On Antifa and Social Justice Struggle

The anti-fascist resistance groups that have been fighting the public displays of hate and oppression of white supremacists and other Trumpsters have been declared “domestic terrorists.” Apparently, some of their tactics have involved violence. I don’t know, I haven’t been keeping tabs on all their actions. But I have seen all the finger-wagging hot-take think pieces from both sides of the political divide.

And to be quite honest, I just don’t care.

I don’t care what or how Antifa is fighting oppression. I’m more interested in the age-old narrative emerging here in which the oppressed are only allowed to fight oppression in ways deemed acceptable by the oppressor. This is a tone-policing tale as old as time.

When Nat Turner led one of the largest American slave rebellions in the early 1800s, both slaveholders and so-called abolitionist allies alike decried his use of violent “terrorizing” tactics. It got people seriously thinking about how to end slavery, though. The Black Panther Party, which instituted the free breakfast program for kids and fought against police brutality (yeah, how are we doing with that nowadays?), was deemed by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to be “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” Today, Black Lives Matter is constantly undergoing similar scrutiny; and it constitutes an explicitly peaceful movement, despite the oppressor’s determination to characterize it as otherwise.

That’s the thing, though: it really isn’t about whether there’s violence or not. Even peaceful movements get denigrated as divisive and dangerous. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was jailed how many times for his peaceful, nonviolent interventions? How long has it been since Colin Kaepernick has been out of a job because he took a knee during the national anthem to protest police violence against black people?

Here’s the real deal: the same folks who decry the violent acts of Antifa were the exact same people calling for us to uphold the First Amendment free speech rights of the white supremacists marching on Charlottesville. White supremacists who plowed a car into the crowd of anti-racist counter-protestors, killing a woman and injuring many.White supremacists who waved guns and shouted violent epithets at these same counter-protestors. As I’ve said before, free speech only applies to certain folks.

So, you’ll excuse me if I refuse to care about what Antifa has or hasn’t done. You’ll excuse me if I choose to take those finger-wagging hot-take think pieces by so-called liberal allies and toss them right into the rubbish bin. Because I know what they’re really saying.

Violence against oppression is just as bad as violence within oppression.

Translation: I’m all for anti-oppressive praxis as long as it leaves my privileged comfort bubble intact.

Thing is, fighting oppression is messy. It’s not always going to be done right or peacefully or with perfect grace. And that’s okay. It’s still vitally worth doing. As Frederick Douglass has been done told us all:

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

“West India Emancipation” speech (1857)

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Grit? Git!

I’ve been thinking a lot about resilience lately.

Angela Galvan, Jacob Berg, and Eamon Tewell gave a fantastic presentation on the myth of resilience and grit in academic libraries at the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) conference in Baltimore earlier this year. While I wasn’t able to attend because (of course) the conference gods had scheduled one of my panels at the same time, afterward, I dove into their presentation, handout, and the related tweets with gusto. I sincerely hope Angela, Jacob, and Eamon take their work further because it’s really important stuff. They talk about how the myth of resilience reifies oppression and maintains the status quo. How grit is an excuse for the haves to continue having and the have-nots to continue without.

Now, the ACRL President’s Program is planning a program on “resilience (hopefully) in all its complexity” for the American Library Association (ALA) Annual meeting next year. They’ve asked for people to share (for free) their ideas about resilience so that the speakers (not yet identified) can use those ideas as the basis for their talks (likely without attribution as the originating comments are to be anonymized). In other words, ACRL wants us to show resilience by pouring out our gritty souls as fuel for what promises to be an interesting program.

Yesterday at the Untold Histories unconference, I sat in on a session about creating a diversity pipeline for the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) professions. We’d hardly gotten settled in our seats when the conversation quickly turned to the abysmally low pay commonly found in our professions, even when they require graduate-level degrees. As one participant put it, “I feel a little guilty encouraging people from underrepresented groups to enter this profession when I know they’re going to be paid so little for so much work.” In other words, they’ll be expected to spend the rest of their professional lives wallowing in grit and resilience.

All of this thinking has made me reach a conclusion: Our profession’s obsession with resilience plays a huge part in destroying our attempts at increasing diversity. I am convinced that a big reason why we’re still 87% white is because we are obsessed with grit. Grit keeps our libraries underfunded, our staff underpaid, our work undervalued. We wear our grit like medals of honor when it’s that same grit that keeps us mired in the status quo.

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“Grit” by Al Greer via Flickr.com, CC BY-NC 2.0

Grit is the magical fairy dust that makes “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” physically possible. Normally, that phrase, so common among those with privilege, is nonsensical. (No, really, it can’t be done.) But when you sprinkle on a bit of grit, all of a sudden, the hapless pickaninny floats up from his place in the dust and accomplishes the incredible. All without touching the much-protected privilege of the master in power. Resilience absolves those with privilege of the responsibility for dismantling oppression and erecting systems of equity. Resilience is the wheel that keeps the myth of meritocracy grinding.

And we, in the library, profession love it. We’re obsessed with it. We love our tales of the library staff who kept the place open after-hours, without pay, for the sake of the community. The library folks who continued to provide the same level of services even when their budgets had been slashed in half. We proudly share our job postings calling for a library unicorn with an MLIS, a second masters, and the ability to do the job of five people while being paid the salary of three-fifths of a person (that age-old fraction always at play). We shove our graduate students into unpaid internships where they pay tuition for the pleasure of handing out their free labor, and we tout their resilience for the sake of gaining “valuable” experience. We love grit.

