Tuesday, March 29, 2016

When you rise above your fears

I finished reading Teaching to transgress: education as the practice of freedom by bell hooks a couple of weeks ago. While hooks was talking about education and classroom spaces in her book, my mind made the leap to librarianship as it sometimes does. And I wanted to write a post for all of the friends of the blog who, like me, find themselves in a position of privilege more often than not.

Among other things, the third chapter of Teaching to transgress discussed how shift toward a multicultural classroom requires white teachers need to move past their fears to foster a space where white supremacy, sexism, racism, ableism, imperialism, homophobia, and transphobia are decentered. Throughout much of this chapter, I felt like if you replaced "classroom" with "library" and "teacher" or "educator" with "librarian," the arguments that hooks makes are as applicable to libraries as to teaching spaces. hooks writes early in the chapter:
Among educators, there has to be an acknowledgment that any effort to transform institutions so they reflect a multicultural standpoint must take into consideration the fears teachers have when asked to shift their paradigms. There must be training sites where teachers have the opportunities to express those concerns while also learning to create ways to approach the multicultural classroom and curriculum. (36)
Many librarians who are part of privileged groups see the damage that is caused in their communities by racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, and transphobic thinking. But moving toward a vision of librarianship that is actively works against all of those "isms" is fraught with discomfort. We, the privileged, have to understand oppressive systems and our place in them before we can work to dismantle them. And more than that, we have to learn how to be good allies without expecting rewards for our efforts or drowning out the voices of those we wish to be allied with. We, the privileged, will screw this up--even when we're well meaning. And if we're being honest, we'll screw it up more often than we get it right.

When we do the work (hat tip to the always insightful April Hathcock), those of us with privilege often come to a place where we see oppression all around us and it causes us to feel uncomfortable. Later in Chapter Three, hooks addresses this discomfort, writing:
White students learning to think more critically about questions of race and racism may go home for the holidays and suddenly see their parents in a different light. They may recognize nonprogressive thinking, racism, and so on, and it may hurt them that new ways of knowing may create estrangement where there was none. (43)
What does it look like for librarianship to create a professional discourse where white supremacy, sexism, racism, ableism, imperialism, homophobia, and transphobia are decentered? Among other things, I think it means that we, the privileged, need to sit with our discomfort and do the work required to move past it. We need to hold each other accountable when we do things like using "fit" to cover up our racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, and transphobic tendencies. Or when we have panels at national conferences that are filled with the same cis, heterosexual, white men. And then, after we've considered all of this, we need to come up with a plan for what we--individually--will do to change.

Even when I try to get it right, I fall short. But that doesn't mean I quit. I ask for forgiveness from those I've wronged and try to do it better next time. Because for whatever else you believe about the future of librarianship, we will be better if it is multicultural.

Stay positive,

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