It’s been a tiring end to the academic year. The University of Washington’s quarter system means that final assignments were due last week. But, after a pandemic and protests concerning the death of George Floyd and countless others at the hands of police brutality, there was very little left to give. Hell, I even turned in an assignment with “this is as good as it gets” in the comment section.
One realization from this time of high stress is that racism has a firm hold in the LIS profession. Between the flouncing and claims of “libraries should be neutral” on library-related Facebook groups, we can see how racism can come from overt and covert forms. I no longer remember where I saw it first, but members of these groups helped spread word about the Henderson Public Library’s (Kentucky) director, Caleb May, and his racist views publicly available on Facebook. From internet trolls to the director of a library that serves over 45,000 people, racism is everywhere.
Racism even made its way into my workplace and caught me off guard. After a protest occurred that prompted a library closure due to guidance from local law enforcement, a coworker asked how I felt about them. A simple statement in support of the peaceful protest turned into an accusation of supporting “crime against innocents and small business owners.” After choosing not to reply, the conversation ended. Or so I thought. The coworker then came into my office an hour later and decided to explain why they felt that way. After an onslaught of white tears, I ended up spending a huge amount of energy in reassuring them that I still thought of them as a decent person. Whew.
So, how can we do better? It is already clear that BIPOCs in the LIS profession are few, and much of what is said concerning EDI efforts is lip service. Sure, we can read an anti-racism book from the plethora of reading lists that were created this month, but the time to learn should be while we’re still actively doing it in a formal setting. If your program doesn’t require a social justice component in every class (or if your professor doesn’t take the requirement seriously), take classes that challenge your way of thinking. Whether you are in an online or residential program, ask the tough questions in discussions in a respectful manner (while also not causing your BIPOC classmates to be fatigued). Amplify the voices that need to be heard instead of drowning them out. When covering a topic, ask yourself how those will less privilege experience it and what you as a LIS student can do to make it more equitable. By doing this, we can hopefully show our classmates how important it is to unlearn our past and challenge the status quo, which ultimately benefit the communities we serve.
I admit, I’ve enjoyed the privileges that come with my lighter skin tone and have found that my personal experience in the LIS field is limited to microagressions. This puts me in an in-between area, where others have it better than I do, and others have it worse. Kerri recently broke down 10 things library allies can do as an ally; and while I also experience racism because of my race, I have plenty of room to grow to make the lives easier for others. Personally, I’ll be working on #7 first.
Conrrado is an online MLIS student at the University of Washington iSchool and an Adult Services Specialist at the Natrona County Library.