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A Response to “Yes but…”

The following is a letter from Candise Branum, ACRL-Oregon President

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the ACRL-Washington/Oregon Joint Conference at Pack Forest. The conference theme was Whiteness and Racism in Academic Libraries: Dismantling Structures of Oppression; I’ll write a separate review of my experiences at the conference in another article, but I left the conference feeling like I had some specific tools to confront microaggressions in the workplace and a bit more hopeful about the possibility of change in academic library culture.

And then less than a week later, the latest issue of OLA Quarterly was delivered to my inbox. The closing article, Yes, but… One Librarian’s Thoughts on Doing It Right was extremely disturbing; as many of our colleagues have already pointed out, the article diminishes the work, experiences, and knowledge that women of color provide in leading discussions of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI), and instead centers the author’s own experience as a white woman as the “right way” to do this work. This is an inflammatory article, in which the author specifically names and critiques BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) scholars and allies for intentionally making white people feel bad and uninformed.

There is no excuse for this. We need to do better.

White librarians have to reckon with both our institutional and our own individual roles in white supremacy. Hosting White Nationalist groups explicitly puts the safety of our communities at risk; this is not a question of intellectual freedom, but of ensuring that our communities literally are not in fear for their well-being. As allies, white librarians must be the ones to step up and do the emotional labor of working towards racial justice, and not just waiting for our BIPOC colleagues to point out injustices; if we are passive or neutral, we are inherently supporting the racist, white supremacist status quo. There is no getting over this: the culture will not change unless white librarians force a change.

Since returning from Pack Forest, I’ve been doing some soul searching about my role in disrupting whiteness in both my personal life and my professional one. I’d like to explore how ACRL-Oregon as a body can propel the conversation forward in a community-driven and constructive way, and to build a network of librarians unified in doing work (not just making statements) towards racial justice. I obviously don’t have all the answers, but I do still have hope that our community will continue to grow together, and that we can work together in confronting white supremacy in our profession.

Some additional reading:

Candise Barnum
ACRL-Oregon President, 2019-2020

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