I wasn’t going to write about this, but Bess Sadler’s Code4Lib talk, starting around 3.24 has inspired me to open up a little and start talking about some difficult things in librarianship.
I recently saw this reblogged on tumblr by thelifeguardlibrarian. In it, the post references this blog post from Nicholas Schiller, that talks about bad behaviour and institutional biases. He talks about embarking on a project to diversify the reading he does and starting off a personal hashtag of #diversity-50. For the most part, as far as his detailing his personal motivations and stuff.
Where it falls apart for me, is here:
In 2013 I’m setting myself the goal of reading 50 works by writers of color and other creators who have a cultural perspective different than my own. I think I have a lot to learn and this is a great way to start to fill in some gaps. I’d love it if other librarians and friends joined in. If you don’t share my need for an influx of new perspectives, will you share reading suggestions from your experience on great work that has been overlooked? Will you share this project with your followers on Twitter, Facebook LibraryThing, or Goodreads?
This paragraph says a lot about who he imagines his audience to be and about the default position he is operating from. Yes, he recognizes that he cannot (or at least was unable to) perceive the biases implicit in how he has been selecting leisure reading before, simply because his privilege prevents him from seeing it.
Yet, he invites friends and librarians to join it (yes, I saw the caveat about people not needing new perspectives). Yet. I read something like this and simply have to shake my head. Because this callout for people to join him, makes it very clear that he is expecting his audience to be largely white, hetero, and cis (which, I suppose is understandable given how un-diverse the librarian world is). I see something like this, and I think about all the ‘classics’ I was forced to read in grade school written by (mostly) white, hetero, cis men (with added white, hetero, cis women for ‘diversity’). About all these classics, which I’m told I cannot be considered either educated nor intelligent if I’ve never read them or unable to understand them.
Where it literally became a matter of self-preservation to seek out books and works by Asian authors, lest I truly get to a place where I believe that my inability to identify with or even understand the actions of all these white, hetero, cis characters somehow meant that I was the strange, alien with little ability to connect with the so-called ‘classic’ narratives.
Yet, his privilege is such that he can spend one year (only a year?) diversifying his reading on a voyage of self-discovery and improvement. Where he can write this blog post and, from the comments, get people mostly happy and celebratory over his position. Yet, growing up in a white dominant society meant that when my dad gave me Noli Me Tangere by José Rizal, I wasn’t in a place to understand why I needed to read that book (and ultimately ended up giving it away, unread).
What does it meant that I’ve already read many of the books suggested on the blog and in the comments? (Although, I have to say that I’ve almost entirely abandoned reading anything published via traditional media).
What does it mean that, in the comments, people can seriously suggest both The Feminine Mystique and Whipping Girl without the blog being sucked into a black hole of contradiction? (hint: the Feminine Mystique is transmisogynist and Whipping Girl is largely credited with coming up with that term in the first place and, plot twist, Whipping Girl is also racist).
What does it mean that I can read a post like this and feel utterly alienated for all the ways that it makes it very clear that this (like so many other things) is not for me.
And it makes an interesting tie-in with Bess Sadler’s talk on the diversity of tech librarianship (since he mentions a forth-coming post about technology and diversity somewhere in the beginning). Because… I am an academic librarian who works with tech. And I see this lack of diversity. And he mentions:
I want to work in places where “fit” is never considered as something to look for in a new hire. I want to hire new colleagues who don’t fit the status quo and can fill in our gaps and weaknesses with previously unconsidered perspectives.
Which, coming from the other end, where it has been studied and shown that simply having the ‘wrong’ name means that 30% of my resumes simply aren’t being read. He talks about ‘fit’ but not about the barriers to even getting to that particular point? Or the fact that even after you get hired, as a marginalized person you understand the bargain you’ve made:
That in exchange for this job, you absolutely must ensure that you meet any and all white standards for presentation and behaviour (google “Black women hair professional appearance” to see what I mean). That for this job, you are expected to ignore and shrug off any and all microaggressions that you will inevitably hear (and any and all outright overt oppression). That you will constantly struggle about whether or not to disclose your learning disability, just in case this means that you become disqualified for the position (even as you struggle to work within neurotypical standards). This list of bargains that marginalized people have to make goes on and on (and I’ve certainly omitted a great deal).
But how are these two things connected? The #diversity-50 project and employment? He calls it his middle ground, spending time learning and listening. Which I suppose is a good thing (particularly his understanding that he shouldn’t try to lead in this respect). But. And I realize this is an entirely selfish concern, his (or other’s) reading 50 diverse works this year won’t help me with my current job search (my part-time contract is nearing it’s end and I haven’t heard anything about an extension).
And this is exactly (if buried) the point: the things he is discussing in his blog post are… almost abstract concerns to him. Yet, they are immediate and critical issues for me. I have to worry about making rent now. Moreover, I have to worry that even making this blog post will serve to make me even more unattractive to potential employers, because I am breaking one of the more strongly enforced bargains: that people like me are acceptable as long as we remain silent.