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18 Apr, 2019 02:44

Why stop at burning books, when libraries themselves are 'sites of whiteness,' librarian suggests

Why stop at burning books, when libraries themselves are 'sites of whiteness,' librarian suggests

White men and their ideas take up too much space in libraries, a social justice-obsessed librarian has declared, stopping just short of suggesting we burn all those oppressive white men’s books to make way for diversity.

White dudes writing about white ideas, white things, or idea, people and things they stole from POC [people of color] and then claimed as white property” are hogging all the space in American libraries, and it’s perpetuating centuries of racial inequity, Massachusetts Institute of Technology librarian Sofia Leung has claimed in a post that tiptoes around the question of what is to be done with this “so-called ‘knowledge.’” Her outburst was retweeted by the Library Journal – a publication normally devoted to discussing the preservation of knowledge rather than the rejection of entire categories of it.

Libraries filled with mostly white collections indicates that we don’t care about what POC think, we don’t care to hear from POC themselves, we don’t consider POC to be scholars, we don’t think POC are as valuable, knowledgeable, or as important as white people,” she writes. While she conspicuously avoids finishing the thought – squirming out of the obvious conclusion with the excuse that “I still have some thinking to do around this topic” – it’s pretty obvious where she’s leading, especially when she mentions “Swedish death cleaning,” the practice of getting rid of one’s possessions upon realizing one is near death, so as not to leave a mess for loved-ones to clean up.

Leung also brings in Marie Kondo – a celebrity “personal organizer” who preaches that mental clarity comes from throwing away one’s possessions. While libraries ever since Alexandria have focused, to the point of obsession, on accumulating as much knowledge as possible within their walls, Leung seems to think librarians have been doing it wrong all these centuries, suggesting it’s time to start getting all that white clutter under control, lest they become complicit in centuries of white male oppression.

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Many defenders of identity politics accuse their paler opponents of “white fragility,” claiming that any defensive reactions to attacks on “white people” are themselves a devious (if subconscious) means of maintaining the racial status quo by refusing to participate in a healing dialogue. They insist that there’s no reason for white people to feel as if they’re under attack – that surely there’s enough room for everyone in our brave new world. Leung’s “thought exercise” suggests not everyone is that tolerant – and it’s no surprise, given how thoroughly “western civilization” – to say nothing of “whiteness” – has been demonized in modern “woke” social-justice rhetoric.

It’s also enormously ironic that, in an age when more information is accessible than ever before, when libraries are increasingly becoming digitized to the point that “taking up space” is barely relevant, she’s chosen that particular aspect of white “oppression” as her focus. Library shelf space is less of a zero-sum game than at any time in history, suggesting she has something else in mind – overpopulation, perhaps? White people are sitting on some prime real estate...

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Accusing all library collections of “continu[ing] to promote and proliferate whiteness,” Leung finishes by claiming libraries were “meant to” exclude “Black, Indigenous, People of Color” – and that they continue to do so, citing a recent incident at her alma mater, Barnard College, in which a security guard attempted to forcibly remove a black student. These “sites of whiteness,” as she refers to her employer, are “paid for using money that was usually ill-gotten and at the cost of black and brown lives via the prison industrial complex, the spoils of war, etc.

So it’s not just the books we have to burn, but apparently the libraries themselves! Instead of calling on her readers to pick up their pitchforks and head for the nearest university, Leung asked her readers for feedback - so long as they didn’t disagree with her. “Don’t bother with those types of comments,” she concluded.

Helen Buyniski

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