i dream of being possible

in case anyone was wondering, this is what scratch looks like

Just a few days ago I wrote about always being back at the starting line, in the context of race and the LIS field. I’m being very clear about the scope of this discussion because these aren’t general complaints. #radlibchat was a discussion amongst professionals in the field (student or otherwise). And this field is ‘information science’. At least as far as Canada and the US is concerned most of us working professionally in this field have at least one master’s degree1. In information science.

During the course of this degree many or most of us likely had some level of instruction in doing reference, as its still considered one of the Pillars of library science. Many of us have instructing other people on how to find the information that they need as a part of our jobs. We learn about things like information literacy (with the assumption that we ourselves must be information literate in order to teach other people these skills). Things like access to information and blah blah blah are ongoing concerns.

All in all, we have a fairly level playing field here in terms of information literacy and access to information. Some might say, ‘hey, I don’t work at a research university so I have significantly less access than ones who do’. True, except that many many of the better/more useful resources about social justice aren’t academic. There are easily found in blogs, websites, etc. And if you’re going to try and convince me that information professionals have little ability to judge the validity or quality of information on the web… well, your burden of proof is really heavy. But have at it, if you want.

Now I’ve written three paragraphs making myself very clear about the scope of what I’m talking about…

But, hey, I’ve written two posts about this, isn’t it enough? Sadly, no. Not when April Hancock has to write a post like this. Do you know how many times I’ve read this post? Do you know how many poc out there have written it? I actually think I wrote this post a few years ago myself. This is exactly the kind of basic, 101 stuff that I was talking about.

The situation, though, is actually worse than this. As April writes:

One of the more common threads that came out of the chat were the fears many white people have about screwing up when getting involved in race work. Several people expressed apprehension about doing the work and making a mess of things. So, I thought I’d take a moment to address some of those fears.

This kind of shit is why its nearly impossible to have productive conversations about race when white people are around. Look at the questions for the chat again. Do you see a single one that is about comforting white anxiety about discussing race? I sure don’t. So why was anyone derailing the conversation to talk about their white guilt or anxiety?

Part of the ‘why’ is that none of these people have apparently ever had an open, honest discussion about racism with a person of colour. The other part of the why is that not a single one apparently thought to look for resources that might help them alleviate their anxiety and give them some tools for engaging in this kind of discussion.

Do you know what happens when white people bring their feelings into discussions about racism and white supremacy? Well… stuff like April’s post happens. As in: usually the burden for doing the intellectual and emotional labour of alleviated white anxiety falls unto the shoulders of a person of colour. So not only has the conversation been derailed from a focus on whiteness so that white people can exemplify everything that’s wrong with it, but now poc involved in the discussion have to deal with additional demands for intellectual and emotional labour. Awesome.

In case anyone is wondering: this is why marginalized people get burned out so quickly when trying to do diversity work or advocacy. In deciding to pursue this kind of labour, we are already assuming a certain amount of labour that we are not obligated to give. But that we donate because we believe in it. Only for our oppressors to take advantage of this generosity by consistently demanding we do more.

April didn’t have to host the #radlibchat. But she did. She gave her time and labour to it. And it was a gift for everyone involved. Of course, it was also her decision to write the follow-up post and I respect that. My issue is that she shouldn’t have had to re-write a post that re-articulates something that a thousand other poc have already written about (and many more since, when generalized, these are basic rules for social justice discourse).

And then… well, now I’m having to write this post in response and the echoing effect of the one decision that some of the white people made in that chat continue to reverberate. This is my second post about this particular chat and the dynamics of stuff that happened. I was only paying attention for fifteen minutes (but I do regularly read April’s blog which is why I read the post I’m responding to).

Do you see? Probably not. Because I know I need to spell it all out. I know some people responded to my previous post about this by saying that a requirement for participants to do some prepatory work might be an undue burden and create barriers to participation. And I agree. But I’m also not sure I actually care all that much.

Since the chat and between writing my two posts and reading April’s, I might have done two hours worth of labour post-chat. My problem is this: if every white person had taken even one hour to prepare for the chat, I very likely wouldn’t have needed to take the extra time to literally talk about something I already spoke about three years ago. Not sure what April’s writing process is like, but she has also done additional labour beyond the commitment she made to host the chat.

Now tell me which is more fair: expecting white people to come prepared (intellectually and emotionally) for a discussion of racism or poc having to carry the entire intellectual and emotional burden of ensuring we can have productive discussions?

But then the problem snowballs from here. Because now I look like the belligerent asshole unwilling to have a productive discussion. All because I expect that white people commit to as much (or more) intellectual and emotional labour as I do. Before anyone tries to tell me that I don’t look like an asshole: this is not my first time around this particular block. That’s part of my point. In the five years I’ve been bloggin and involved in this sort of thing, I’ve had this exact interaction more times than I care to count.

At the end of the day, this is what these kinds of discussions end up demanding from poc: that we serve as teacher and therapist while smiling and speaking gently the entire time. What gets me is that this expectation is so deeply embedded that white people never notice unless – ironically – a person of colour takes the time to tell them.

So here we stand at the starting line. Again. Still.

  • The librarians I know without a MLIS or equivalent usually have a PhD. And many of the librarians I know usually have another graduate degree in addition to the MLIS. The point being: as a field we are generally educated in the normative way.  </fn></footnotes>