And we are steadily choking to death on it.

If we truly want to diversify our profession, we MUST give up our obsession with resilience. We must give up our never-ending dreams of grit. As Angela, Jacob, and Eamon note in their work, we have to accept the possibility of failure. Services may (will) be cut. Libraries may (will) close. It’s tragic. But it’s happening anyway, even with our grit. We can’t continue to try to make do with nothing. Our resilience is doing us no favors. It isn’t the life raft sent to save us; it’s just extra weight dragging us down.

Let’s give up resilience and grit and follow in the steps of Christina Bell, that beautiful creature:

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Screenshot of tweet by @librarybell

Reflections: Untold Histories Unconference 2016

Hello, everyone! I’m baaaaack! I’ve had a really great month off and am ready to jump back into the swing of things with you all.

Next week is the 2017 Untold Histories Unconference at Rutgers University-Newark, a public history gathering of historians, archivists, librarians, community members, and more. I attended the unconference last year and had a really great time. This year I was honored to be asked to serve on their planning committee. The event is scheduled for Thursday, May 11 from 9am to 4pm and registration is still open.

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Banner image from untoldhistories.wordpress.com

At last year’s unconference, I proposed a session on walking the fine line between providing access to a community’s materials and exploiting that community for their material. It was a hugely popular session; the room was packed and we didn’t really get to finish the conversation. With this in mind, I’ve proposed the session again for this year in the hopes of keeping the conversation going.

Here are my notes and reflections from last year’s session. If you’re in the New York/New Jersey area, I hope you join us on May 11!


Break out session on fine line between providing access to a community’s material and exploiting that community. How do we help document these stories without exploiting them, especially stories that are not our own? Much of this conversation spilled over into the following session on archives for Black Lives. We essentially were teasing out the ways to tell stories without changing them.

A lot of great discussion about transparency of intention, open collaboration. Being open and honest about your motivations as researcher/archivist as you enter a community. Learn the language, be ready to codeswitch. Allow members of the community to tell their stories in their way.

Feminist methodology comes into play here with emphasis on transparency and collaboration. Allowing flexibility in entering community and working with them. Letting community share in power and authority over project. It takes time to build trust in a community. Your timeline and priorities may not work. Remember it’s not about the project but the people.

The focus on power is key: both the power you bring to the community in the form of your project as well as the power dynamics that exist within the community. Remember this can take a ton of time. Flexibility is especially salient when having to navigate the local hierarchies, power dynamics, and internal systems of oppression.

Also cast critical eye to the role you are playing in the project, the effect you have on the community. Examine the assumptions you enter with, the ways in which you become part of the work. You aren’t an objective, distant gaze. You are a part of the telling of the story.

Finally, remember to approach work with an intersectional view. People possess multiple interconnected the titles and they will interact with different communities in different ways.

We had such a rich discussion. I particularly loved the connections made because they resonated not just on a professional level but also on a personal level. A couple of the public historians in the room talked about research they’ve done and are doing with Black Seminoles in Florida and the Gullah and Geechee people of the Carolinas, groups which make up the bulk of my ancestry. Hearing about their work and being able to see my people’s stories in it was incredibly moving.

Ultimately, in engaging in this conversation we reached an important realization: These aren’t really “untold histories”; they’re just unheard histories. The histories are being told even if we don’t hear them in the mainstream.

 

Just Make Stuff Accessible

I’m sure many of you have heard by now about UC Berkeley’s decision to remove tons of otherwise publicly available content because the Department of Justice recently found that its content did not meet minimum accessibility standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This very unadulterated ableist move on the part of UC Berkeley has been accompanied by equally unadulterated ableist responses:

Ugh. When the law requires you to delete a bunch of content from the public view just because a few people can’t access it, then the law must be pretty harsh, don’t you think?

This decision is rash and ridiculous. Also, the DOJ ruling is rash and ridiculous. Now, no one gets to access the content.

The ADA requirements are clearly too rigorous when even a place like UC Berkeley finds it too burdensome to comply.

Let me make something clear: UC Berkeley knew all along what it had to do to meet the requirements of the ADA. Anyone who creates online content knows about the section 508 ADA requirements and the more inclusive W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Transcripts for audio material. Decent closed captions for video material (no, the YouTube auto-captions aren’t sufficient; they suck). If you provide public web content and don’t know about these guidelines then you are doing it wrong. It’s like saying you specialize in providing web video content but then not knowing how to turn on a webcam. Nope.

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“Access” by Sarah Stewart, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

What I’m saying is this: UC Berkeley knew better. It just chose to ignore the law anyway. And now that it has been caught in its disregard for the protection of people with disabilities it has chosen to take the petulant toddler approach: if I can’t do it my own ableist way, then no one can play.

It is not the law that makes UC Berkeley’s compliance obligations overly burdensome. It is the fact that UC Berkeley has spent so much time producing content in blatant disregard of the law that now makes compliance so burdensome. Essentially, they’ve been ignoring the law for so long, that it will now cost them a lot of time and money to make things right. That’s not the law’s fault; that’s on them.

And what’s worse is I know for a fact that UC Berkeley is far from being the only institution out there in this situation. They may have been the speeding car that got pulled over by the cops, but they are far from the only or even most egregious offender. I’m certain there are other institutions out there that are blissfully ignoring ADA requirements, and the warnings of conscientious employees, in the hopes of never being called to task. I can only hope that those organizations take what is happening at Berkeley as a clear warning. And I applaud the National Association of the Deaf for pushing back on these forms of lazy ableism.

