Donald Trump’s election activated your curiosity about white supremacy and racism like hearing my students’ experiences did mine? Do you want to push against the status quo of whiteness in your library?
Get inspired by the many librarians who do this work and generously share their processes either explicitly or by example: Cecily Walker, April Hathcock, Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature, Allie Jane Bruce and her colleagues at Reading While White, the critical librarianship librarians who post on #critlib on Twitter, the librarians who write for In the Library with a Lead Pipe, the Progressive Librarians Guild, and the librarians who publish at Library Juice Press.