Cry Me a (White Male) River

Today the ALA ScholComm listserv went beserk.

Well, more beserk than usual. Usually, it’s a bunch of predominantly white males whipping it out email-style over issues of open access and publishing and the like. All kinds of attacks and counter-attacks go into the debate. It gets brutal.

But today, one of these men (we’ll call him Dude #1), whom I know and like, decided to take a step back and reflect on the nature of what is supposed to be a professional email list group. He noted that many people have expressed hesitancy in participating in the group because it feels more like fight club than professional discussion. He also acknowledged that the conversation tends to be dominated by a select few (the above-mentioned white men). He then proceeded to do a quick and dirty quantitative analysis of the most recent discussions on the listserv. And in an act of really nice self-reflection, he included his own name and stats in the list, acknowledging that he himself had been accused of being one of the frequent listserv blabbers. (Interesting note: I’m pretty sure the person who made that accusation was yours truly.)

Right away, of course, came the usual response you get when someone tries to step back and point out power inequities and privilege within a group. Another one of these menfolk (Dude #2) jumped up to cry out that gender was not an issue in the listserv and that pointing out what was little more than an “anomaly” in the numbers of active participants was only playing up trump (pun intended) issues.

I usually stay out of these things and just delete the messages until I come across something useful for my work. But at this point, after a wonderful Easter weekend of rest and relaxation, I was ready to jump back into the Struggle. So, I wrote:

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And then it was on.

Like, all of it showed up, y’all. There were the “not all men” responses. And the “Why should people be silenced?” responses, which interestingly, came on the heels of the “Silence! Don’t play the race/gender card!” responses. There was the “Let’s all just be nice” people and the “Everyone should maintain civility” people.

The white feminists clutched their pearls in horror: One, herself a frequent flyer in the usually all-male melee, even kindly took the time to”fact check” us all by stating that my thoughts made little different since she herself has been contributing to the list and leading the feminine charge all along. So, you know, bow down, b!tches.

The white men cried out in agony at their hurt feelings: Apparently, Dude #2’s feelings are “still smarting” from what was said in response to his email. He acknowledged that as a non-librarian, non-scholcomm specialist, he probably doesn’t belong on the listserv, but still. He “took a risk” to express his white male thoughts in this email group for a profession that is 80% female. Also, he has a nice, smart wife so he’s not sexist. So, you know, give him a cookie already!

And yet, here’s the deal: All this talk about civility and not silencing and all of it, ALL OF IT, is directed at those who for the first time in a long time are daring to speak up against the oppressive nature of this email list and say, “No more!” All the times the menfolk fairly eviscerated each other over open access or the merits/pitfalls of CC BY were fine. Making sexist remarks = fine. Racist commentary = fine. Homophobia/transphobia = sure. Ableism = why not?

But challenge the right of the privileged white male to speak his mind all over the place and you are rude and uncivil and “worthy of internet trolls.” (Yes, someone, one of the nice white ladies, said that about me.)

And you know what? None of this is anything new. We find this kind of bullsh!t all over the Struggle. But we keep on keeping on. Because it’s worthwhile work we do. Because we are not alone. Because being a troll is a-okay when you’re trolling oppression.

I hate the way people dominate that list and activate their privilege to take up way too much space. But I’m proud of all the wonderful and thoughtful people (yes, including many white males) who spoke up today in favor of less oppression and more true professionalism.

Looks like we’ll be alright to Struggle for another day.

 

 

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My Radicalism, My Faith

Heal my heart and make it clean

Open up my eyes to the things unseen

Show me how to love like you have loved me

“Hosanna,” Hillsong United

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Image of cross by Reb2008 via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. Easter is always such a special time for me, as it not only marks the holiest if the Christian holy days but it also usually lands near my birthday in early April. (And no, that’s not why. I was supposed to be born in March and was going to be named April anyway.)

For me, as a nondenominational Christian, Easter is a time of new birth and renewal and blessing. It’s a time of struggle giving way to hope. It’s a time of peace even in the midst of the last remnants of winter bleak.

This time of renewal is vital to me, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically. It’s vital to the work I do as a whole person.

I’m never just a radical; I’m a radical of faith. I love Jesus; and all the work I do, I do out of my Jesus-love. My Jesus demands I fight for justice. My Jesus calls me to look out for the marginalized, to listen carefully and signal-boost for those at the fringes. My Jesus is infuriated by oppression and hypocrisy and welcomes my fury, as well. At the same time, my Jesus also fills me with hope that what little I do can and does make some difference.

