Race Matters Unconference 2017

On Friday, March 10, my dear friend and colleague Davis Erin Anderson and I, along with a kick-ass group of committee members, hosted 75 library and information workers at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism for a series of conversations about race, racism, whiteness, white supremacy, and the library and information profession. It was a ton of work getting this event off the ground, and the irony was not lost on me that I, a woman of color, along with several other women of color on the committee, were putting in all this unpaid labor to help teach others about how and why race matters. But the day was an incredible one and proved to be well worth the effort.

The idea for the Race Matters Unconference was birthed after the 2016 LACUNY Institute on Race Matters: Libraries, Racism, and Antiracism. I was honored to be asked to deliver the morning talk at that event and thoroughly enjoyed the ensuing day full of open and honest conversations, workshops, learning, and listening. After the day, Chanitra Bishop, librarian at Hunter, gathered a few folks together to plan ways to keep the conversations going, and the idea for the unconference was born. While Chanitra had intervening commitments that kept her from being able to participate to the end, we are all grateful to her for getting this much-needed ball rolling.

Prior to the event, we asked attendees to read Asian-American studies scholar and librarian Todd Honma’s article “Trippin’ Over the Color Line: The Invisibility of Race in Library and Information Studies” and to watch legal scholar and black feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw’s TEDtalk on “The Urgency of Intersectionality” (Crenshaw is the one who coined the term “intersectionality.”) We also offered discussion and reflection questions to get people ready to engage with these issues ahead of time. We were inviting people of all stripes to attend the unconference—from the antiracist veteran to the person new to talking and thinking about race—so our hope was that the pre-unconference resources would help set a bit of a baseline for engagement for the day.

We started the day of the unconference with a time of facilitated activity led by professional diversity facilitator S. Leigh Thompson. Leigh and his adorable 2-month old son braved the late-winter NYC snow and slush to come lead us in a series of exercises that forced us to confront the ways we internalize and systemize notions of racialized power and other forms of oppression. There was a lot of aha moments and laughter and reflective thinking, not to mention a lot of much-needed physical movement for a cold Friday morning. Even the security staff at the School of Journalism got in on the fun, offering thoughts and tips from the background.

With such a great opener, we were ready for a full day of discussion, tackling topics like unionizing, class, and race, library instruction and race, patrons and safe spaces, and a catch-all session on hot topics and emotional responses, during which we reflected on how these conversations and current events have been making us feel. You can catch all the notes from the various sessions in our open documents: Room 1, Room 2, Room 3, and Room 4.

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Session planning board from #RaceMatters17

Throughout the day we also had wall activities going where we asked attendees to share a story on a post-it about the moment they first realized and acknowledged their race and to share short descriptions of how they were feeling about the day thus far. Responses to the first ranged from “preschool” to “the day I moved to NYC.” Responses to the second included “excited” and “ready to learn.”

In the afternoon, we had a great panel discussion with Danilo Campos of GitHub and Jenn Baker from We Need Diverse Books. They talked about how issues of race and diversity play out in tech and publishing, respectively, two industries closely linked to libraries and information. It was such a pleasure to hear their personal stories and realize that this struggle that we’re in in libraryland is in many ways not unique.

Finally, we closed the day out with a moment of grateful reflection to honor the Delaware, Mohegan, and Poospatuck peoples, on whose stolen land we were meeting. And then we ended with an open mic session, during which attendees offered the “closing keynote” of the day, sharing reflections, questions, challenges, and next steps.

It was a beautiful, wonderful day and still only a single step in the full process of engaging in antiracist work in our profession. The hope is to keep these conversations going and to plan for another unconference in the next year. Davis and I need a break from co-chairing the efforts, but if you’re in the NYC area and want to get involved, please let us know! And wherever you are, think about setting up a space for these conversations in your own neck of the woods. Because in a profession that is 87% white, race definitely matters.

Everything But…Racism

I don’t use racial slurs or burn crosses on people’s lawns so I can’t be racist…I have black friends so I can’t be racist…I work with a lot of people of color and I respect them so I can’t be racist…I’m not a neo-Nazi so I can’t be racist…I have liberal politics so I can’t be racist.

For as long as there has been time, white people have been fighting the notion that they are racist. For them, it is like the N-word, the C-word, and the B-word all rolled into one. (If only those words didn’t exist and we didn’t know which slurs they referred to.) It is their kryptonite. It is the moment when all communication on issues of race break down. It is the sledgehammer that shreds their delicate #whitefragility to dust in a shower of #whitetears.

