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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Acknowledging Whiteness, part 5: Compliance Culture

"To bring up racism is to bring up the issue of compliance and even suggests a failure to comply." -- Sara Ahmed, On Being Included

David Perry writes a lot about the cult of compliance, and how it’s used to harm disabled children -- particularly disabled children of color -- within educational and criminal/police/incarceral systems. He has not to my knowledge written about how the cult of compliance manifests in libraries, but he could. Reading this American Libraries article about homeless and mentally ill people who “are hurting the library experience for others,” makes me think he could write a lot about libraries’ cult of compliance.

Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun wrote about the characteristics of white supremacy culture. These characteristics “are damaging because they are used as norms and standards without being pro-actively named or chosen.” The full list has more details, but briefly, those characteristics are:
  • Perfectionism
  • Sense of urgency
  • Defensiveness
  • Quantity over quality
  • Worship of the written word
  • Paternalism
  • Either/Or thinking
  • Power hoarding
  • Fear of open conflict
  • Individualism
  • Progress is bigger, more
  • Objectivity
  • Right to comfort (who has it and who doesn’t)

When I think about these two points, the cult of compliance and white supremacy culture, it reminds me of my childhood. It reminds me of my schooling, including my LIS grad program. It reminds me of how I was acculturated to be a library worker. It reminds me of all the reasons I’m in therapy. It’s damaging.


When we white library workers talk about privilege and diversity, when we talk about serving our communities, when we talk about creating healthy workplaces… we need to think about these things. We need to challenge these things. We need to challenge ourselves, and lean in to our own discomfort. We need to consciously and deliberately identify what norms and standards we actually do want, and why, and then discuss them… yes, even with people who disagree with us.


And now, I am going to go read Emily Drabinski’s new article about “Teaching Critically in a Time of Compliance.”

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