The fact is that ADA requirements actually fall way short of providing people with disabilities with adequate access to materials. So complying with those rules is, quite literally, the very least that an organization can do.

Let’s do better.

Opening Up the Margins

This is the amalgamated text from three talks I gave at the University of Kansas, Crossref LIVE 2016, and Bucknell University. Feel free to check out my slides and bibliography.

I’m delighted to be here. Last week was International Open Access week with the theme “Open in Action.” Often when we talk about the way openness functions “in action,” we tend to focus on the ways in which openness enables good scholarship—at least, our conception of good scholarship—to get into the hands of those outside of our privileged ivory towers of academia. We talk about getting “good” scholarship into the hands of people in the developing world, independent researchers with no institutional homes, non-academic researchers without access to institutional collections, or researchers working in institutions lacking the resources to subscribe to the top publications in their field.

As Sarah Crissinger (2015) notes in her article “A Critical Take on OER Practices: Interrogating Commercialization, Colonialism, and Content,” we often view openness in a paternalistic, sacred savior kind of way; openness is the great blessing from on high in the global and academic north to the global and academic south, spreading worthwhile knowledge to those poor marginalized souls who must otherwise do without.

I want to challenge that conceptualization of open. I want to flip the script, so to speak, on how we view open; rather than looking at it as a means of getting mainstream scholarship out to the margins, instead I want us to see it as a way of getting scholarship from marginalized communities into our mainstream discourse.

There is a wealth of experiences, knowledge, and perspectives that is largely unseen and unheard in mainstream scholarship. Indeed, scholarly communication and academic discourse largely reflect the systemic biases we find in broader society. With open access, however, voices at the margins are able to come toward the center, toward the mainstream. As Nicole Brown et al. (2016) acknowledge in their article on black feminism and digital humanities,  this type of scholarship is about “opening up spaces that can empower and amplify the voices/narratives of the marginalized” (p. 113).

In a very fundamental way, openness truly allows scholarship to exist as a conversation, inviting marginalized voices to join into the discourse. As a librarian, I am particularly interested in this function of openness as one of my national organizations, the Association of College and Research Libraries (2016), has recently adopted “Scholarship as Conversation” as one of the foundational threshold concepts for information literacy in higher education. We’re encouraged to teach our students that the scholarly record is built through an iterative process and that so-called “experts understand that a given issue may be characterized by several competing perspectives as part of an ongoing conversation in which information users and creators come together and negotiate meaning” (ACRL, 2016).

This may be the aspirational goal of those of us engaged in teaching information literacy, but it is far from the nature of traditional scholarship today. Our traditional mode of scholarly communication—with a limited selection of materials on a limited selection of topics published by a limited selection of gatekeepers and housed behind paywalls accessible only to a limited selection of researchers and users—this mode of scholarly communication constitutes a closed conversation at best, an extended monologue at worst. It is not the “scholarship as conversation” that we envision when we talk aspirationally about the function of scholarly discourse. It is not discourse at all.

Openness, however, allows for scholarship to take place as a real conversation, a conversation that is not only open in access but also open in scope of ideas and topics, open in participation, open in terms of the voices represented, including those voices that normally get relegated to the margins. Open scholarship demands that scholarly discourse be more than an echo chamber, in which the same articles and ideas get cited and recited among the same small group of researchers. Open scholarship allows for previously silenced voices and discussions to be heard.

In a primary way, this means opening up the research process beyond the realm of the final research output or product. In other words, going beyond the Western mode of knowledge creation that must always result in a written, published book or article, to different, decolonized ways of thinking and knowing, ways that involve collaboration, self-reflection, slow, purposeful methodology and theorizing. In their article, “For Slow Scholarship,” Alison Mountz et al. (2015) provide an interesting reflection on slow, conversational scholarship that goes beyond the current “counting culture” of our neoliberal universities (p. 1244).

When it comes to this attempt to shift focus from the research product to the overall research process through openness, I find the work of the Center for Open Science (2016) with its Open Science Framework particularly encouraging. OSF is a completely free and open source tool that allows researchers from all over the world to integrate and publish every aspect of their iterative research process, from initial brainstorming of ideas to failed data sets to, yes, even the final published article. Billed as “a scholarly commons to connect the entire research cycle,” it allows research work that might not otherwise be seen see the light of day. It helps to bring that marginalized research out of the margins and allows for the conversation of scholarship to take place throughout the research process.

Another way in which openness brings marginalized voices into the conversation of scholarship is by opening scholarly discourse up beyond the researcher. Essentially, open scholarship helps us to disrupt the town versus gown divide and bring voices from outside the ivory tower into our scholarly discourse. Too often non-academics are seen as not also being intellectuals and are not included in scholarly communication except as subjects of study. With the principles of openness, we can bring more marginalized voices from outside of academia into our scholarly conversations and thereby benefit from their direct knowledge and experience. With openness, we can take the conversation of scholarship beyond the researcher to incorporate the voices of the researched.

For example, at the Gender and Sexuality in Information Science Colloquium at Simon Fraser in Vancouver earlier this year, archivist Jen LaBarbera (2016) talked about her work with the Lambda Archives of San Diego, a community archive of LGBTQ history developed specifically for use by local activists. LaBarbera explained how the archives provide activists with a space to connect directly with the historical struggle of their community and to connect that history, through the use of physical primary materials, to the work that they are doing today. As a community archive, the Lambda collection goes beyond warehousing artifacts for outside academic study and exist to be used directly by those working within the communities that originally created these materials.