My faith feeds my work, and I am thankful for this. I know it’s not for everyone and that’s okay. My Jesus teaches me to DO THE WORK with my allies regardless of our differing experiences and motivations.

So on this Easter Sunday, I give thanks for the light and life that gives me strength and motivation for the work I do.

Love and peace to you all.

Creative Commons Requires Consent

Recently, one of my Twitter friends pointed out a collection of digitized material being made available online by a company known for doing great work in making otherwise marginalized, radical works digitally accessible. But she was troubled by what she saw was an over-reaching attempt to open the material beyond what had been expressly permitted by the creators and others involved in the projects.

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I too was concerned.

It turns out that the material in this collection of “the powerful voices of feminists, dissident GIs, campus radicals, Native Americans, anti-war activists, Black Power advocates, Latinos, gays, lesbians and more” (Reveal Digital, n.d.) has been cleared by the copyright owners for a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License.

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Screenshot of legal information from “About This Collection” page of Independent Voices collection via Reveal Digital

That is good news. And there are plans, based on creator consent it seems, to make the work more open at a later date. Also good.

Yet, the entire website is marked by a footer that only claims a Creative Commons Attribution License.

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Screenshot of footer from Independent Voices collection via Reveal Digital

That is confusing. Particularly as this footer shows up on all pages of the collection, including those pages from which users can access specific content from the collection.

This collection is not open with a CC BY license, yet. Nonetheless, the way the site is set up, it appears not only to be open to that license but also intellectually owned by the company responsible for its digitization.

I by no means believe this company is intending to do harm or mislead. And yet, this kind of open confusion happens all the time. This company is by no means the first to do something like this, and it certainly won’t be the last.

There are many who seem to embrace the tenets of open access uncritically and push wholeheartedly for others to do the same. For the most part, they do so for the sake of social justice, bridging the information divide by making research materials freely available to all regardless of economic fortune or lack thereof.

Yet, in many ways, this uncritical act of opening all things to all people is in and of itself an act of aggression and oppression. It is a form of cultural and informational colonialism, taking the works of the marginalized—such as the feminists, dissident GIs, campus radicals, Native Americans, anti-war activists, Black Power advocates, Latinos, gays, lesbians and more” mentioned above—and forcing it into (uncompensated) availability without their express consent.

I’ve written before on the oppressive perils of open access as we conceive of it; this is just another word of caution to add to the mix: We have to be careful that in our quest for openness, we’re not, wittingly or unwittingly, taking away someone else’s agency in controlling their work.

Don’t get me wrong. Openness is great and should be encouraged. I encourage it myself. But it should also be chosen and not forced. The decision to make work open should be accompanied by full agency and volition. The students required to make final course projects open in order to receive credit; the scholars required to make their work open in order to get published; the filmmaker required to make their work open in order to have it included in a digital collection—all should be permitted to choose openness of their own free will and without the shade of oppression.

We have to remember that open access does not exist in a vacuum. It enters into our ways of creating and sharing knowledge based on a society built on oppression and marginalization. Those with power and privilege can make choices about what can and should be open, but those without often lack that same agency. We must remain cognizant of that power imbalance and make our policies accordingly. Openness is great, but like everything else, it’s only great when entered with full consent.

Sometimes, Intersectionality Means You STFU

Intersectionality means that you can be a person with privilege and a person who is oppressed all at the same time. It means sometimes it’s your issue and sometimes it’s not. This can be difficult to grasp.

I see conversations like this all the time:

Person from Marginalized Group A: Thank you for joining this conversation about the struggle of Group A in society. It’s tough. I appreciate that we can talk in this space. Here are some things to know about Group A’s experiences . . . Here are some personal stories . . .Here is some more information about Group A . . . This is all vitally importan—

Person from Marginalized Group B: Yeah, but what about Group B? We’re oppressed, too.

A Person: Oh, yes, absolutely, it’s just that right now in this space—

B Person: Everything you said also applies to Group B. It’s so important for Group B. 

A Person: Yes, yes, I understand, but—

B Person: I mean, this is exactly the problem for Group B . . . Here are Group B’s issues . . . Here are some of my personal stories . . .

