White Privilege Part 1

Recently I heard the song “White Privilege II” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (play it before you read…) and using the lyrics as inspiration I started thinking about this blog post.

I’ve heard that silences are action and I’ve been passive

In Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts, Brene Brown (2018) says, “daring leaders who live into their values are never silent about hard things.” It is an uncomfortable and brave discussion when we talk about privilege. However, as educators and school librarians, it is a necessary conversation because we are the gatekeepers of access. One of the things I am doing this school year is a diversity audit of my fiction collection. At just over 1,200 books scanned in so far, 94% of my books are written by white authors. Historically speaking, in the United States, there are systems of oppression. The majority of my collection is written by white people because of racism. This series will be about understanding how we as school librarians can disrupt the racist systems in our school libraries.

What if I actually read an article, actually had a dialogue

White Fragility is one of the books that has most influenced my professional learning and practice this year. In the author’s note, DiAngelo discusses women’s suffrage. In 2018, women accounted for 79% of librarians in the United States, so I feel many of us can relate to her analogy. When women could not vote, they had to call on men to choose to change the laws. They had to make it clear to men that there was, in fact, an injustice. People could not talk about women’s right to vote without naming men and women. When we don’t name the groups who face barriers, we continue to serve the groups with access because the perception is that the controlling groups’ access is universal. DiAngelo says, “Naming who has access and who doesn’t guides our efforts in challenging injustice” (2018, xiv). In the book, DiAngelo explains white fragility, how we develop it, how it serves to protect racial inequality, and what white people can do about racial inequality. Reading White Fragility has helped me to see that when I practice racial colorblindness with my students and with my collection development practices I am failing to see my students of color for who they are and the entirety of their lived experience. This book put me on a path to understanding and working on my white identity. 

Actually looked at myself, actually got involved?

As a white person writing this post, I am uncomfortable. Discomfort is part of white fragility. “But rather than retreat in the face of that discomfort, we can practice building our stamina for the critical examination of white identity–a necessary antidote to white fragility” (DiAngelo 2018, xiv). I sit regularly with my discomfort. Reading White Fragility was a challenge to my racial worldview and to my self-identity as a good and moral educator. DiAngelo asks white readers to name our race because being seen racially is a trigger of white fragility. In 2017, 85.9% of librarians were white. White people are not accustomed to thinking race matters, but it does. Looking at my collection through a critical lens of racial equity has helped me choose books that more accurately represent the students I serve. It has also helped me when advocating for more diverse books with publishers. 

So what has happened to my voice if I stay silent when black people are dying

With the majority of our profession being white, we need to have more conversations about race. We need to look at our biases and our lack of education regarding systems of oppression. We need to use our privilege to advocate for our students, particularly our indigenous students and students of color. 

Injustice anywhere is still injustice everywhere.
The best thing white people can do is talk to each other, having those very difficult, very painful conversations.
I think one of the critical questions for white people in this society is, “What are you willing to risk? What are you willing to sacrifice to create a more just society?”
Your silence is a luxury (Macklemore 2016).


Brown, Brene. 2018. Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts. New York: Random House.

DiAngelo, Robin. 2019. “Publications.” https://robindiangelo.com/publications/ (accessed Dec. 3, 2019).

DiAngelo, Robin. 2018. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Boston: Beacon Press.

Librarians Data USA. 2019. Datausa.io. https://datausa.io/profile/soc/254021/ (accessed Dec. 4, 2019).

AFL-CIO. 2019. “Library Professionals: Facts & Figures.” Department for Professional Employees. https://dpeaflcio.org/programs-publications/issue-fact-sheets/library-workers-facts-figures/ (accessed Dec. 4, 2019).

Macklemore LLC. 2016. “Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Featuring Jamila Woods – White Privilege ii.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_rl4ZGdy34 

Williams, Monnica T. 2019. “Colorblind Ideology Is a Form of Racism.” Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/culturally-speaking/201112/colorblind-ideology-is-form-racism (accessed Dec. 4, 2019).