LaBarbera’s work ties closely with shifts in archival theory pushing for more “post-custodial” approaches to the collection and maintenance of research collections. Punzalan and Caswell (2016) describe this reinterpretation of archival concepts as a shift in the ways information professionals deal with the issue of provenance:

[In the archival world], provenance has been recast as a dynamic concept that includes not only the initial creators of the records, who might be agents of a dominant colonial or oppressive institution, but more importantly the subjects of the records themselves, the archivists who processed those records, and the various instantiations of their interpretation and use by researchers. (p. 29)

Thus, among information professionals, the conversation of scholarship surrounding primary source material is being opened to include not only the voices of the researcher, but the perspectives of the community creators and even the material curators. I argue that this same shift in approach should also be taking place in broader scholarly discourse.

Indeed, in some cases, it already is. I’m thinking particularly of the work of Michelle Fine, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Urban Education and Women’s Studies at CUNY. Fine is an advisor for the Public Science Project, an initiative that equips and empowers marginalized communities to conduct research on issues directly affecting their lives (Public Science Project, n.d.). The Project operates under “a belief that those most intimately impacted by research should take the lead in shaping research questions, framing interpretations, and designing meaningful products and actions.” For one of her most recent projects, Fine has been collaborating with groups of urban LGBTQ youth of color to develop and administer a nationwide survey of the issues of most salience to their lives. As data come in, the youth will fully own and determine the outcome of the study. This work, though it is taking place on the streets of the Bronx, Harlem, and West Philadelphia, is also part of our scholarly record and an important contribution to scholarly discourse. The principles of openness make this kind of marginalized inclusion possible, regardless of how these youth eventually choose to use their data.

One other way in which openness allows us to broaden further the conversation of our scholarship is by opening up the discourse for discussions of failure. When it comes to scholarly communication, failure is one of those areas that forever remain hushed in the dark, and yet, there is much we can learn from work that has been marginalized because it has not produced the desired, or even expected, results. Because much of our research and knowledge is locked away in Western, colonized ideals—ideals that favor the solitary and successful scholarly genius—little if any place is made for work that could be considered a “failure.” Instead, that work is hidden away, and not expected to enter the realm of scholarly discourse, via publication, unless or until it produces viable and successful results.

However, in a more collaborative paradigm of knowledge production—one that values the slow, iterative nature of research, one that is decolonized and moves beyond the white Western ideal—so-called failure is welcome as part of the research process. Failed research is simply one step in the big collaborative effort made toward finding a particular answer for a particular time to a particular problem. And this conception of the very nature of research, as unfixed and subject to context rather than as a quest for absolute answers, represents yet another way in which knowledge can and should be decolonized and de-Westernized to allow for more marginalized perspectives. As Judith Halberstam (2011) notes in her book The Queer Art of Failure, “Under certain circumstances failing, losing, forgetting, unmaking, undoing, unbecoming, not knowing may in fact offer more creative, more cooperative, more surprising ways of being in the world” (p. 3). With openness, there is space for failure in a decolonized version of scholarship.

For this reason, the recent news from the Wellcome Trust that it would be creating a bold new publication platform is particularly exciting. Using services developed by F1000Research (2016), Wellcome’s new platform will allow researchers “to publish a wide variety of outputs from standard research articles and data sets, through to null and negative results” (p.1). Similar to the work being done by OSF, Wellcome’s new platform will allow scholarship to become more open throughout the various phases of the research process, including those phases that result in a dead end. In turn, this more open scholarly discourse will allow more diverse voices to participate in and contribute to the conversation surrounding research. As Wellcome’s Head of Digital Services, Robert Kiley, notes, “This model [of wholly open research publishing] will bring benefits to researchers and institutions, as well as to society more broadly” (p. 1). Indeed, with a more open research practice, society as a whole, particularly those marginalized members of society, can participate more fully in the research it supports.

With the principles of openness, we can convene a scholarly discourse that is more inclusive of those voices most often relegated to the outskirts by “traditional” methods of knowledge creation and dissemination. In her article, “Library publishing and diversity values,” Charlotte Roh encourages us to use openness as a way to “push back against these biased systems and support publications that might not otherwise have a voice” (p. 83). It’s important to note, however, that while openness helps us achieve this goal, it is not without its sources of critique. Open scholarship is still a part of our broader society and is still vulnerable to the biases and systemic power dynamics inherent in our broader society. As I mentioned in a talk at a Futures Initiative event at the CUNY Graduate Center earlier this year, “The truth is that not all open scholarship is treated equally . . . [S]ame as with locked-down, market-based scholarship, open scholarship can and does replicate some of the biases inherent in academia and our society as a whole” (Hathcock, 2016, February 8).

There are so many ways in which open access still reflects the biased systems of the scholarship in which it’s found, even as it can be used to open up scholarship at the margins. For example, in their research applying the principles of black feminist thought to digital humanities methodology, Nicole Brown et al (2016) discovered a marked discrepancy in the number of available texts relating to the black experience and culture. Specifically, of the more than 13 million texts housed in the HathiTrust corpora, less than 25,000 were classified under the subject heading “African-American.” That’s less than .002% of the texts in Hathi. Now, don’t get me wrong, HathiTrust is a great source of open access material and they have done wonders for developing the principles of openness in scholarship. But this discrepancy makes clear that even within the realm of openness, systemic marginalization continues to play a significant role.