And all this is sheer and utter nonsense.

Racism is everywhere. It is the norm. It is the foundation upon which every white colonializing country was built. It doesn’t matter if you’re not American, not Southern, not mean, not old, not conservative. Racism is the fertile soil upon which white supremacy grows. And white supremacy is like ivy. It is everywhere, it is hard to uproot, and it grows fast.

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“Ivy” by Jordan on Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

White people are so intent on treating racism like it’s an anomaly, a disease, rather than realizing that racism is the default. White people, by virtue of their race privilege, are racist. All of them. Everyone. It is how white privilege exists and continues to persist. It is a painful reality, I know, but a reality nonetheless.

It’s also important to note that this ubiquity and inevitability of racism exists on both the systemic and individual level. Yes, we live in a society beset by systemic racism. But that doesn’t absolve individuals of the role they play in and the benefits they enjoy from their own individual racism. Racism is both macro and micro; it’s all over the big picture and in every tiny detail, too.

The only way we will ever truly dismantle white supremacy and dig up the manure of racism in which it grows is if we all face this truth: Racism is the foundational default and all white people are guilty of it. There’s no getting around it.

Antiracist work has to begin with this acknowledgement. Antiracist work will inevitably fail without this realization. Anything else is just an adolescent “everything but…” approach to racism:

I’m not racist because I do everything but use racial slurs…I’m not racist because I do everything but become a card-carrying member of the KKK…I’m not racist because I do everything but actively hate all people of color.

White folks, racism is not like justifying your virginity after a steamy summer at Bible camp. You don’t get to do “everything but” and remain “intact.” Whatever line you think there is, you’ve already crossed it. I guarantee it.

So, now, let’s face facts and get to work. Granted, it may take you awhile. For many of you, this post feels harsh and divisive and mean and insulting and untrue. That’s okay. That’s just your #whitefragility acting up. Go ahead, take a moment to yourself or with some fellow white people, and cry those #whitetears. (Just don’t burden people of color with them; we’ve got better things to do.)

And when you’re really ready to be honest and do this work, come on back. It’d be great to have you as a true antiracist ally.

Performing Whiteness with “Little Black Tombo”

This past summer I read Lois Benjamin’s book The Black Elite (check out my Recommended Reading list) and in it she quotes a story written by Arthur Hoppe, a white columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. The story was published in 1968 in the midst of the black civil rights movement.

In the story of “Little Black Tombo,” the title character, an enslaved boy, wants “to be free, to be equal and to be a man.” So a group of characters known as “some Nice White People” set out to help Tombo achieve his goals. First, they change the laws and offer him freedom from slavery. But Tombo still doesn’t feel equal to them. Then, they help him secure an education. To no avail, though with education, Tombo decides to change his name to “Tom.” Then, they change the laws to allow Tom to purchase a home in their neighborhoods. That still doesn’t work. And so, they conclude,

“The problem,” said some Nice White People, “is sociological. You must dress like us, talk like us, and think like us. Then, obviously, you will be equal to us.”

Tom does all this, and while he is never accepted as an equal of the Nice White People, he does get invited to their cocktail parties and asked to share his opinion “but only about racial matters” as the story goes.

Reading through this story made me think about the work I’ve been doing in examining the ways in which people of color perform whiteness in order to gain and maintain privilege in our society. When I wrote my article on whiteness for ITLWTLP, I was saddened by the number of POC, most of whom enjoying some privilege or other, who responded so defensively to the idea that performing whiteness is a natural part of our defense in a racially-charged world. They wanted to believe that their ability to enjoy the fruits of their hard work and boot-strap-pulling was solely a matter of their own innate, racially neutral, color-blind efforts.

And I get that. I used to feel the same way. But the fact is that, like Little Black Tombo, we all reach the point in this white supremacist world when we realize we have to be a person of color-but-not-too-much-color in order to get ahead. We have our own well-intentioned, liberal-leaning, self-proclaimed allies of Nice White People subtly encouraging us to “dress like [them], talk like [them], and think like [them].” And when it’s necessary, we do just that.

