Sunday, December 20, 2015

Liberation through Reading: A Booklist for a New Year

“Life-transforming ideas have always come to me through books.” bell hooks

I was in high school when I saw my first real glimpse of how the curriculum had been sanitized and whitewashed to perpetuate a certain narrative. Throughout my years of formal post-secondary education (too many to mention), I continued to notice this tendency in most of my courses. Under the guise of neutrality, most of my professors taught in lockstep with a master narrative designed (consciously or unconsciously) to make us all complicit in the status quo.
Given the reading selections in most of my classes, I realized that, if I was going to get an education that would liberate me from being a willing accomplice in the perpetuation of this status quo, I needed to do a lot of outside reading. Thus began the journey that I am still on today. (And it’s important to remember that it is a journey, because there is always more to learn and room to grow.)
I decided to turn this list into a blog post due to some of the things my students said this semester as well as some of the conversations that have happened on some LIS-related listservs and Facebook groups this year. Several of my students continue to be disheartened by the internal problems they see within the library profession, particularly regarding racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia, and transphobia. Based on some of the misguided and microaggressive (if not outright hateful) remarks that have been made by practicing library staff in public forums this year, they are right to be discouraged. How do we begin to address the oppression outside of our physical spaces with the levels of ignorance and toxicity within them? Liberation through reading, learning, and growing.
So, as we head into a new year where we as a society continue to largely ignore the disproportionate suffering and inequity of large swaths of humanity, where the school-to-prison pipeline is being condensed into schools as prisons for all intents and purposes for too many of our children, where hateful racist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic rhetoric spews from our media sources, politicians/political candidates, and average citizens, where attempts toward civic and respectful engagement are met with “political correctness” labels, and where we find ourselves in the midst of yet another culture war, let’s continue to read in the name of liberation.
The Booklist* (If you are looking for shorter readings, I recommend starting with Jon Greenberg’s blog post, Curriculum for White Americans to Educate Themselves on Race and Racism–from Ferguson to Charleston.)
Alexander, Michelle. (2012). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (Rev. ed.). New York: The New Press.
Allen, Paula Gunn. (1999). Off the reservation: Reflections on boundary-busting, border-crossing loose canons. Boston: Beacon Press. (Originally published 1998).
Angelou, Maya. (1969). I know why the caged bird sings. New York: Random House.
Anzaldúa, Gloria. (1987). Borderlands/la frontera: The new mestiza. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books.
Baca, Jimmy Santiago. (2001). A place to stand: The making of a poet. New York: Grove.
Baldwin, James. (1984). Notes of a native son. Boston: Beacon Press. (Originally published 1955).
Baptist, Edward E. (2014). The half has never been told: Slavery and the making of American capitalism. New York: Basic Books.
Bell, Jr., Derrick A. (1987). And we are not saved: The elusive quest for racial justice. New York: Basic Books.
Blackmon, Douglas A. (2008). Slavery by another name: The re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. New York: Doubleday.
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. (2013). Racism without racists: Color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in America (4th ed.). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Brown, Claude. (1965). Manchild in the promised land. New York: Macmillan.
Burciaga, José Antonio. (1992/3). Drink cultura: Chicanismo. Santa Barbara: Joshua Odell/Capra Press.
Cepeda, Raquel. (2013). Bird of paradise: How I became Latina. New York: Atria.
Chacón, Justin Akers & Davis, Mike. (2006). No one is illegal: Fighting racism and state violence on the U.S.-Mexico Border.  Chicago: Haymarket Books.
Chasteen, John Charles. (2011). Born in blood & fire: A concise history of Latin America (3rd ed.). New York: Norton.
Child, Brenda J. (2012). Holding our world together: Ojibwe women and the survival of the community. New York: Viking.
Cisneros, Sandra. (2015). A house of my own: Stories from my life. New York: Knopf.
Coates, Ta-Nehisi. (2015). Between the world and me. New York: Spiegel & Grau.
Coulthard, Glen Sean. (2014). Red skin, white masks: Rejecting the colonial politics of recognition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Crow Dog, Mary. (1990). Lakota woman. New York: Grove Weidenfeld.
Deloria, Jr., Vine. (1988). Custer died for your sins: An Indian manifesto. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. (Originally published 1969).
Douglass, Frederick. (1995). Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass. New York: Dover. (Originally published 1845).
Du Bois, W.E.B. (1996). The souls of black folk. New York: Penguin. (First published 1903 by A.C. McClurg & Company).
Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne. (2014). An Indigenous Peoples' history of the United States. Boston: Beacon.
Dyson, Michael Eric. (2006). Come hell or high water: Hurricane Katrina & the color of disaster. New York: Basic Civitas.
Eastman, Charles .A. (2003). The soul of the Indian. New York: Dover. (Originally published in 1911 by Houghton Mifflin).
Ellison, Ralph. (1995). Shadow and act. New York: Vintage. (Originally published 1964 by Random House).
Erdrich, Louise. (2014). Books and islands in Ojibwe Country: Traveling through the land of my ancestors. New York: Harper Perennial. (Originally published in 2003 by National Geographic Society).
Fields, Karen E., & Fields, Barbara J. (2012). Racecraft: The soul of inequality in American life. London: Verso.
Flaherty, Jordan. (2010). Floodlines: Community and resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six. Chicago: Haymarket.
Giovanni, Nikki. (1994). Racism 101. New York: W. Morrow.
Glancy, Diane, & Truesdale, C.W. (eds.). (1996). Two worlds walking: Short stories, essays, and poetry by writers of mixed heritages. Moorhead, MN: New Rivers Press.