For instance, during a recent Force11 Working Group meeting I attended, I heard from several colleagues throughout the global south, including Latin America, Egypt, and India, who described the ways in which the neoliberal and colonial scholarly communication of the global north has completely infected their systems of knowledge creation and dissemination (Hathcock, 2016, September 27). They are unable to get their work published, even in prominent open access journals, like the journals that form part of SciELO, a popular open access platform in Latin America, without providing sufficient citations to Western researchers or including Western researchers as contributing authors. Moreover, research topics of interest to the global north are much more likely to be published than topics of interest to these researchers’ own regions. In so many ways, their research ecosystem has been colonized by the global north. This colonization can also be seen in this map my colleague Juan Pablo Alperin (2011) created depicting the number of documents indexed in Web of Science based on country of origin. The African continent, the second largest in the world both geographically and in terms of population, is little more than a sliver. And South America looks very much the same. While open access helps open up some of these decolonized margins of scholarship, the discrepancy is still hugely problematic. This problem of marginalization isn’t just a matter of cost but of culture and colonial erasure.

Relatedly, in her research on archival documentation of LGBTQ history, Rebecka Sheffield (2016) describes the haphazard and serendipitous way in which early LGBTQ history has been collected and preserved, and even when done it is done almost exclusively by and among activist communities. Sheffield notes that much of what we know about LGBTQ history often begins with the Stonewall riots of 1969 because they constituted an event that was deemed of significant importance to the broader mainstream community. (The Stonewall riots took place over two days in June 1969 when NYC police attempted to “take over” Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. Bar patrons overpowered the police and resisted their attempts at violent abuse of power.) While we see Stonewall as the beginning of LGBTQ advocacy history, LGBTQ resistance to discrimination and struggle for liberation has in fact existed long before that.

Sheffield discusses the importance of scholars and information professionals working conscientiously to help steward and preserve these stories that run the risk of being lost at the margins. Rather than referring to them as “untold” or “silent” histories, she adopts Rabia Gibbs’s term “unexplored histories” to refer to these materials as works that have full existence and importance, even if they’ve largely been ignored by mainstream scholarship (Sheffield, 2016, pp. 573-74). Sheffield also highlights the importance of these histories being stewarded rather than owned or even necessarily collected by the mainstream (post-custodial). Citing Roderick Ferguson, Sheffield writes, “[J]ust because a university preserves unexplored history does not mean that it is ready to acknowledge or confront any of the structural inequalities that exist in order to create the conditions in which that history remains unexplored to begin with. Preservation of unexplored history cannot take place if systems of power are also preserved” (Sheffield, 2016, p. 580). This is why open community-based archives, such as the work of Jen LaBarbera and the Lambda Archives of San Diego, are so important.

Indeed, ethical considerations, such as self-representation and privacy, make it important that marginal communities be integrally involved in any attempts to open their work to broader scholarly discourse. I look, for instance, at the thought-provoking work of Tara Robertson (2016), librarian and activist, relating to one digital media provider’s decision to provide open access to a queer, feminist, porn publication. Earlier this year, the company Reveal Digital earlier this year published its collection of digitized copies of On Our Backs, a print queer, feminist porn magazine that ran from the early 80s to the early 2000s. The digitized collection is part of Reveal’s Independent Voices collection, which “chronicles the transformative decades of the 60s, 70s, and 80s through the lens of an independent alternative press” (Reveal Digital, n.d.). While Reveal took the time to secure copyright permissions from the publishers and got the publishers’ consent to mark the work with a Creative Commons license for public reuse, Reveal did not contact or in any way consult with the people represented in these sexually explicit images. For those who provided releases to the original publishers for use of their images, the releases did not go beyond the limited print run of the original publication and in no way address the issue of future digitization or open access publication. Because of concerns raised by Robertson, myself, and many others in the information and LGBTQ community, Reveal has since closed off the collection from public view and is now taking steps to consult with a group of stakeholders, including some of the former models from the publication.

This example of On Our Backs points to one of the truths behind opening up the margins: What is legal is not always ethical when deciding to provide open access to the works of marginalized communities. That is why it is essential to engage community involvement and agency in any decisions to open marginalized content to scholarly discourse. In their presentation at the Gender and Sexuality in Information Sciences Colloquium, Michelle Caswell, Alda Allina Migoni, and Noah Geraci (2016) discussed the importance of community ownership and custodianship of marginalized archival collections as a means of building “representational belonging” in the face of “symbolic annihilation.” To truly open up the margins in a meaningful way, marginalized material must be brought into scholarly conversation through methods free from colonization and exploitation. The only way this can be done is through empowering involvement from members of those marginalized communities.

Another great example of this work happening is with Mukurtu (mukurtu.org) and Local Contexts (localcontexts.org). Mukurtu is an open platform for sharing digitized cultural history from indigenous communities and Local Contexts provides traditional knowledge labels that can be added to these objects to provide appropriate levels of openness and access. Both operate on the principle of empowering indigenous communities both to own and control access to their cultural items, based on a post-custodial model of archival practice.

Ultimately, if we wish to empower the involvement of marginalized communities in scholarly discourse, and we should, then we’ve got to diversify the current gatekeepers to the scholarly record. Even in the realm of open scholarship, there are gatekeepers, in the form of faculty hiring, tenure, and promotion committees, reviewers, publishers, librarians and other information professionals. We need more diverse perspectives among scholars doing the actual labor of research and writing; we need more diverse perspectives among reviewers who determine what scholarship is worthy of publication and what is not; we need more diverse perspectives among publishers packaging this research and making it available; and finally we need more diverse perspectives among librarians who are organizing and curating this material and making it discoverable to researchers. When I say we need more diverse perspectives, I quite simply mean we need more diverse people and we need more inclusive institutions to ensure the success and well-being of those people.

