#ArchivesSoWhite in the words of Ariel Schudson

I&A Research Teams are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession. Under the leadership of the I&A Steering Committee, the Research Teams compile their findings into Research Posts for the I&A blog. Each Research Post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. This Research Post comes from On-Call Research Team #1, which is mobilized to investigate issues as they arise.

Please be aware that the sources cited have not been vetted and do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable.

Due to the amount of information Research Team #1 gathered, this will be a 4-part series, with the Intro & Bibliography and then interviews with Jarrett Drake, Samantha Winn, and Ariel Schudson.

Ariel Schudson has been a Woman In Film and advocate for positive change and activism for the majority of her life. As a teenager, she was an HIV/AIDS educator, prioritizing outreach to facilities as diverse as high schools and homes for teen sex workers. She has received two Master of the Arts degrees from UCLA- one in Cinema and Media Studies and one in Moving Image Archive Studies, and has chosen to concentrate in archival studies. Her past accomplishments include programming a film series at the New Beverly Cinema a weekly column on masculinity/gender and various writings on film preservation. She regularly participates in film festivals like TCM and AFI Fest, and is the Chair of the Access Committee for the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA).  Ariel is currently working for Post Haste Digital as their Archival Specialist, actively seeking out at-risk AV collections for preservation and restoration. She enjoys coffee, Kodachrome film stock and well-managed databases. Her two adorable cats named Wallach and Eartha Kitten rock her world.

What does #archivessowhite mean to you?

This is a tricky question. The “meaning” of #archivessowhite is complex. There is the technical meaning in each individuated archival landscape- how varied is your content? Does it have a history of being diverse? Are you (as a responsible archivist) doing your part to keep up with it? If it isn’t relevant to the content, #archivessowhite also is applicable to the employment. Is your archive making certain to diversify your staff?

This meaning is what I see as one of the most salient: #archivessowhite is a hashtag and movement that has grown out of the strong feeling of discontent and aggravation at the willful and continued lack of representation of communities of color within archival content. Even if the materials themselves and the histories exist, it has come to light, time and time again, that there are overtures to keep current power structures (basically Rich Straight White Dudes) in power. To add insult to injury, the meaning is itself extended by reaffirming the white supremacist structures inherent within archival content and histories by the severe lack of archivists/librarians/historians of color in the profession and limiting their power or reach either economically or socially in the same manner that POC are marginalized on a larger professional scale in non-archival contexts. White male cis-structures abound in academia and seek to squish. And that sucks!!

What conversations do you wish to hear archivists having, and where? Better yet, what action do you want archivists to be taking?

I want to hear white archivists having conversations about how they are going to fix the system. I want to hear White Feminist Librarians start listening to the Women Librarians of Color when they actually are talking about the same issues but the White Feminists (not the same as white feminists) are so afraid that they are going to lose something (and I’m really not sure what they are going to lose…I’ll give them my number, we can go try to find it together). Archivists are one of the most COMMUNITY-CENTERED fields. We need each other. What does it say about us when we are being exclusionary and not listening? One of the things that we do is oral history, right? The thing we need to do is start listening to the Archivists of Color who want to a) contribute and b) have themselves be heard.  We need to be having these conversations at conferences, Meet-ups, online Tweet-ups. Of note: it is not the responsibility of Archivists of Color to educate white archivists on How To Be An Ally. We have to make a decision that we want to have our future reflect a more accurate past. And that has to also be pressed upon why we do these things too. We do not become archivists to make taste decisions or to (really) have opinions. We become archivists so that the past is well documented and preserved. And in order to do this, we MUST reject the way the archives have been leaning (ie totally white).

In what moment did it dawn on you that archives had failed diversity and inclusion, or did you always see this enormous gap/lack in the profession?

It didn’t always dawn on me that our archives were failing us. I am grateful to the #archivessowhite hashtag (as well as a few other amazing archivists that I follow on twitter) because they really got me thinking about how our materials are preserved and what works we save. I’m fairly lucky. I work in moving image archiving and race and privilege has certainly been a huge discussion in that landscape, due to some people that I have personally worked with like Professor Allyson Field. I have recognized that my archival colleagues are primarily white.  Inter-archival outreach is something that I feel really strongly about because I feel like we deal with similar issues on a meta-level but we may not talk about it (ie #archivessowhite).  I am grateful that I believe: “You’re an archivist? I’m an archivist! We’re all archivists!” no matter what the materials so that I have added people on social media and been able to capture these online conversations & acquire valuable colleagues.

What would you like the archives, and the archivists, of the future to be? What actions do you see helping the field move on that direction?

