White Privilege Part 2

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.

But the one thing the American dream fails to mention

This country was built on a system to benefit white people, and as much as many white people want to think that system doesn’t exist anymore, it does. In White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo, PhD, defines white supremacy as “a descriptive and useful term to capture the all-encompassing centrality and assumed superiority of people defined and perceived as white and the practices based on this assumption. White supremacy in this context does not refer to individual white people and their individual intentions or actions but to an overarching political, economic, and social system of domination” (2019, 28). 

I was many steps ahead to begin with

I come to this work as a school librarian and educator from a place of privilege. I am a white cisgender woman, and being a white woman affords me systemic privilege. White people get all up in their feels when confronted with the words “white privilege” because we want to talk about all the ways in which we are not privileged or how we earned where we are in life. I grew up dirt poor; like we were had-to-take-gallon-jugs-to-the-gas-station-in-town-and-fill-them-up-for-drinking-water poor. I am also a rape survivor. I am also bisexual. None of these descriptors precludes me or excludes me from white privilege. 

My skin matches the hero, likeness, the image

In So You Want to Talk about Race Ijeoma Olou states some rules for an easy way to determine if something is about race:

  1. It is about race if a person of color thinks it is about race. 
  2. It is about race if it disproportionately or differently affects people of color.
  3. It is about race if it fits into a broader pattern of events that disproportionately or differently affect people of color (2019). 

The bottom line is that these broad categories could make just about anything about race. Race impacts almost every aspect of our lives (2019, 14-15).

We are surrounded by a white-centered world. If you are a white person reading this, think about the world around you, and the world in which you grew up. In books, if no race of a character is stated, the character is assumed white. How many books in your school library are written by someone who isn’t white? How many of those titles feature characters who are not white? How many books have non-white characters thriving in real or imagined worlds? Struggle and overcoming racial adversity should not be the only stories for characters of color. 

This school year my student library aides and I have been working on a diversity audit of our fiction collection. I recently gave the presentation below at our secondary library meeting about our diversity audit.

Doing a diversity audit is about taking inventory and determining what’s in the collection. It helped me see what areas need to be better developed. The data from this audit is concrete. This diversity audit is important because as a 40-year-old white woman, I am the dominant demographic in librarianship, and I have been operating under the assumption I was building an inclusive collection. Conducting this diversity audit has made me honestly evaluate my collection. Now my collection development practices are driven by data. After scanning in and evaluating 1,832 fiction books, 91.3% of the books are written by white authors and 84.8% have white main characters. 

And if I’m the hero, you know who gets cast as the villain

White privilege is real and is clearly evident in the publishing industry. As school librarians, we have huge purchasing power. In order for publishers to publish more diverse books by #OwnVoices authors, we as school librarians must commit to purchasing those books. I encourage you to do your own diversity audit. Thinking we have inclusive collections and thinking we are purchasing diverse books is quite different from actually having the data and making decisions based on that data. 

We want to dress like, walk like, talk like, dance like, yet we just stand by
We take all we want from black culture, but will we show up for black lives?
We want to dress like, walk like, talk like, dance like, yet we just stand by
We take all we want from black culture, but will we show up for black lives?
(Macklemore 2016)

References

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

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

Oluo, Ijeoma. 2019. So You Want to Talk about Race. New York: Seal Press Hachette Book Group.

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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

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. Thank you for continuing this conversation… I wrote about this in 2017

    https://knowledgequest.aasl.org/whiteness-in-librarianship/

  2. Colleagues:

    I’m just about finished with a book-length manuscript documenting the history of American school librarianship (first one ever), which will show (among many other things–positive and not so positive) that from its origins American public school librarianship has been–knowingly sometimes, unknowingly at other times–a white privilege profession existing inside a white privilege institution that was largely (albeit often indifferently) supported by a white privilege establishment. One need only look at the deafening silence of school librarianship during the Civil Rights Era (1954-1968) about segregated schools (and their libraries) to demonstrate that point. My hope is that when the book comes out, the profession will spend some time giving this heritage serious consideration, and reflecting on how much that heritage may still permeate professional practice. Wayne A. Wiegand, F. William Summers Professor Emeritus of Library and Information Studies, Florida State University.

  3. I’m writing this as a former librarian who battled non-Black librarians over collection choices for Black patrons;
    I’m writing this as a former library worker who suffered weekly, if not daily, micro-aggressions from non-Black co-workers and patrons;
    I’m writing this as an author who wrote a picture book because of the Black Youth Suicide Crisis.
    I’m writing this as a concerned citizen who recently learned there is a suicide crisis among Native American youth as well.

    I am afraid for black and brown children in this country, especially during this political climate.

    The Unbearable Whiteness of Libraries and Library-think, is directly connected to the Unbearable Whiteness of Publishing, itself directly connected to the Unbearable Whiteness of all U.S. institutions.

    While libraries continue marching on, doing things as they’ve always been done, children of color perish. If your collection is 80-90% written by, centered on, white people, where does that leave children who represent the rest of the world? Where is their vision of a livable future coming from? What is stoking their imaginations? When do they learn they are the (s)heroes of their life stories?

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