We need to incorporate more diverse voices in order to break out of this echo chamber of scholarship that we currently find ourselves in. Within the university setting, at my institution NYU, and at colleges and universities across the U.S. and to some extent here in the U.K., students are demanding more diverse faculty, more diverse university administration, and more diverse curricula for their learning. They are demanding that marginalized perspectives be more fully included in the scholarly discourse they are learning and in which they are participating. Open access helps us do this, but it is only a tool in the right direction and does not operate in a vacuum. Opening up the margins requires intentional, focused work to bring marginalized voices and perspectives into the scholarly conversation.  As Charlotte Roh (2016) writes, “[OA] allows new voices to find their way into the disciplinary conversations, reach new audiences, both academic and public, and impact existing and emerging fields of scholarship and practice in a transformative way” (p. 83).

Let’s continue to harness the power of openness and build more inclusive scholarly discourse that leaves no voices in the margins.

Thank you.

Welcome to Reality, Friends

In the U.S., we’re getting ready to elect a new president. Neither of the major party choices is great, but one is of particular heinousness this year. A lot of people have been talking about him and his heinousness, but honestly, his heinousness is not what I’m sick and tired of.

I’m sick and tired of all the well-meaning people of privilege who have all of a sudden woken up to find that oppression exists.

It feels like I’ve been surrounded by people—so-called “woke” people—who just can’t get over how appalling this candidate and his supporters are. They are traumatized and scandalized and flabbergasterized. And all I can think is

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Me, being so not impressed by your ignorant bliss

People who have lived with oppression are not surprised. We’re not flabbergasted or shocked or amazed. WE HAVE BEEN LIVING THIS AND TALKING ABOUT IT ALL ALONG. This candidate and his heinous views and words and actions are nothing new. His followers did not spring out of his head like the Gorgons’ snakes. They have always existed. They have always hated. We have always experienced—physically, mentally, emotionally—their hatred. It has hurt us. It has killed us. It still does.

If you are surprised by what’s going on in the U.S. right now, then you have been immensely privileged. You still are. You’ve been able to live in a bubble of blissful ignorance, even as many of you claim to be fully committed to the struggle as allies. You thought you were woke. You’ve been fast asleep.

This candidate’s rise to power and influence is not an anomaly. He is the natural product of the system of oppression under which those of us from marginalized identities have always lived. Welcome to reality, friends.

So now that you’re joining us in the land of the aware, what do you do? Wring your hands in despair? Cry about how awful the world “has become”? (Like it hasn’t always been this way for, like, ever.) Pester your friends from marginalized communities over and over about how they’re dealing with all this? (Same as we’ve been dealing with it for, like, ever.)

No.

Now, you fight. If you live in privilege, then this is your mess. You need to clean it up. You need to realize that it’s always been what it is, that you are, in fact, late to the game. You need to catch up and you need to get moving. Get over your shock and get to work.

I live in New York City, so bear with my little analogy here:

It’s like you wake up one evening and turn on the light to find a giant cockroach with bad hair and a fake tan in the middle of the floor. And you scream and holler and cry about how awful the giant cockroach is. And then you notice other cockroaches surrounding and supporting the giant cockroach and being just as awful. And you think, Oh noes! When did my apartment start being a place for horrible cockroaches full of hate?

Little do you realize that your apartment has always been full of cockroaches. In fact, your neighbor on the margins has known all about them. It’s dark on the margins and your neighbor has been covered in cockroaches the whole time. But you just didn’t see them. You had your lights out or you weren’t paying attention or whatever. All this time you thought you were committed to anti-cockroach praxis. But they’ve been there. They’ve always been there. They were there when you moved in and they’ll likely be there when you leave.

Unless you step up. But that means being proactive in combating the oppression of the horrible cockroaches all the time. Not just when your lights are on. Not just when you see the cockroach. All. The. Time. You gotta be putting out those traps and spraying that Raid. It’s a full-time job.

Let’s get over our privileged shock and despair and get to work, shall we? We’ve got some oppression we need to exterminate.

 

N.B. No cockroaches were harmed in the writing of this post. Also, I apologize to cockroaches everywhere for comparing them to a “basket of deplorables.”

 

When You’ve Got Privilege, You Don’t Need Pride

It’s summer time and Pride celebrations are going on all over the world. Last week, I was in Portugal on vacation and saw the posters and other festive remnants from their celebrations.

Unfortunately, just as Pride comes every year, so too do the swarms of cis-het folks claiming they want to celebrate their so-called “heterosexual pride” or “cisgender pride.” People with privilege who can’t stand to see marginalized groups band together in celebration of their right to simply be alive. (Which, after the devastating tragedy at Pulse earlier this month, is a big f–king deal.)

What these people fail to realize is that when you have privilege, you don’t need pride.

I’ve alluded to this a little in my pieces on exclusive spaces. When it comes to celebrating identity, as with everything, context is key. Folks from marginalized identity need their pride celebrations as a means of resisting the mental and physical violence of an oppressive society that tells them they have no right to exist.