Goeman, Mishuana. (2013). Mark my words: Native women mapping our nations. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press.
Gonzalez, Juan. (2011). Harvest of empire: A history of Latinos in America (Rev. ed.). New York: Penguin.
Gould, Stephen Jay. (2008). The Mismeasure of man (Revised and expanded ed.). New York: W.W. Norton. (Originally published 1996).
Hale, Janet Campbell. (1998). Bloodlines: Odyssey of a Native daughter. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. (Originally published 1993).
Haley, Alex. (1993). The autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Ballentine. (Originally published 1964).
Harjo, Joy. (2012). Crazy brave: A memoir. New York: Norton.
Harris-Perry, Melissa V. (2011). Sister Citizen: Shame, stereotypes, & Black women in America. New Haven: Yale UP.
Hijuelos, Oscar. (2011). Thoughts without cigarettes. New York: Gotham.
Hill Collins, Patricia. (1998). Fighting words: Black women and the search for justice. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Holloway, Karla FC. (2006). BookMarks: Reading in black and white: A memoir. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP.
hooks, bell. (2000). Feminism is for everybody: Passionate politics. Cambridge, MA: South End.
Iyer, Deepa. (2015). We too sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh immigrants shape our multiracial future. New York: The New Press.
Johnson, Kevin R. (1999). How did you get to be Mexican? A White/Brown man’s search for identity. Philadelphia: Temple UP.
Joseph, Jamal. (2012). Panther baby: A life of rebellion and reinvention. Chapel Hill: Algonquin.
Kingston, Maxine Hong. (1976). The woman warrior: Memoirs of a girlhood among ghosts. New York: Knopf.
Kohl, Herbert R. (1996). Should we burn Babar? Essays on children’s literature and the power of stories (1st ed.). New York: The New Press. (Contains Rosa Parks essay not in later edition.)
Ladson-Billings, Gloria. (2009). The dreamkeepers: Successful teachers of African American children (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
LaDuke, Winona. (2012). The militarization of Indian Country. East Lansing, MI: Makwa Enewed.
Lee, Erika. (2015). The making of Asian America. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Lipsitz, George. (2006). The possessive investment in Whiteness: How White people profit from identity politics (Rev. & exp. ed.). Philadelphia: Temple UP.
Loewen, James W. (2007). Lies my teacher told me: Everything your American history textbook got wrong. New York: The New Press.
Lorde, Audre. (1984). Sister outsider: Essays and speeches. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press.
Marable, Manning. (1992). Black America: Multicultural democracy in the age of Clarence Thomas, David Duke, and the LA uprisings. Westfield, NJ: Open Media.
Mathews, John Joseph. (2012). Twenty thousand mornings: An autobiography. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Momaday, N.Scott. (1998). The man made of words: Essays, stories, passages. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin. (Originally published 1997).
Moore, MariJo. (ed.). (2003). Genocide of the mind: New Native American writing. New York: Nation Books.
Moraga, Cherie, & Anzaldúa, Gloria. (Eds.). (2015). This bridge called my back: Writings by radical women of color (4th ed.). Albany: SUNY Press.
Nam, Vickie. (2001). Yell-oh girls! Emerging voices explore culture, identity, and growing up Asian American. New York: Quill.
Nazario, Sonia. (2006). Enrique’s journey: The story of a boy’s dangerous odyssey to reunite with his mother.  New York: Random House.
Painter, Nell Irvin. (2010). The history of White people. New York: Norton.
Parrish, Tim. (2013). Fear and what follows: The violent education of a Christian racist. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.
Rankine, Claudia. (2014). Citizen: An American lyric. Minneapolis: Graywolf.
Roberts, Dorothy. (2011). Fatal invention: How science, politics, and big business re-create race in the twenty-first century. New York: The New Press.
Rodriguez, Luis J. (2011). It calls you back: An odyssey through love, addiction, revolutions and healing.  New York: Touchstone.
Roediger, David .R. & Esch, Elizabeth D. (2012). The production of difference: Race and the management of labor in U.S. history. New York: Oxford UP.
Santiago, Esmeralda. (1994). When I was Puerto Rican. New York: Vintage.
Shaheen, Jack. (2014). Reel bad Arabs: How Hollywood vilifies a people (Updated ed.). Northampton, MA: Olive Branch.
Silko, Leslie Marmon. (2011). The turquoise ledge: A memoir. New York: Penguin. (Originally published 2010).
Skloot, Rebecca. (2010). The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Crown.
Smith, Paul Chaat. (2009). Everything you know about Indians is wrong. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Stephen, Lynn. (2007). Transborder lives: Indigenous Oaxacans in Mexico, California, and Oregon. Durham, NC: Duke UP.
Stevenson, Bryan. (2014). Just mercy: A story of justice and redemption. New York: Spiegel & Grau.
Takaki, Ronald T. (1989). Strangers from a different shore: A history of Asian Americans. Boston: Little, Brown & Co.
Takaki, Ronald T. (2008). A different mirror: A history of multicultural America (Rev. ed.). Boston: Back Bay Books.
Tatum, Beverly .D. (2003). “Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?” And other conversations about race. New York: Basic Books.
Urrea, Luis Alberto. (2002). Nobody’s son: Notes from an American life. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
Ward, Jesmyn. (2013). Men we reaped. New York: Bloomsbury.
Welch, James. (1994). Killing Custer: The Battle of the Little Bighorn and the fate of the Plains Indians. New York: Norton.
Wilder, Craig Steven. (2013). Ebony and ivy: Race, slavery, and the troubled history of America's universities. New York: Bloomsbury.
Wilkerson, Isabel. (2010). The warmth of other suns: The epic story of America’s great migration.  New York: Vintage.
Wise, Tim. (2008). White like me: Reflections on race from a privileged son (Revised and updated ed.). Brooklyn: Soft Skull Press.
Wu, Frank. (2001). Yellow: Race in America beyond black and white. New York: Basic Books.
Zia, Helen. (2000). Asian American dreams: The emergence of an American people. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Zinn, Howard. (2003) A people’s history of the United States: 1492-2001. New York: HarperCollins.

