Sunday, October 23, 2016

Whiteness in Libraries

Whiteness in US Libraries

[Note--this is a blog post.  These ideas can and will be further developed.  These ideas are sketches of what I am thinking at the moment.  Feedback is encouraged and welcome.]

US schools and libraries serve as points of diffusion for Whiteness.  

Whiteness, as used in this post is defined as the concept that European people and European culture are more important than other people and other cultures.  

Whiteness is purveyed uncritically in libraries.  This shucking of Whiteness is done under the guise of objectivity, of adhering the the 'marketplace' of ideas.  But this so-called neutrality is really an adherence and capitulation to the Whiteness paradigm.  

Children of color hear the message of Whiteness--"European people and European culture are more important than other people and other cultures.  

Children of color live in a world of discrimination and bias in US schools.  
Some think US culture is not European. But US culture is derived from European culture and is fundamentally White-supremacist. 

I don't say this lightly.  Whiteness is embedded in our culture.  From the shapes of the buildings, to the hierarchies of the library staff and administration.  This is especially true in the American Library world. Ethnic categories, demeaning classifications, cataloging systems with names like the Anglo American Cataloging Rules, and staff who (too often) don't look like the people who live in the neighborhood.  Microagressions, discrimination, hiring bias and collections centered around Whiteness all are outcomes of the ubiquitousness of  this paradigm in our libraries.  

Engravings on Multnomah Co. Library Central Building Photo by Ismoon Maria Hunter-Morton.
Many people will now be thinking that I am saying all White people are racist, or that all White people are bad, or some such nonsense.  That is not what  I intend to say.  I'm saying that the idea of Whiteness, as defined above, is what our country was founded upon. 

European immigrants live on stolen indigenous land.

These immigrants and their descendants committed genocide against Indigenous peoples throughout the Americas.

The wealth of the Americas, in large part, was created by slave labor. This slave labor was both African and Indigenous.  

Whiteness says that this is okay, that this is correct and that it is justified. Those who adhere to Whiteness also believe in these fundamental principles.  Mostly, the information found in libraries says it is okay, natural and normal, or does not bother to address these issues...

Engravings on Multnomah Co. Library Central Building.  Photo by Ismoon Maria Hunter-Morton.
The diffusion model works something like this:

Whiteness, brought from Europe has been part of US Educational system from the beginning.

Children are inculcated with #Whiteness via books, lectures and the culture of US schools.

Some children become authors, scientists and other types of academics.  They produce information and knowledge in the form of books and other types of media.

Racist mainstream 'Intellectual' book 
The knowledge, which too many authors, scientists and academics create is fundamentally flawed with Whiteness embedded within. Even if the creators of this knowledge are people of color. They are working with tainted information that has not been fully analyzed from a cultural perspective. This lends itself to embedding Whiteness in all new knowledge created from this information. This is why we have seen no real advancements, even with the educated people of color. They exist within and are heavily influenced by Whiteness. Libraries serve as key distribution points for culturally biased information.

One example is historic documentation Thomas Jefferson, as a land-owner and slaveholder, is understood to be a rapist. He took advantage of his position and raped his slaves, yet he is still hailed as a hero still. This is Whiteness. 
Thomas Jefferson (Slave Rapist) bust in the Library of Congress
Technology in libraries needs to be reexamined with a critical eye. Embedded Whiteness prevails. Metadata, algorithms and other location tools are just as infected with Whiteness as the rest of the library world and larger American Educational culture. This issue is particularly pertinent as we transition into a more digital information world.  

These people are probably still in control of your library technology.
The idea that White people, European Americans are more important, smarter, better, stronger, more worthy, and that their culture is superior is embedded in most of the books in US libraries. People check out these books and are then influenced by these books. And since most of these books have the message of Whiteness uncritically embedded in them, the reader is most often influenced by Whiteness without giving it the critical eye it deserves.
This is how libraries serve as points of diffusion for Whiteness paradigm.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for another great post Max. I always think of the Dewey Decimal System when examining embedded white supremacist ideology in libraries, as well as heteronormativity/patriarchy/orientalism, etc.

Meredith Farkas said...

Yes! You're going to like my next American Libraries column (or, well, the January/February 17 column which I just turned in to my editor last week). It is about critical librarianship, the toxic consequences of neutrality, and bias in search algorithms.

Max Macias said...

Awesome! I can't wait to read it Meredith. I am very much interested in that area. Thank you for the head's up!

Max Macias said...

@revjprinehart Thanks for taking the time to read my post! Yes, these systems of classification have all kinds of subconscious biases in them. This area is fertile for study!

DavidBrown said...

Max, I am prefacing this comment by stating I am not White just so you can see where I'm coming from on this and how it might color my reading of your post. I sometimes feel the term Whiteness and White are becoming pejoratives when the reality is we have systems of imperialism found worldwide. I think you hit the nail on the head when you point out systems of acceptance of knowledge that look on information gains from the Other as tainted until proven worthy - often disdain. I use the term Other as a synonym for Colonized as Mary Louise Pratt defines the term in her book Imperial Eyes. I have run into this when I have gone to the doctor in the US and state I went to the Chinese doctor while I lived in China only to receive a curt answer of "Well, we still think this is unproven." There goes my culture's 5000 years of history. Lol At the same time I have seen similar reactions while in China when I say something about medicine, science, or or even library science. The majority is always looking to retain its power hold on knowledge.

Dr. Awkward said...

This is amazing! Thank you for this. I would be very interested in talking with you further and if you are interested, teasing it out. There is a group of Librarians on FB that are working on the integration of Trauma Informed Services in the Library that I would like to invite you to join. Your input would be appreciated! Thank you!!