i dream of being possible

eternally at the starting line #taiga9

Looking over the tweets from #taiga9, there were a few different things and sessions that looked interesting (I know I would have liked to attend – even if just to see Mark again).

However, there is a certain sort of sad irony in the way that the tweets presented the content (or, better said, the conversations on twitter about the content).

From what I understand, there was a talk/presentation about microaggressions and silencing. One of the tweets noted that microaggressions often present themselves via language (well, okay, the tweet said ‘verbal’ but this would be hair splitting). A few examples as to how this played out in the hashtag.

I saw someone, when talking about white people, say ‘caucasian’. Which, itself is a white supremacist way to say ‘white people’1, note the history of the word as told by wikipedia:

The term “Caucasian race” was coined by the German philosopher Christoph Meiners in his The Outline of History of Mankind (1785).[4] In Meiners’s unique racial classification, there were only two racial divisions (Rassen): Caucasians and Mongolians. These terms were used as a collective representation of individuals he personally regarded as either good looking or less attractive, based solely on facial appearance. For example, he considered Germans and Tatars more attractive, and thus Caucasian, while he found Jews and Native Americans less attractive, and thus Mongolian.

This is not a good word… unless those using it really do mean to say that they find white people the most attractive people.

Another thing I see is the continuous use of ‘female’ and ‘male’ in the discussions of gender diversity. I find it super impressive that so mane people possess the power of gene-voyance, or the power to see a person’s DNA well enough that you can conclusive call them, on sight alone ‘female’ or ‘male’. Now, it is pretty much gender 101 to note that ‘man’ and ‘woman’ denote genders, while ‘male’ and ‘female’ denote biological sex.

Both of these are merely examples of what I’m actually most disheartened by when I look through #Taiga9 and in the larger LIS community. And the problem is this: we always seem to be at the beginning of this discussion. The term ‘microagression’ was coined in 1970. Not that I can tell… but I’m sure that it was a new term/idea to at least one person in the talk today.

We are always at the beginning. In the tech community feminism seems to only now be making its first serious progress. And as more and more communities and conferences establish community guidelines as a means to deal with the widespread sexism, racism, ableism, etc., it makes you wonder.

How much time are we wasting on having to always start at the beginning? How effective or useful is a forum on diversity if most/many participants do not have a basic grounding on the relevant topics?

Because there is a wealth of resources, both academic and not, covering both the elementary concepts of race, gender, sexuality, ability, neuro-diversity, and so on, and – more importantly – advanced discussions.

And, idk, it seems particularly ironic that many of us work at world class institutions (I know I do). We constantly have discussions about creating access to information, but it seems never about how we perhaps should be doing a better job at using/consuming the wealth of information we have access to.

It is a serious problem to be continuously at the beginning. To know that in a few years, maybe, there might be another Taiga Forum on diversity and not much will have changed. Men will stil be getting paid more, people of colour will still a really small fraction the academic library workforce, and so on. And at this future forum/conference/whatever, they’ll be at the beginning to.

If we are to get serious about diversity in libraries, it is time for all of us to start making real efforts to fill in the gaps of our own ignorance. We cannot change the problem of racial diversity if we can’t get past the basics to have a truly transformative discussion of racism in libraries and library culture. And this applies to all the other varied and many forms of oppression.

But here we are: at the beginning.2

  1. I thought of writing ‘racism’ here, but the bad parts about ‘caucasian’ are directed at people of colour and racism gives the impression that it is harmful towards white people to say ‘caucasian’. Given the history, ‘white supremacist’ is really the only way to describe it. 

  2. To make it clear, those impacted by some kind of oppression have been having these conversations. This is, in fact, why there are so many resources available. It is always the privileged who are late to the party, where they proceed to make everything stop so that they can be brought up to speed. It is disruptive and slows down everything, leading to our current state where change is always incremental and always slow.