*Note: The list above is meant as more of a starting point. It is incomplete and has gaps, particularly Arab, Middle Eastern, and Muslim coverage. Also, in an effort to keep the list shorter, I have only included most authors once, remaining hopeful that the included title would be a good springboard into that writer’s other works. Because my journey began with African American and Latinx research, more of the titles have a focus on one of these two areas or on race and racism in general. The original list grew out of my dissertation research and then evolved as part of the long-form book review assignment for students in my multicultural LIS course. As there are already a number of fiction titles the entire class reads, this list is primarily nonfiction and (auto)biography. Most of these readings are more accessible than some of the more theoretical readings in the course, although I do highly recommend the book I use as the course textbook if you are interested in specific theories (Lemert, C. (Ed.). (2013). Social theory: The multicultural, global, and classical readings (5th ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.).

If you have suggestions of nonfiction and (auto)biographical titles that have helped to liberate your ideas around race and racism, please leave them in the comments.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The LIS "Minstrel" Show

(AKA The post in which I never cursed, although I really wanted to)

“The irony here is that while diversity is desirable on paper, it is often resisted in practice. This marginality and irony were not noticed or appreciated by the institution that thought hiring an African American female was enough to fulfill any larger organizational diversity goals. The care and retention of such a hire did not appear to be of consideration or concern.” Nicole Cooke (Full citation: Cooke, N. A. (2014, May). Pushing back from the table. Polymath: An Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences Journal. Retrieved from

Libraries have gotten really good at diversity talk. Spurred on by this diversity talk in libraries and ALA, LIS education has finally gotten better at diversity talk as well. But, in both practice and education, almost everything I’ve seen isn’t really diversity. It’s talk. LIS* doesn’t seem to really want practitioners, educators, and students from diverse backgrounds. What LIS wants is a shiny, happy diversity that can’t exist in this world where so many forms of oppression continue to inform the lived experiences of so many people. LIS wants the PR photos for the websites and brochures, but not the reality in the stacks, offices, and classrooms. LIS seems to want people of color who aren’t ever allowed to be angry or even firmly state their opinions, immigrants (documented, of course) who want to slam the door behind them (while instantly becoming fluent English speakers), and Native peoples who have gotten “over” the genocide of the indigenous tribes in this (their) land.

