[This is an unusually long blog post—sorry.]
We are constantly told to assimilate, act 'professional,' be perfect, be natural and authentic...I could go on, won't.
The point is, the abuser—colonial culture knows that we, BIPOC, can never really assimilate, act ‘professional’, be perfect, be natural and authentic—and we might as well add smile 24 hours a day.
The aforementioned ‘professional’ refers to colonial culturally indoctrinated people demanding BIPOC act, read, write and be white to be ‘professional.’ All the while knowing that we cannot—because the colonial culture will not accept us as such--no matter how we behave.
BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) are put into a double bind constantly in the US. This happens from the time we enter elementary school at age 5 into our professional careers and beyond.
Here is the definition of a double bind:
A double bind is a dilemma in communication in which an individual (or group) receives two or more conflicting messages, with one negating the other. In some circumstances (particularly families and relationships) this might be emotionally distressing. This creates a situation in which a successful response to one message results in a failed response to the other (and vice versa), so that the person will automatically be wrong regardless of response. The double bind occurs when the person cannot confront the inherent dilemma, and therefore can neither resolve it nor opt out of the situation. Source
· (a) “Do X, or I will punish you”;
· (b) “Do not do X, or I will punish you.”
Colonial culture demands that BIPOC be authentic and ‘speak their minds!’ All the while knowing that when BIPOC do speak their minds that they will be castigated and not be allowed to participate socially, intellectually or professionally within the system.
A perfect example of this double binding is the recent OLA Quarterly Journal’s publication of their EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) edition which had a racist article as an outro.
Even the title is offensive:
Yes, but ... One Librarian’s Thoughts About Doing It Right
By Heather McNeil
Deschutes Public Library
The article lambasts indigenous scholar Dr. Debbie Reese for their work on critiquing colonial classic children’s literature and for daring to critique the voting on an award the author had previously participated in as a judge. McNeil goes on to assert that Dr. Reese displays a particular ignorance to children’s book awards, how they work and BIPOC’s place in ALA (and it’s subsidiaries) and in the awards. McNeil seems to imply the Dr. Reese cannot opine about the awards and that they should stick with awards that go to BIPOC. Also, nowhere does McNeil address Dr. Reese as Dr. Reese. McNeil feels they have the right to call them Debbie, instead of Dr. Reese. I won’t even go on about that…
To imply that the committee should consider the ethnicity or diversity of the author or illustrator, and not award those who have been awarded before, reflects a lack of knowledge about the criteria for the Newbery and Caldecott. Other awards were created for the purpose of a specific ethnicity, whereas the Newbery and Caldecott consider the entire volume of that year’s publications without considering an author’s or illustrator’s previous awards or ethnicity. Source
This is the double bind world BIPOC exist within. We are asked to honestly critique our profession, collection development, racism, sexism and all the other types of oppression, but when we do—we are punished. Usually this punishment is in public and is meant to shame the ‘offender.’
That is what this article was—it was an attack on critiques by BIPOC and instruction on how to ‘do it right’ by a white woman.
McNeil goes on to also attack Reading While White. And also instructs other white people on how to ‘do it right.’ We need our white allies and accomplices to be able critique freely.
We need critiques of work by BIPOC and people from other oppressed groups! We need them to be able to speak freely and to be able to critique without being told how to do so by white people.
I am not white—my experiences and life are different than yours. My critiques will be different than yours. Where you may see nothing wrong at all, I may see something that can help. White people need to listen to BIPOC to get a fuller picture of how racism works.
Denial is the friend of racism.
These past 9 months I've made it a point not to argue with white people about what is racist and what is not.
In fact, I try not to talk to white people about race whenever I can avoid it.
It is physically, mentally and spiritually unhealthy for me to try to do so.
However, this article was so offensive I had to respond and did so by writing
Here is the text of my email to the list about the article. I had previously written that it was a great issue and congratulated the authors on work well-done.
Except for the article by Heather McNeil, in which they attack indigenous
scholar Dr. Debbie Reese and other scholars who are doing anti-racist work!
In fact, I find it deeply offensive to be spoken down to by a white woman
of privilege about how to do EDI and anti-racist work 'right.'
Or maybe that article is written for white people,,,?
Your article belittled Dr. Reese and others in the field who have moved beyond begging for inclusion and also moved beyond the corpus of
traditionally white racist literature for children in the US. This
literature does much to reproduce the racism that permeates our country.
We are in dire need of AUTHENTIC representation and AUTHENTIC critiques of the traditionally white racist literature that we swim in and were raised
within. The best people to do these critiques are BIPOC and people from other oppressed groups. Your article is an attack on these scholars.
Dr. Reese's groundbreaking work is a harbinger of what is to come.
BIPOC are constantly told how they should speak, behave, think and believe by white people and those days are now numbered...
This article is disturbing, offensive and racist.
It is sad because there are some other really good articles in this issue.
There was then a flutter of mostly supportive and some non-supportive emails from librarians from around Oregon.
Many agreed with my critique and went into great detail about how the article was a shining example of white fragility.
I was the only one who got a warning though.
This was my response.
I I am currently in the process of scheduling a meeting with the state librarian to discuss my warning, my complaint above and what I might be able to do to help OLA with their issues.
There are a few things left to talk about.
Why no apology from McNeil?
There has been an apology by the OLA President, who was the guest editor of this issue. I could go on about how the editor missed opportunities, but Elaine is a great leader and I will not attack an ally who is owning their mistakes and who lives up to their leadership role fully. OLA are working with Oregon Humanities, but my fear is that while Oregon Humanities has BIPOC who work with them, Oregon Humanities is too white to help us create any real change. OH will moderate a conversation at the upcoming OLA conference—which has the theme of EDI.
Things we can do:
· Bring Dr. Reese to keynote an OLA conference. We should also pay Dr. Reese for a pre-conference workshop on Children’s Literature for Oregon librarians.
· Bring Robin DiAngelo for a White Fragility pre-conference workshop for Oregon librarians. I went to their all-day pre-conference workshop at NCORE this last year and it was amazingly practical and valuable.
· Managers and directors—have your staff read White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.
· The State Library should create a list of culturally appropriate selections to help librarians who have to watch their budgets closely make culturally appropriate selections wherever their library may be.
· Hire Communion Counseling to help BIPOC librarians and staff recover from the trauma of racism and help white allies understand racism and it’s impact on BIPOC.
· Hire more BIPOC librarians and staff.
· Make sure your organization is a learning organization.
· Have strong data analytics so that your decisions can use information that can override biases and other weaknesses of thinking.
McNeil, H. (2019). Yes, but … One Librarian’s Thoughts About Doing It Right. OLA Quarterly, 25(2), 48-52. https://doi.org/10.7710/1093-7374.1992