A Person: Yes, thank you for sharing, but really this conversation is about—

B Person: Are you saying you don’t care about Group B? This is the problem! Group B . . . Group B . . . More personal stories . . .

You get the point. This happens so much and it makes me want to scream. I get it, but it still makes me want to scream.

The fact is that if we’re going to be good allies to each other, we have to be good allies to each other. We have to wear our many intersectional hats. While our identities can never be separated, the roles we play sometimes should be.

Sometimes, I’m in the space as a black woman and I’m talking about issues relating to people of color or women or specifically black women. And I don’t need to have vital discussion of those issues derailed by white people or men or other women of color. If that is my space for discussion, then I get to have that space.

Likewise, there are times when trans folks or queer folks or disabled folks, or any identity/identities that don’t include me, is conducting vital discussion in a space. And as an ally, it’s my job to put on my ally hat and shut my beautiful intersectional mouth. I listen, I learn, and I only speak up to signal boost. I don’t bring up my issues because that conversation isn’t about or for me. My intersectionality tells me to STFU.

Does that mean I never get to speak? No. I get my space. And if one of my identities gets mentioned in this other space in a way that seems less than aware, I can certainly offer correction. But I do that later. I do that in a separate conversation. Because I recognize the importance of respecting the focus of the discussion, the purpose of the space at that moment. I realize that space isn’t about or for me, and I respect the space by not seeking to derail the conversation with my own concerns.

This is difficult, I know. We all want to be front and center. We all want our issues to receive primary attention. But if we’re all scrambling for the spotlight, then no one will get seen or heard. We have to share the space. We have to enact our primary school lessons and take turns. I respect your space, secure in the knowledge that when it’s time, you will respect mine.

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“Silence” by Giulia van Pelt via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Why Your Space ≠ My Space

I’ve recently blogged about the emotional necessity of exclusive space for marginalized communities. Now, I want to take up that thread again and talk about why and how the need for exclusive space is not the same for people with power and privilege.

(For the tl;dr version, you can check out this Twitter thread.)

I recently came across this tweet from Trump and Majestic Marisol’s pithy response:

Blackish Trump

And I got to thinking about all the times that folks full of power and privilege have bemoaned the few safe spaces reserved for people lacking in that power and privilege. It’s almost a guarantee that the minute an LGBTQ person calls for safe space away from heteronormativity or a disabled person calls for safe space away from ableism, etc., someone from the privileged group is going to cry foul. You know, “reverse discrimination” and other mythical phenomena like that.

It always comes down to the same silly question: Why is it you can have this space without me and I can’t have space without you? Aren’t you just being racist, heterophobic, disable-ist, sexist, etc.?

The answer to this question is, of course, no.

As I mentioned in my last post on exclusive spaces, those spaces for marginalized communities is a matter of survival. It’s about physical, emotional, and mental safety. It’s about having a place to be, without fear of reprisal that could result in lasting harm. It’s about coping with a world that begrudges your right to be alive.

That is not the case for people with power and privilege when they set up their exclusive spaces.For those with power and privilege, these spaces are about far more than survival. They are about ruling.

When the Trumps of the world gather in exclusivity, when they pool all that power and privilege into one exclusive space, they end up with real, quantifiable and qualifiable advantage over everyone else in society.

EXCLUSIVE SPACE + POWER/PRIVILEGE = EXCLUSIVE ADVANTAGE

Exclusive space for whites, men, the cisgendered, the heterosexual, the able-bodied, etc. results in sites of power where decisions are made and business conducted that reach far beyond the location of that space. Stuff goes down in those exclusive spaces that affect all of us: business deals finalized, societies reformed, political alliances cemented. The problem with the KKK or all-white, all-male country clubs, or anything else like it, is not that those sites are exclusive. The problem isn’t even necessarily that those spaces are bigoted or rooted in hate. The problem is that those spaces are exclusive, bigoted, and exist as sites of power over the entirety of society. Long-lasting and far-reaching societal actions begin and end in those exclusive sites of power.

That kind of power and privilege simply does not exist in exclusive spaces for the marginalized. So to make the comparison between white-only spaces and POC-only spaces, between cis-only spaces and trans-only spaces, between middle- and upper-class-only spaces and poor-only spaces is to make a false comparison.

When it comes to exclusive spaces, context is everything.