LGBTQ Pride is about fighting a queer-phobic and trans-phobic society that says that LGBTQ folks have no right to live their lives. A society that insists that they do not matter and are not worth protecting. This society already values the lives of cis-het people; we have that privilege of knowing that society privileges us and centers us in subtle and very not subtle ways.

So we don’t need pride.

We can use restrooms safely and securely without running the risk of someone hurling verbal or even physical abuse against us for stepping outside their construct of gender identity.

We can love whom we want and marry whom we want without running the risk of someone refusing to provide us service or care because of their false conceptions of religious convictions.

We can go to nightclubs with out friends and have a good time and come home safely without fear that we’ll suffer physical violence or worse because of our gender expression or sexual practices.

We don’t need pride. We have privilege.

Just as white people don’t need race pride. Middle class people don’t need class pride. People with a full range of mental and physical abilities don’t need ability pride.

Pride is for those who are oppressed and marginalized by society. Those who do not have privilege. But if you’ve got privilege, if you’ve got the stamp of approval and value from society, then you most certainly don’t need pride.

 

Context is Everything

I’m sitting at my desk during an unexpected moment of free time (a meeting got cancelled) and reading Maura Seale’s excellent “Compliant Trust: The Public Good and Democracy in the ‘ALA’s Core Values of Librarianship'” when I come across this paragraph about the myth of library neutrality, using the Ferguson Public Library during late 2014 as an apt example:

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To be honest, I stopped there. I still haven’t finished reading Maura’s amazing article, though I fully intend to. This paragraph, and the broad set-up of Maura’s argument, unleashed a host of feelings and thoughts that have been bubbling within me for a while now.

It’s about the vitally huge importance of socio-political context.

Context wraps around everything we do. EVERYTHING. And by “we,” I mean, us human beings here on planet Earth. Not just librarians. Not just Americans. All of us. Context is everything.

I’ve said it before and others have said it before (here and here and oh look! here) and I’m sure we’ll all say it again: Neutrality does not exist. We live in a system of oppression. We LIVE a system of oppression. ← [No, I didn’t leave out the preposition there.] I said this in a recent talk I gave at the Association of College Libraries of Central Pennsylvania and again at Temple University (so, Pennsylvanians should really have it by now):

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 10.48.49 AM.pngRacism and other forms of oppression are like a river with a fast moving current. If you attempt to stand still in the form of so-called “neutrality” or “colorblindness,” you will quickly be swept away and become little more than debris in the mess. To make any kind of difference, you must actively fight against the current of oppression. Otherwise, you are just part of the problem.

Nothing about oppression is an accident. It’s all rooted in the broader context of systemic and structural oppression that goes beyond individual motivations and good intentions. In fact, good intentions mean precious little.

So, every single time a white man opens his mouth to say something to me or ask something of me, that experience is rooted in the history and socio-political context of slavery, Jim Crow, race and gender oppression. Even if we never mention race or racism, sex or sexism, it is there. It saturates the context. And it matters.

All of my encounters with white women are rooted in the context of racial oppression. Even if the encounters are pleasant. Even if we’re friends. It doesn’t matter. The context is everything.

Every time I open my mouth about my life as a woman, I am bringing in the context of gender identity politics that affects the lives of trans and non-binary people.

Every time I say anything about what I do, physically or mentally, I am implicating disability politics that touch the lives and experiences of people with disabilities.

Every time I even hint at general life or resources as a middle-class person, I am bringing class politics into the mix in a way that affects poor folks.

The list goes on.

This is something that can be so difficult for people to understand but is so vital to DOING THE WORK. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered folks who are so caught up in their innocent intentions that they fail to realize the broader contextual implications of what they’re asking for, saying, doing.

Let’s all do the world a favor and take a step back to observe the context around us. Let’s be mindful of how that context rests on the lives of others. And let’s do our work from that place of mindfulness.

Growing Awareness as a Trans and Genderqueer Ally

This past weekend, I spent time with the lovely folks at the Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies Colloquium. I had a great time sharing but more importantly learning, learning, learning. Being challenged. Doing some growing.

One of the themes that seemed to run throughout our time together was the importance of people of privilege taking up the gauntlet to do this work of awareness-raising and education. For me, particularly in the context of this specific gathering, it really resonated as a call to step up my game as an ally to trans and genderqueer people.

As a cisgender woman, there was a time when I was thoroughly confused by the distinction between sex and gender. I just couldn’t get with the idea of gender being a social construct and marked by fluidity. I’ve since come to a better understanding of what this means and figured I would share my thought journey as a way to help educate other cisgender folks who may be mired in lack of understanding. My hope is that my process can serve as a potential resource so that trans people aren’t forced to bear the emotional burden of fielding ignorant and insensitive questions from confused cis people.

Though I also want to note that our understanding as cis folks is really not the point in the grand scheme of things. The Struggle is real for trans and genderqueer people whether we understand or not.

So, think of sex as nothing more than a biological description. Sex organs are like kidneys or blood type. There’s no social meaning to kidneys or blood type. You can be A or B or AB or O, and it really doesn’t matter from a social standpoint. It only matters for medical type stuff.

Now imagine that a group of As and Bs, the dominant groups, randomly decide that A blood types would distinguish themselves by only wearing the color red and B blood types would only wear the color blue. Anyone who has an A blood type but really identifies more readily with the Bs or feels more comfortable wearing blue is ostracized and vice versa. The random clothing rules are strictly enforced.

And when the ABs ask, “What about us?” The answer is, “Just pick one. We don’t want to deal with your difference.” And when the Os ask, “Well, what about us?” The answer is, “You’re really different, and we hate that. Just pick A or B and dress accordingly. Now, go away.”