There’s nothing wrong with being a POC performing whiteness for self-preservation. At least, there’s nothing wrong in the sense of self-blame or shame for POC. We live in the world of white supremacy, and we do what we must to survive. In the black community, we are often taught the importance of wearing “The Mask” to get in the door and up the ladder, so that once we’re there, we can change things up and make things better for everyone else.

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“Vergessen” by Rubina V. via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

And that’s the key. We perform whiteness without shame because we’re answering to a higher calling, if you will; we’re doing so for reasons that reach beyond ourselves. It’s one of many strategies in our mission to force change in our white supremacist world. So, while I perform whiteness without shame to move up in the world, as I move to each new level, I also shout out against the white supremacy that requires my performance in the first place. It’s a multi-level approach in my radicalism. Each level I clear, I strive to make less racist for the next person coming through in the hope that the need for performing whiteness can be done away with altogether.

One last note: It’s important to realize that performing whiteness and having privilege are not the same. We, as POC, can have privilege on our own merit. We’re smart and charismatic and talented and brilliant people. We don’t have to be white for that. But in some cases, in far too many cases, we have to perform whiteness in order to have our smarts, charisma, talent, and brilliance fully recognized. We can work hard and gain privilege, be it financial or educational or something else. But more often than not, we have to perform whiteness successfully to be able to enjoy the fruits of that hard-won privilege.

So, we do. For now. But the struggle continues and the struggle is real. And with the way things have been going lately, they’re probably only going to get worse before they get better.

By the way, in the end of the story, Tom changes his name to “Tombo X,” grows a beard, wears dark glasses, and shouts, “Black is beautiful” before hitting a couple of the Nice White People over the head. When they complain with “deeply hurt” white feelings, the response goes,

“It’s funny,” said Tombo X, smiling, “but at last I feel like a man.”

 

More Thoughts on Diversity Initiatives in LIS

The National Diversity in Libraries conference has been over for almost two weeks, but I’m still reflecting on all I encountered there. What a great time.

Right now, I’ve been thinking about some conversations and presentations that arose as a response to my article in In The Library With the Lead Pipe on diversity initiatives in LIS. During our panel on “Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Workforce,” Mark Puente pushed back on my assertion that diversity initiatives have been largely unsuccessful in increasing the numbers of librarians of color, noting that to date ARL programs have helped over 440 underrepresented librarians in entering the workforce. He also talked a bit about the intangible benefits these programs have provided for librarians from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups: Being a part of a program cohort provides many opportunities for peer and informal mentoring and networking, which is vital for librarians of color who very often end up working isolated in a profession that is 97% white.

In their poster session “Beyond Diversity ARL Initiatives: Peer Mentoring,”Genevia Chamblee-Smith and Christian Minter also picked up on this thread, detailing their in-depth focus group/interview research with current and former program participants on their experiences with peer mentoring as a result of participation in these programs. As a former participant in an LIS diversity program myself (2012 Spectrum), I can attest to the importance of these networking and mentoring opportunities.

Ultimately, we all agreed that more can and should be done to increase both recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups in our profession. But for Puente, Chamblee-Smith, Minter, and others, it was also important to note the successes, however intangible they might seem.

I agree. But. But. The conversations also got me thinking. Because throughout the conference—and indeed this happens at any library conference whenever I attend sessions that focus on how program participants feel about their diversity initiatives—I noticed one glaring fact: Many, many, many of these participants are repeat participants. It is more than common to have someone begin a panel discussion on diversity initiatives by saying, “Hi, I’m a 2012 Spectrum Scholar, and I participated in the Mosaic, IRDW, and CEP programs.”

Don’t get me wrong. That’s great. I’m glad people are taking advantage of and enjoying these programs. But it also makes me wonder, of the 440 participants that have come through, how many are actually unique participants of a diversity program? For every repeat participant, how many folks didn’t/couldn’t participate because they were unable to meet the application requirements that are, as I argue in my article, rooted in our system of whiteness and false meritocracy?

And when it comes to the mentoring and networking opportunities—again, who’s missing out? Which of our could-be colleagues, who are otherwise perfectly qualified to do the work of librarians, are missing out on these opportunities to learn and connect because they were unable to get transcripts in on time? Or couldn’t come up with a professor with whom they were close enough to get a recommendation?

The fact is, once you participate in one of these programs, you become exponentially more adept at successfully applying for and entering any of the other programs. You’re in a unique position to leverage your peer mentoring and networks to put forward a stellar application for any number of other opportunities. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that. More power to those folks. But we still have to ask about who’s missing out.

