Desiree Alaniz 2017-03-09 12:44:11
Our profession and institutions are currently responding to calls for greater inclusion and diversity among our ranks and in our collections. Specific attention has been focused on developing ways to attract and retain racial and ethnic minorities at the graduate and professional levels, and these diversity initiatives have more structural support and visibility than ever before. But what does it mean to recruit for “diversity,” and how does our understanding of the term shape our ability to actually make our profession more inclusive and better fulfill our values of access and use? More specifically, what do we talk about when we talk about “diversity in archives”? Changing the Framework of “Diversity” We know that archives are an overwhelmingly white profession. (1) Although this is widely recognized as an issue, there is relatively little conversation about how this has structured our relationships with colleagues and collections in exclusionary ways. Instead, the framework of “diversity” has been used to describe the need for greater inclusion of minorities in what is assumed to be a neutral set of professional practices. Diversity, in this context, is used to discuss the need to bring more people who are “not like us” into majority-white spaces. By framing lack of representation as a numbers issue, we avoid engaging with how hundreds of years of structural racism have shaped our profession, particularly in ways that impact our ability to recruit and support people of color entering and advancing within the profession. Diversity frameworks fall short of their intentions by narrowly recruiting for superficial forms of difference. Recruitment initiatives have been an important part of diversity approaches, and are successful to the extent that they support a number of students in being able to afford access to graduate education (myself included). However, diversity initiatives recruit individuals in an effort to address a systemic issue of underrepresentation. As April Hatchock discussed in her essay “White Librarianship in Blackface,” requirements for diversity scholarships in LIS also utilize white, middle-class ideas about education and work experiences that simply do not hold for members of economically and racially marginalized communities. (2) These initiatives place the burden on marginalized students and professionals to bring more diversity into the profession through their presence, and do not restructure the exclusionary environments that students and practitioners of color face in academic and professional environments. One of the most pervasive forms of oppression experienced by members of our profession in majority-white spaces is the normalization of microaggressions from colleagues and patrons. Microaggressions are defined as everyday verbal or nonverbal comments that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages towards members of marginalized groups. Microaggressions are such a pervasive problem within LIS environments that there is a blog and zine specifically dedicated to documenting these experiences among students and professionals: http://lismicroaggressions.tumblr.com. The blog is important not only as a way for practitioners to articulate these incidents, but also as testimony to the ways in which racial oppression is perpetuated at the individual, and many times unconscious, level. Particularly when experienced by students and entry-level workers, where a significant power imbalance is at play in interactions with instructors and supervisors, there are few mechanisms for reporting such incidents that ensure that the individual will be taken seriously and not face negative repercussions. Implicit in acts of microaggression is the assumption of white perspectives as the norm, with people of color understood through the prism of racial stereotypes. Moving from Specialization to Standard Practice Ultimately, using “diversity” as our guiding framework in our academic programs, professional organizations, and workplaces has little value if it fails to address the actual conditions of marginalized people already in the field. As individuals, we must take the first step by educating ourselves on how systemic forms of oppression create positions of privilege and disadvantage, and how our own positions within these systems inform the assumptions we make about our profession, colleagues, collections, and users. Particularly for those of us who are white and/or economically privileged, we must use this privilege to create spaces for marginalized voices and to promote alternative ways of working and learning in our field. We can also seek out staff diversity and social justice training in our institutions, and advocate for their implementation where they are not already present. Online spaces like CritLib (critlib.org) and recurring Tuesday Twitter chats (using the hashtag #critlib, short for Critical Librarianship) provide ways to connect with other critically-minded practitioners. In the Library with the Lead Pipe (http://inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org) is a biweekly peer-reviewed journal and another resource for current discussions of anti-oppression work in librarianship and archives. Most importantly, we must center anti-oppression and social justice frameworks in guiding our personal and professional labors, not as a specialization, but as intrinsic to our work. Social justice frameworks for archival practice can include critical examination of our professional recruitment, appraisal, description and access procedures, and thinking critically about our roles in perpetuating or resisting exclusionary practices in our work. Although social justice and diversity are part of SAA’s strategic priorities and included as planks in some LIS programs, these topics are too often treated as specializations in our work rather than fundamental to all levels of archival practices. Thinking beyond diversity, we can begin to understand ways to create space within our profession where people from a variety of backgrounds are assumed to have value and to belong within our professional community. This goes beyond racial demographics to the core of how our efforts to address marginalization can unintentionally recreate them. Truly inclusive conversations and environments will move the burden of addressing diversity from people of color onto our largely white institutions and those who hold various forms of privilege within them. This is both a personal and a professional project for all of us, requiring reflection on how our positions shape our work as archivists and active participants in the culture of memory. Notes This article originally appeared in the New England Archivists’ NEA Newsletter 43:2 (April 2016) under the column “Who’s Missing from This Table?” on pages 8–9. Visit http://www.newenglandarchivists.org/newsletters. (1) Walch, Victoria Irons, comp., “ACENSUS: Archival Census & Education Needs Survey in the United States” in The American Archivist 69:2 (2006),* http://www2.archivists.org/sites/all/files/ACENSUS-Final.pdf. (2) Hathcock, April, “White Librarianship in Blackface: Diversity Initiatives in LIS,” In the Library with the Leadpipe (October 7, 2015).
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