And for those who don’t identify with blue or red, regardless of their blood type, and simply want the freedom to wear purple or orange or chartreuse? Just forget about it.

That is gender. This random social construct created by folks in the dominant group. Now, there are complexities to this—for example, the As could be further dominant over the Bs, in an intersectional twist, devaluing their labor and only paying them 76 cents on the dollar among other things—but I’m going to keep it simplistic for now.

Let’s take it a step further. Imagine that in order to buy food, which is essential to everyone’s survival, people have to go to carefully marked shops according to their blood type. Red shops are only for people with A blood type wearing their requisite red. Blue shops for the B blood types in blue. No exceptions. If you aren’t following the color-coded, blood type rules, then you aren’t allowed to get food. There are no shops for A blood types identifying as Bs, Bs identifying as As, or anything for ABs or Os or anyone who does not identify with either blue or red. Those folks just have to starve or find food where they can.

This is the kind of situation trans and genderqueer folks face when restrooms are marked according to the male/female binary and strictly policed. Transphobic actions, attitudes, and laws–like HB 2 in North Carolina–are an affront to a person’s basic human and civil rights, much like denying food to people based solely on their blood type.

There is, of course, so much more to know and learn. Like I said, this analogy is simplistic. But hopefully, my thinking out loud can help other cis folks out there get started in doing this kind of background ally work. We really need to step up to help fight the injustices constantly committed against trans and genderqueer folks. Let’s do our part to be effective and informed advocates and allies.


A few recommended readings:

“My Gender is a Journey” by Eric Anthony Grollman

Anything by mx. b. binoahan

“Intersectionality and Bathroom Panic” by Chris Bourg

 

You’re Gonna Screw Up

Yesterday, I guest-hosted a session of #radlibchat on my article about whiteness in the library profession. It was a fabulous discussion.

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.

Fair warning: I’m going to say some encouraging things here. But I’m also going to share some hard truths. And it is vitally important that you absorb both if you’re serious about doing this work.

Another note: I’m going to focus on race work and the ways white allies get involved. But the fact is that all of this applies intersectionally, as well. I—as an ally to LGBTQ folks, to poor folks, to disabled folks, etc.—am learning and practicing these lessons.

Truth #1: You are gonna screw up. I guarantee it. No matter who you are, no matter how good your intentions, no matter how careful you are, YOU WILL MAKE A MISTAKE. YOU WILL MAKE MANY MISTAKES. It’s simply a given. You’re going to say the wrong thing and do the wrong thing and make some or many people of color very angry and disappointed and frustrated with you.

Truth #2: This is okay. Just breathe. It’s okay if you when you mess up. It’s okay if you when you anger the people to whom you are trying to be a good ally. This will happen and you will survive.

Truth #3: You will be hurt. No one likes having someone angry at them. Especially if they’re trying to do something good and right. When you screw up with the people of color around you, you will be very hurt when they get frustrated with you. You will feel defensive and sad and very, very hurt. This is also okay. Because you will be smart and go away to a safe place and share your #whitefeelings and shed your #whitetears with fellow white people who are also doing this work and who can mentor you in your process. You will not unburden your feelings on the people of color to whom you are allied. You will process your feelings in a separate space.

Truth #4: You will deserve this anger/hurt/frustration/wrath of the people of color you’ve offended. You messed up. You did something wrong. Even if you didn’t intend to. Even if you have no idea what you did. You did it, and they felt it. Just as your hurt feelings will be perfectly valid because they are yours and they are real, their frustration will be just as valid, just as much theirs, just as real. So even in the midst of your hurt and bewilderment, you will be careful not to dismiss the reality of the people you’ve offended. You will resist the urge to defend yourself, shut your mouth, and listen.

Truth #5: You will learn from your mistakes…if you are serious about this work. Many white people pretend to be serious about antiracism yet ghost the minute things get tough. (And they do get tough. See Truth #7.) But if you’re really serious about doing this work, you will take the initiative and learn from your mistakes. It is YOUR responsibility to learn what you did wrong and what you need to change. Maybe the people of color you offended will be willing to tell you. But don’t assume that is the case. This will be another great opportunity for you to connect with those fellow white folks who are mentoring you through your antiracist process. They can help guide you.

Truth #6: You will experience extraordinary joy and fulfillment. Race work is not easy. The history of racial oppression is ugly and the present is not much better. But the work we all do is vital to the future of our society, and despite whatever mistakes you may make, your contribution as an ally is absolutely crucial. Plus, you will learn and grow in ways you never dreamed possible. You will interact and bond with people whom you, in your lily white life to this point, never imagined. You will help to build a more just society, and you will never be the same because of it.

Truth #7: But as you can see, this work is not for the faint of heart. To borrow a scene from the Christian Bible: When Jesus gathered together the disciples, Jesus said (April paraphrase), “Hey, if you wanna be down, you have to take up your cross and follow me. This is NOT gonna be easy.” It’s the same for race work. In order to experience that growth and fulfillment, you’re going to have to get down and dirty. You are going to be challenged beyond what you think you can bear. You are going to have the comfy warmth of your white privilege and ignorance stripped away and laid bare in all its ugly truth. You’re going to be made really uncomfortable, and yes, you’re going to get your feelings hurt. (Remember Truth #3?)

So, knowing all this, are you still up for the challenge? I sincerely hope so. Because the Struggle is real out there and we need you.