All too often, when LIS does recognize various forms of oppression, it does so through a historical lens. Yes, indeed, things were bad for [insert group here]. We’re so glad things are better now!

Of course, now that we have an official designated month for almost every group, it’s become even easier for LIS to tokenize oppressed groups. We should just be thankful we have our specific month and stop talking so much. (Oh, while you’re here, would you mind chairing the steering committee for our new diversity action taskforce and mentoring these Spectrum Scholars?)

I have lost count of the times I have heard students and colleagues from oppressed groups described as “too sensitive,” or “angry,” or “having a chip on their shoulders,” or “dismissive.” These comments are all types of microaggressions, and LIS is a microaggression minefield. When you make an offhand comment about being surprised at how “professional” (or "articulate") my Black colleague and friend was (after she walks away), be prepared for me to ask you exactly what you meant. And you can believe that my comment about you to her later is going to be a lot less professional.

During my doctoral program, I had the great fortune of having a Black, retired school librarian in my cohort. Barbara and I became great friends through our coursework (capped by a seminar in Critical Race Theory (CRT) in Education seminar) and would often guest lecture in each other’s classes. As a Black woman teaching mostly White undergraduates, Barbara got no shortage of grief in her student evaluations, from “angry Black woman" comments to focusing “too much” on race. She and I eventually worked out a system where, before she ever broached the “diversity” subject, I came into her children’s literature courses and did a guest lecture about my research, the lack of diversity in youth literature, and an overview of CRT. In the course of that one lecture, I spent far more time talking about racism, oppression, and Whiteness than Barbara ever had in an entire course. But, because a White woman was the one doing the talking and bringing up the “r” word, it was no longer a problem for the students. It worked so well that Barbara and I were both appalled. (Honestly, I was far more appalled than Barbara, who was more sympathetically appalled in recognition of how surprised I was by the depths of racism and White privilege.)

I know that my Whiteness often gives me more freedom to talk about a lot of these issues than many of my colleagues have, particularly with other Whites. While I don’t have complete freedom (I’m apparently a “radical” and a SJW, which I had to Google), I can choose how I use my privilege. Sometimes that means really difficult conversations with White colleagues, practitioners, and students. It means not letting people get away with racist, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, or microaggressive comments in my presence. Are there days when I don’t want to deal with it? Sure. Are there times when I know I should have said something and didn’t? You bet there are. I still make mistakes on this journey, but I believe I have a responsibility to make what difference I can.

I really hope that one day we as a society (or at least a discipline/profession) get to the point where I can stop doing this. (I mean people even say these things when they know what I teach and research!) Yet, again this semester, I had students in my multicultural course who chose to give more import to one of the few White writers we read than that they did to the plethora of African American, Asian American, Latinx, Native American, and bi/multiracial writers we also read. If, for whatever twisted reason, White people will listen to what other White people say while giving less importance to the voices of people of color and Native peoples, then we White people need to start making sure that we’re saying the right things.

So I’m saying: White people in LIS, if you really want diversity, inclusion, and equity, that means you have to acknowledge that racism is endemic in American society. Since LIS is a part of American society, racism is endemic in LIS. Talking about race and racism is hard, but we need to be doing more of it. And we all need to be doing it. Not just that special committee, task force, or action team you created. Every single one of us.

But before we even get to that point, we need to do something even more crucial. White LIS people, we need to listen. The African American, Asian American, Latinx, Native American, and bi/multiracial faculty, practitioners, and students (who haven’t already fled to other disciplines and professions after giving up on us) are already talking. They have never stopped talking. But we, White LIS people in general, have never really listened. We listened here and we listened there, over the course of time, but we never really listened. We only want happy talk, that “man, we used to have it rough, but those days are long gone” talk. Because, when people of color and Native peoples in our professional world start talking about contemporary oppression (even inside the library/library school/archives), we get defensive. Or offended. Or get our hackles up and shut down. 

Even among those of us who consider ourselves “allies,” there is still too much of a tendency to tell people of color and Native peoples how to feel or act or respond. Sometimes, we “allies” make things worse than other Whites, by confusing the issues and making situations more complicated for our colleagues and students. We, too, need to really listen.