So, those are my thoughts. A quick note to close out, though. As I said during our panel discussion and several times after publishing my article, none of my thoughts are a critique of the incredible work done by the inimitable Mark Puente. To the extent anyone reads critique of diversity initiatives as a direct critique of Mark, well, you’re demonstrating our problem right there. Improving diversity in our profession should not and cannot be the job of one lonely man of color. That’s ludicrous. These critiques are meant for us all. They are meant for all of our initiatives: the ones put forward by our national organizations, but also the ones cooked up in our local institutions.

We should all be asking that essential question: Who is being left out? And then, we need to work together to make things better.

Whiteness and “Oppressive Normativity”

This weekend, I’ll be in Vancouver presenting at the Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies Colloquium, organized by the amazing and inimitable Emily Drabinski, Baharak Yousefi, and Tara Robertson. We’re going to sing and drink coffee and discuss intersectionality, so it’s guaranteed to be a good time.

My talk is based on my article on whiteness for In the Library with the Lead Pipe, with one notable difference—I’ve added the term “oppressive normativity” to the title and substance of my talk as an alternative (or rather complement) to my discussion of whiteness as ideology and hegemonic practice.

In my article, I join Angela Galvan in taking a broad view of whiteness to encompass not only race but other intersections of identity along the “matrix of domination,” as defined by Patricia Hill Collins. For me, whiteness is an appropriate umbrella term for the multiplicity of oppressed identities; the argument can be made that that whiteness plays a role in the marginalization of people based on class, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, able-bodiedness, and other modes of identity. When we talk about whiteness in general and white privilege and supremacy in particular, we are also necessarily talking about an ideological practice that specifically privileges those who are middle-class, male, straight, cisgender, Christian, and fully able-bodied as being truly “white.” Those who do not fit those standards, while still enjoying significant benefits of race privilege as white people, do not reap the full rewards.

Nevertheless, I realize that this collapsing of the matrix of domination under an umbrella term more traditionally associated with one form of identity—namely race—is not entirely helpful. While I embrace that broad definition of whiteness that Galvan and I adopt, I recognize that my understanding of the term is not necessarily readily apparent from the term itself.

So, in the interest of providing clarity to my work, I’ve adopted the phrase oppressive normativity as an complementary term to describe the operation of this matrix of domination.

A quick and dirty search shows that while the phrase oppressive normativity has been used before, it has not been used in quite the context I’m proposing for it. There are mentions of oppressive normativity in the social sciences, particularly gender studies, psychology, and law, to refer to compulsory and often unofficial behavioral norms found in a community or society. (And it’s worth noting there are a few references to Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault.)

My use of the phrase, however, is centered in norms of identity that dictate who is privileged in our society and who is marginalized. For me, oppressive normativity isn’t about what one does but who one is.

Oppressive normativity, as I’m defining it, refers to the fact that people who are middle-class, male, straight, cisgender, Christian, fully able-bodied, etc. are privileged in their professional and personal lives, while those who do not fit within all of those identities are professionally and personally marginalized, excluded, and erased.

What this means is that the systems for reward, advancement, support, fulfillment, and livelihood that we’ve constructed in our society are based specifically on the values, experiences, and practices of those in the dominant identities. They are the norm, and that norm is oppressive because of the way that it naturally forces out all those not fitting its dictates.

I guess you can say that I’m coining this term “oppressive normativity” for a new purpose. Feel free to reuse it with attribution.

Thus, in my talk for GSISC this weekend, I will be applying this concept of oppressive normativity to diversity initiatives in LIS, examining the ways in which our diversity programs reflect this hegemonic norm that privileges dominant identities while marginalizing all others. I’m really looking forward to embarking on this phase of my work and invite you to join me for the journey!

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

A Cure for the Common Whiteness: Diversity Recruitment

I want to talk about diversity recruitment.

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“The Empire Wants You!!!” by leg0fenris via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I’m on all kinds of listservs for librarians and academics of color and I’m frequently on Twitter and the like; and I’m constantly getting messages like these:

Our [organization/program/conference/group] needs more diversity! We are serious about diversity! We are recruiting diverse applicants! Please apply if you are diverse! Yes, that means you, [person of color, queer person, transgender person, poor person, immigrant, disabled person]!

I’m really getting tired of these messages.