We clearly need archivists of the future to be more racially varied and rework the power system. Let’s break down present structures and be less frightened of change (it’s going to come whether you like it or not and we’re in the field that is prepping for change). I hope that the archivist population of the future will get to a point where they will receive materials from Stonewall and Ferguson and just know that they are critically valuable and have their supervisors be as joyful and passionate about their preservation as they are. I hope there will be no arguments about how to preserve legal documents from the Trayvon Martin case or Black Lives Matter flyers. This is the kind of archivist landscape that we need. I do worry that there is a segment of people who, while I respect and value them for their hard work and intelligence, may not be able to evolve to this level. I hope that we can all work together to get to a higher ground. The thing I love the most about archiving is our community-ness but we have a problem that needs to be fixed.

What readings (up to 3) do you recommend to archivists who need to up their knowledge around archives and race?

Three (well, more…) basic readings about archives and race I would suggest:

This is just necessary: http://www.cirtl.net/files/PartI_CreatingAwareness_WhitePrivilegeUnpackingtheInvisibleKnapsack.pdf

There are some great articles in here, but in particular, Adrienne Harling’s What to do About Privilege

http://www2.archivists.org/sites/all/files/2012-6-AO.pdf

Diversity & Librarian Conversation:

http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2015/why-diversity-matters-a-roundtable-discussion-on-racial-and-ethnic-diversity-in-librarianship/#comment-40788

Can we find another word for Diversity?

http://www.salon.com/2015/10/26/diversity_is_for_white_people_the_big_lie_behind_a_well_intended_word/

April Hathcock – multiple writings on diversity & inclusion. ALL very good!

https://aprilhathcock.wordpress.com/category/diversity-and-inclusion/

#ArchivesSoWhite in the Words of Samantha Winn

I&A Research Teams are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession. Under the leadership of the I&A Steering Committee, the Research Teams compile their findings into Research Posts for the I&A blog. Each Research Post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. This Research Post comes from On-Call Research Team #1, which is mobilized to investigate issues as they arise.

Please be aware that the sources cited have not been vetted and do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable.

Due to the amount of information Research Team #1 gathered, this will be a 4-part series, with the Intro & Bibliography and then interviews with Jarrett Drake, Samantha Winn, and Ariel Schudson.

Samantha Winn serves as the Collections Archivist for Virginia Tech, where she helps to document the cultural heritage and experiences of traditionally marginalized groups. Samantha graduated from Drexel University with an MLIS and concentration in archival studies. She is currently chair of SAA’s Students and New Archives Professionals (SNAP) Roundtable. She was one of the first people to engage with #ArchivesSoWhite on Twitter

What does #ArchivesSoWhite mean to you?

With #ArchivesSoWhite, Jarrett Drake leveraged broader cultural conversations around representation for people of color at the Oscars to pithily draw attention to parallel failings in archives. For me, #ArchivesSoWhite was a mechanism to spotlight pervasive and deeply entrenched patterns of exclusion in our collection development practices and the recruitment, hiring, and retention of archival professionals. Generations of cultural heritage and information professionals have engaged this issue of marginalization in our institutions. Whatever progress we’ve made, we still have a long way to go.

I was raised to seek out, listen to, and respect other people’s stories. This early training prepared me in many ways to be an archivist. When I entered the field as a paraprofessional in 2011, I made it a priority to build an inclusive and diverse network of peers and mentors (I talked about this work as a student writing for Hack Library School).

I happened to catch #ArchivesSoWhite while grappling with broader social justice/anti-racism work in my immediate community. I have considered this work a deep personal priority for many years, but I’ve only recently felt sufficiently equipped to engage with it in a public and meaningful way. Several resources exist for this. My own path involved a lot of reading, a lot of listening , and many professional development workshops.

Now that I have a deeper reservoir of expertise, I’ve been working to balance two competing priorities. The first is a need to decenter myself and step back from the podium to give other voices a space. The second is a responsibility to leverage my own privilege – by which I mean my position of influence online and in personal spaces, my access to decision makers, and my relative professional security – to initiate, sustain, and act upon hard conversations about representation in archives. I joined the #ArchivesSoWhite conversation because I felt convicted by one of Jarrett’s tweets, which lamented the reality that people from traditionally marginalized groups are expected to carry these burdens with limited support, resources, or recognition. In addition to being exploitative and irresponsible, this practice diminishes our collective ability to retain  archivists from these groups.

What conversations do you wish to hear archivists having, and where?

Rather than jump right into the conversation, many of us may need to step back and listen first. I recommend seeking out research and literature from across the cultural heritage professions, attending workshops in your area, and intentionally listening to the lived experiences of our POC colleagues (without excuse, argument, or evasion). Then, and only then, will we be equipped to make change in our individual spheres of influence. Once we get there, I want to hear archivists talk about our responsibility for diversity and inclusion in our role as cultural heritage professionals. I also want to hear recommendations from across the broad archives community about how folks have incorporated these values into collection development, arrangement and description, outreach, scholarship, mentoring, recruitment and retention, and so on.