If you are ready to listen, I would recommend that you join one of the organizations below and get involved with the intention of listening (not telling):

* Used to indicate overarching structures/habits/practices throughout LIS practice and education, while recognizing that there are (thankfully) individuals and institutions to whom this post does not apply.

(Thanks to Nicole Cooke for her feedback in writing this post.)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Importance of Critical Librarianship: An Analogy

[Note: The following post was inspired by the article I’m currently writing to submit for the new Journal of Critical Librarian and Information Studies.]

“Give a person a fish and you feed that person for a day; teach a person to fish and you feed that person for a lifetime.” Revised from contested origins

I’ve found that there are roughly three broad types of LIS students (and consequentially librarians): those who just want to be given fish, those who want to be taught to fish, and those who want so much more than that (whom I will spend most of this post addressing).

Those who just want the fish come into an LIS program (often, but not always, as library support staff) expecting a series of workshops and continuing education credits. They are the box checkers and have the most difficult time understanding why they need to know anything about the theories, history, impetuses, etc. (hereafter “reasons”), behind where we are in libraries today, much less where we might be going. Sometimes this is because, if they already work in libraries, they think they already know what they need to know to do their “jobs,” while other times they find anything outside of the “practical” information irrelevant. These are the shoppers who are actually happier meeting the person who caught the fish at the market, well away from the lake where the fish originated. Sometimes, they may even prefer not dealing with the person who caught the fish at all, instead going through a wholesaler or distributor. In turn, these types of students (if they manage to earn the degree) usually become the librarians who just give fish to their users. These are, in the words of Bob Williams, “the pointers and the setters.” It’s important that we realize that this group isn’t solely responsible for just wanting the fish, as they often are surrounded by practitioners and educators who ascribe to this model.

The second group, in my experience, is the most common. These students do actually want to learn about the reasons behind library practice. They want to learn how to create, rather than just how to regurgitate. While sometimes this quest for knowledge may be confined more to their specific area of interest (academic libraries, youth services, cataloging, school media, management, etc.), they are at least willing participants in learning in much of the curriculum. These are the students who tend to be most successful in programs and also who tend to become the librarians willing to help users with information literacy, readers’ advisory, etc. Returning to the analogy, this group is interested in more than shopping for fish. They want to cut out any of the middle people, go to the lake, and do what it takes to catch their own fish.

Finally, the smallest group are the people want more (ironically, these students often have library experience as well). They get to the lake, meet with the person who will be teaching them to fish, and immediately start asking questions about the nature of fishing. Why are we fishing? Why this particular bait? Why this particular tackle? Hell, why this particular lake? What fish are we trying to catch? What fish are we trying to avoid? Why are we avoiding those types of fish? What about the types of fish that aren’t even in this lake? And why aren’t we talking about the other fauna in the lake? And then, what about the flora we’ve left out all together? And what about the ruins under this lake from damming the river? And shouldn’t we also be talking about the historical and contemporary ramifications of the policies of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers? What are the continuing environmental effects on the lake (and the fish)? And what about that commercial factory on the opposite shore and how its runoff might be hurting these fish? How can we create a better lake environment for all of the flora and fauna?

Well, I think you get the point. We need more of these types of students (who then become critically engaged librarians). These are the students who want critical theory in LIS coursework and practice (even if they may not yet understand what critical theory is). Yet, how often do we (educators and practitioners) actually encourage, rather than discourage, this last group? How often are these types of students and practitioners silenced in our classrooms, meetings, and conference spaces? I have seen it happen so many times I have lost count. I was this type of student and this type of practitioner. I left practice because I was continually silenced, either explicitly or implicitly. I have seen these types of students (and alum) in the various programs I have been affiliated with be silenced in some way, shape, or form because they are too challenging, critical, or unwilling to conform. How many LIS educators are even using critical theory in their master’s level courses? How many administrators are supportive of critical librarianship in practice? Even if it is rarely said out loud, “Just shut up and do your work!” is what our field seems to say to this group over and over every single day.

Looking at the progress that has been made in LIS practice, education, and research, where would we be without this group? These are the agitators, the activists, and the champions fundamental to change. These are the students who leave LIS programs and work to make change in communities through their libraries and archives. 

[Side note: One of my goals next semester is to connect my students with librarians (and archivists) who are practicing critical librarianship so that these students can better imagine the possibilities of the profession. Please contact me if you might be interested!]