I’m tired of them because they are lazy. They are a passive response to what is a very active, systemic, and institutional problem—capitalist, cis-heternormative, white patriarchy.

I’m tired of them because they are burden-shifting. I see these messages go out; and then several months later when no “diverse applicants” successfully apply—inevitably happens with such slapdash recruiting efforts such as these—I see the recruiting leaders bemoan how “difficult it is to get diverse people” because they “tried really hard and everything and no one was interested.” These lazy messages allow those responsible for recruiting to shift that responsibility to the marginalized communities they are supposedly trying to reach.

Finally, I’m tired of them because they are not solutions to the problem of lack of diversity. They are panaceas. They are Spongebob bandaids on gaping, festering, gangrenous wounds of oppression and bias.

So what should these recruiting efforts look like?

First off: Before anything else, you need to be ready to address both diversity and inclusion. You need to aim for recruitment while maintaining an eye on retention. Diversity gets folks from different backgrounds into the organization (recruitment); inclusion creates an environment in which they can remain and thrive (retention). Both are equally important upfront.

If your organization/program/conference/group struggles with homogeneity, then one of the very first questions you should be asking is “Why?” What is it about your organization/program/conference/group that is keeping people from diverse backgrounds away? When people from underrepresented groups show up, why don’t they stay? What is going on in your organizational culture that is not conducive to a person from a marginalized community?

Think of your lack of diversity as a cough (I’m really feeling the medical analogies today; go with it). There are many reasons why you may have that cough. And while you can down bottle after bottle of cough syrup to suppress it for a time (like sending out those lazy messages), in the end, your cough will still be there. And it will likely get worse because you’ll have grown inured to the cough medicine; meanwhile, the underlying cause of the cough will still be there, getting progressively more problematic. You need to find out if you’ve got emphysema or bronchitis or an inhaled piece of broccoli, so you can figure out how to get rid of the cough for good.

Likewise, you need to figure out what kind of barriers to entry and success exist in your organization and organizational culture, in order to meaningfully address your lack of diversity.

Second: Once you’ve uncovered the roots of the problem (and there will be many), you need to begin taking steps to fix them. This is going to take a lot of candid, brutally honest discussions. You’ll have to confront a lot of individual and organizational biases. So be ready. It will also take a lot of time. While you don’t need to have things fixed before recruiting, you should at least have started addressing your organizational issues.

Third: Now you can start sending out messages, but those messages should make clear that diversity is important to the organization/program/conference/group without being tokenizing or causing unwarranted and unwanted visibility. (Hey, you’re gay/latinx/disabled/etc! And you do the stuff they want! You should apply to that thing!) This can be a fine line but it can be done tactfully and respectfully.

Our [organization/program/conference/group] is recruiting. Also, we are very serious about diversity and inclusion* and welcome applicants from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Our goal is to maintain a non-oppressive work environment where diverse perspectives are accepted and valued.

Finally: You need to accompany those messages with proactive, off-the-beaten-path outreach. If you want diverse applicants, you HAVE to go outside the pipeline. Think of folks from underrepresented groups who may be in your professional networks. Reach out to them and ask if they know of specific people who may be interested in your organization or program.

Note: If you can’t think of any folks like this in your networks, then go back to the first step above and do that same work on an individual rather than organizational basis: Why don’t you have diverse folks in your networks? How are you further marginalizing already marginalized people in your professional life? What biases are at work in your professional networking?

Once you have a list of specific people to approach, approach them, but make sure you do so professionally and fairly. Don’t expect them to jump at the opportunity to join your organization just because you “need” them for diversity. Their work should be fairly and adequately valued just like anyone else’s, while still acknowledging that some accommodations, not otherwise thought of in a oppressive normative environment, may be called for.

If they refuse, ask them if they’d be willing to provide you with feedback. (But don’t assume they want or are able to do so!) Take note of their critique, don’t defend or justify, make the necessary changes.

You’ll also want to ask them if they’d be willing to share the names of other potential applicants or to spread the word about your recruitment effort.

You may find that you need to run through this process several times before successfully recruiting people from different backgrounds to your organization. That’s okay. It is an iterative process.

You may have also noticed this process is labor-intensive and time- and resource-consuming. It is not easy. And it shouldn’t be. Oppression didn’t arise overnight; correcting for oppression likewise takes time. But if you’re really serious about brining diversity into your organization/program/conference/group, then you will do what it takes.