The question of recruitment and retention should be a key priority, especially for SAA leaders and archives managers. I have seen a distinct and undeniable whitewashing of the profession at every step of the career ladder. My colleagues today (broadly speaking) do not look like my classmates from high school and college, and they don’t look like the paraprofessionals I worked with before I graduated. In the 2010 US census, about 64% of respondents identified as “white, non-hispanic.” If our profession was representative of the US population, 1 in 3 archivists would be a person of color.

One broad conversation that needs to happen is for our profession as a whole to explicitly agree that we care about equitable representation for people of color in the ranks of archivists and in the historic record. I’m not certain we’re there yet. Studies of corporate and academic initiatives have shown that diversity and inclusion policies are effectively meaningless when goals are watered down. It is profoundly counterproductive (however well-intentioned) to equivocate difference of opinions, geographic distribution, and institution type with ethnic and racial diversity.

Better yet, what action do you want archivists to be taking?

I challenge anyone who claims that they lack the capacity to achieve meaningful progress in this work. The truth is that there are so many steps we can take, regardless of our job description or tenure in the profession. Here is a narrow sample of things we can do:

1. Seek out literature and personal stories about the experiences of marginalized groups around archives, including archivists, cultural heritage creators/donors, and researchers.

2. Strive to broaden our professional networks to include more people of color.

3. Attend continuing education workshops on diversity and inclusion practices.

4. For hiring managers, seek out training on unconscious/implicit bias. Research best practices for hiring policies that measurably reduce discrimination by effect (regardless of intent).

5. Personally encourage students (K-12 and college) from traditionally marginalized groups to consider archives as a profession.

6. Recruit people of color to run for SAA positions, serve on committees, and pursue leadership roles across the organization.

7. Bring a diversity/inclusion lens to collection development, exhibits, and scholarly research. Regardless of who we are or what kind of institution we work in (unless we literally work for the Institute for the History of Rich Older White Protestant Married Men with Ivy League Degrees), anyone can do this.

8. Actively and explicitly invite the participation of traditionally marginalized groups in collection development and documentation strategies.

9. Deliberately and intentionally mentor students and new professionals from traditionally marginalized communities.

10. Seek out and invite people of color to speak on panels, author book chapters, give keynotes, and teach workshops on topics that reflect their professional expertise (e.g. not just for diversity panels).

In what moment did it dawn on you that archives had failed diversity and inclusion, or did you always see this enormous gap/lack in the profession?

It was pretty clear to me as a student of history from a young age, but several experiences as a researcher, archives staff member,  conference attendee, and roundtable leader have reinforced this understanding.

What would you like the archives, and the archivists, of the future to be? What actions do you see helping the field move on that direction?

I am excited to see the Council’s new cultural competency training roll out. I would like to see all archival professionals take on responsibility for this work in our repositories and our professional organizations. I would like to see stronger diversity/inclusion mandates adopted and implemented across SAA. I would particularly like to see permanent funding for the Mosaic Scholarship and a renewal of the Mosaic Program.

What readings (up to 3) do you recommend to archivists who need to up their knowledge around archives and race?

April Hathcock’s “White Librarianship in Blackface: Diversity Initiatives in LIS”, http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2015/lis-diversity/

Jennifer Vinopal’s “The Quest for Diversity in Library Staffing: From Awareness to Action”,http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2016/quest-for-diversity/

Fobazi Ettarh’s “Black or Queer? Life at the Intersection”, http://hacklibraryschool.com/2013/11/19/black-or-queer-life-at-the-intersection/

#ArchivesSoWhite in the Words of Jarrett Drake

I&A Research Teams are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession. Under the leadership of the I&A Steering Committee, the Research Teams compile their findings into Research Posts for the I&A blog. Each Research Post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. This Research Post comes from On-Call Research Team #1, which is mobilized to investigate issues as they arise.

Please be aware that the sources cited have not been vetted and do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable.

Due to the amount of information Research Team #1 gathered, this will be a 4-part series, with the Intro & Bibliography and then interviews with Jarrett Drake, Samantha Winn, and Ariel Schudson.

Jarrett M. Drake is the Digital Archivist at the Princeton University Archives, where his current responsibilities entail describing born-digital archival collections, managing the Digital Curation Program, and coordinating the Archiving Student Activism at Princeton (ASAP) initiative. He is also one of the organizers and an advisory archivist of A People’s Archive of Police Violence in Cleveland, an independent community-based archive in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, that collects, preserves, and provide access to the stories, memories, and accounts of police violence as experienced or observed by Cleveland citizens.