 

DO THE WORK!!! #libleadgender Chat March 9

I’m moderating the next #libleadgender Twitter chat on Wednesday, March 9 at 8pm EST/7pm CST/5pm PST.

The topic is “DO THE WORK!!!” on building inclusivity in our workspaces and broader communities.

If you need something to read beforehand, check out my piece “A Cure for the Common Whiteness.”

Here are some questions to get us going:

  1. For you, what does it mean to DO THE WORK? How do you build inclusivity in your space?
  2. How do you encourage others to DO THE WORK in their spaces?
  3. Self-care is important. What do you do to prevent burn-out when DOING THE WORK?
  4. You need support to DO THE WORK. How do you build a good support network?
  5. Some folks don’t ever want to DO THE WORK. How do you navigate with/around them?

Feel free to suggest other questions and readings in the comments below or to me on Twitter.

See you on Wednesday, March 9!

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Here’s the Storify of the chat. Great discussion!

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IAMBRIANNATEREZ.TUMBLR.COM via Giphy

 

Decolonizing Social Justice Work

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the whole false dichotomy of theory vs practice and the divide it seems to have spurred among those who do social justice work in libraryland and beyond. While I wasn’t there, I hear Dave Hudson gave a great keynote about this at the Critical Librarianship and Pedagogy Symposium last week. Judging from the response on Twitter and the community notes, this discussion really got people thinking about and reframing things they’d already been mulling over. I call that a win.

But through it all there was still something about the discussion that was missing. I agree that theory is practice and that any attempt to distinguish between the two is setting up false camps. I also agree that lived experience is a form of intellectualism and theorizing. And I’m totally there for the idea that calls for plain language and practicality can be used to further erase the intellectual work happening in marginalized communities. There is nothing about that with which I disagree.

What has been bothering me—and truthfully, this has been bothering me for months now since the #whyicritlib meta-discussion Kevin Seeber hosted a few months ago—is that the discussion has gotten conflated and simplified such that the real issues are being hidden by straw men arguments. Essentially, exactly the stuff that Dave Hudson wisely warns us against doing.

We’ve been framing the debate as theory vs practice or lived experience vs theory, but for those of us who critique critical theoretical work from within, we’re talking about something much more nuanced. We’re not saying theory has no place or lived experience can’t be theoretical. What we are saying is that much of the theory we see and hear from our colleagues remains largely colonized, that is, it is largely white, male, Western, cis-het, Judeo-Christian.

When we call for more value for lived experience and “practicality” or “plain language,” what we’re really calling for is more value for the theoretical work coming from the margins. We want to hear a bit less from the scholar in the ivory tower and a bit more from the scholar on the street. A bit less of “traditional” ways of knowing and a bit more from “alternative” ways of knowing. Community knowledge. Mother knowledge. Tribal knowledge, so to speak. Maybe less Foucault and more hooks or Davis or Hill Collins (all of whom, wonderfully enough, combine ivory tower scholarship with alternative ways of knowing in beautiful and empowering ways).

So when I decide to forgo talk of panopticism and instead talk about how my black parents, grandparents, and extended family taught me that “the Man is always watching us,” it’s okay. I’m not dumbing down the theory. I’m not even changing it. But I’m bringing intellectualism from a different quarter, speaking it in a different language.

I think, moving forward, it would help if we refrain from speaking of this tension as theory vs practice and acknowledge it for what it really is or should be: a call to decolonize our social justice work. We want to step away from the white, male, Western mainstream and gather intellectual work from the margins. We want to feel comfortable citing examples from Grandmama and Miss Peachy down the street, even as others cite wisdom from Althusser or Marx.

I’ve been watching a talk given by Dr. Spencer Lilly at the University of British Columbia during his stay from New Zealand. In it, Dr. Lilly talks about what it means to decolonize “as a long-term process” that goes beyond mere governmental transfer of power to the “cultural, linguistic and psychological divesting of colonial power.” (Lilly, 2015, quoting L. Tuhiwai Smith, 2012).

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Screenshot of slide from Dr. Spencer Lilly’s “Decolonize or Indigenize?” presentation at UBC

This is what I’m talking about. Let’s divest colonial, dominant power from the cultural, linguistic, and psychological realms of our critical work. Let’s open up what it means to be mainstream and capture the intellectualism happening at the margins. And let’s do this work openly and honestly, without the use of false dichotomies.