Author: Nancy Jo Lambert

Nancy Jo Lambert is a Google Certified Trainer and high school teacher librarian in Frisco Independent School District at Reedy High School. She is a presenter advocating for libraries by telling the story of the learning happening in her library. She holds positions in the Texas Library Association, Texas Computer Education Association, American Library Association, American Association of School Librarians, and the Texas Association of School Librarians. She has been published in professional journals and won numerous awards and grants and was named TCEA Library Media Specialist of the Year and the American Association of School Librarians Social Media Superstar Curriculum Champion in 2019. She is co-founder of EduPrideAlliance.org and she is known for sharing her professional work on Twitter @NancyJoLambert and her website reedylibrary.com.

Categories: Blog Topics, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

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6 replies

  1. I’ve been on an antiracist reading journey. I absolutely agree with you. The most recent book I have read is the ARC of “Stamped” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi. It is a remix of Kendi’s “Stamped from the Beginning”. It is a s excellent as you would imagine. Kendi’s latest book “How to be an Antiracist” is also excellent.

  2. Colleagues:

    I am just putting the finishing touches to my next book, “‘Can I Get a Library Pass?’ American Public School Librarianship from the Common School to the Common Core.” It will be the first comprehensive history of your profession. I haven’t submitted it to a publisher yet, so it’s probably a couple of years away from being out.

    In the course of my research—which covers many aspects of the practices of public school librarianship over the generations—I also pursue the issue of systemic if largely invisible white privilege as it manifested itself in the practice of school librarianship.

    One of its most obvious manifestations was the profession’s deafening silence between 1954 (Brown v. Board of Education) and 1968 on the subject of segregated schools and segregated school libraries. AASL said nothing, hosted no public programs on the subject, and commissioned no research to examine the validity of “separate but equal.” That many AASL presidents during this period came from states with segregated school systems and segregated library associations probably had something to do with this silence.

    I am hopeful that when the book comes out the profession will initiate serious historically informed discussions on issues of race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, etc. that I discuss in the book, which paints a historical portrait of the profession with both haloes (plenty of those) and warts (plenty of those, too). One cannot prudently plan the future without a deep understanding of the past.

    Happy Holidays to all.

    Wayne A. Wiegand

  3. Excellent article, thank you. I especially liked what you said in the beginning about how we have a responsibility for curating diverse collections because we are the gatekeepers of access.

  4. Difficult concept/conversation to acknowledge. Well written.

  5. Can you open the sharing rights to your Diversity Audit? I’d love to see how to do one in my library.

  6. Excellent post nancy Jo! The community where I currently serve lacks racial and religious diversity, being predominantly White and Christian. Although it’s less than 30 miles outside of New York City, students lack experience with people who are different from themselves. I’m thrilled that AASL’s National Standards include “Include”, and although I’m doing my best to promote inclusion, our community’s lack of ethnic diversity impedes my efforts. I’ve found some success creating empathy in regards to other marginalized groups; for example our Woke Book Club, has chosen to concentrate on those suffering with Mental Health issues, working to create cross disciplinary learning experiences that focus on understanding and empathy. I’ve also been working with our School’s GSA to create learning experiences in accordance with our state’s recent legislation requiring the inclusion of the political, economic, and social contributions of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people within curricular learning experiences. Although, the library’s collection reflects and highlights diverse authors and characters, student interest in these titles, and personal reading in general, is lacking. I’ve curated a variety of social justice related resources, which I share whenever applicable to disciplinary learning. What I most want to see happen is the inclusion of novels highlighting the accomplishments and points of view of marginalized peoples within the ELA curriculum, however, others don’t seem to share my interest and enthusiasm. I just started reading White Fragility, and I’m hoping that my learning will assist in my efforts to create change.

    Also, love your list of references; I think it makes a nice example to show students for expanding upon and personalizing the themes found after reading a book.

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