What does #ArchivesSoWhite mean to you?

This hashtag, which I spawned from the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, recognizes that the whiteness and white supremacy laced throughout Hollywood is also laced throughout the (US) archival field. The first blockbuster film, DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, is an homage to the lost cause and racial terror. The first state archival repositories in the US emerged in the deep south, primarily as a way to help preserve the memory of the lost cause and memorialize Confederate veterans. This inextricable link between film making and archive making rests on the normalization of whiteness and masculinity, and to a further extent the maintenance of patriarchy. Much like the Academy Awards, which fail repeatedly to honor and recognize the contributions and successes of non-white people, archives also uphold and validate whiteness through their appraisal and descriptive practices.

What conversations do you wish to hear archivists having, and where? Better yet, what action do you want archivists to be taking?

I’m not sure conversations are what archivists need. Archivists need to begin taking action, preferably beyond our walls and beyond our professional bounds. Archivists need to partner with scholars in ethnic studies programs, such as Black Studies, Latino Studies, or Asian American Studies. To make our work attuned to the struggles facing people at the intersection of race/ethnicity/gender, we also should partner with Women’s/Gender Studies scholars, and in particular those studying and writing about black feminism. I think our profession turns to itself to have conversations, which is a big problem given how overwhelmingly white and middle class our field is. We need fewer conversations amongst ourselves, and we need more action with other professions and disciplines.

In what moment did it dawn on you that archives had failed diversity and inclusion, or did you always see this enormous gap/lack in the profession?

I think I saw it before it dawned on me per se; I don’t recall one specific moment. The failure of our field has ripple effects. This failure impacts what gets printed in middle and high school textbooks. This failure impacts what gets exhibited at libraries and museums. This failure impacts what gets produced in films. To the extent that whiteness and masculinity are historically venerated, I’ve always seen the gap, even when I didn’t know the reason. But now I know the reasons and I see them up close and personal in my daily work and in the professional conferences I attend.

What would you like the archives, and the archivists, of the future to be? What actions do you see helping the field move on that direction?

I want the field of archives to be critical, ethical, and responsible. I want us to challenge power and authority, not merely acquiesce to it. I want us to be transparent about the forces that shape our work and stop pretending that the colonialism and imperialism of the American state don’t greatly impact the operation of most archival repositories. We profess, ostensibly, that our field is free of these things, but this is demonstrably false. Until we change that dynamic, we should be forthcoming about it. I want us to be responsible to the people, and not to the state. The state != the people. Currently, archives serve the state, broadly defined as the government and those with the means to influence the government. We need to put the people first. That’s what responsible archives look like to me.

What readings (up to 3) do you recommend to archivists who need to up their knowledge around archives and race?

This is so hard, if not unfair!

1) Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History by Michel-Rolph Trouillot.

2) “The Archival Sliver: Power, Memory, and Archives in South Africa,” by Verne Harris

3) “Being Assumed Not to Be: A Critique of Whiteness as an Archival Imperative,” by Mario Ramirez.

I recognize the limitations in only listing works by men, and thus I am part of the problem. I expect (hope) someone critiques my choices because they reflect the failing of intersectional thinking in our field. We all have to do better, myself included.

 

#ArchivesSoWhite Intro & Bibliography

I&A Research Teams are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession. Under the leadership of the I&A Steering Committee, the Research Teams compile their findings into Research Posts for the I&A blog. Each Research Post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. This Research Post comes from On-Call Research Team #1, which is mobilized to investigate issues as they arise.

Please be aware that the sources cited have not been vetted and do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable.

Due to the amount of information Research Team #1 gathered, this will be a 4-part series, with the Intro & Bibliography and then interviews with Jarrett Drake, Samantha Winn, and Ariel Schudson.

In January 2016 protesters sparked a conversation about the ongoing exclusion of people of color from nomination for Academy Awards with the Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. Although specifically focused on a single awards ceremony, the message it represented has far broader implications for how society grapples with institutional and structural racism. For archivists, the issues of cultural hegemony and representation #OscarsSoWhite addressed are ongoing concerns as we deal with our own legacy of a white, patriarchal system.

In response, archivist Jarrett Drake expanded the dialog through his own adaptation of the hashtag, #ArchivesSoWhite. Drake calls the archival profession to task for continuing to prioritize narratives of white supremacy and restricting opportunities for people of color in the profession. The ensuing Twitter conversation brought several other voices into the discussion, but also emphasized that these issues need to be addressed at a far deeper level as we strive for critical self-examination and real change.

Members of the Issues & Advocacy Roundtable On-Call Research #1 team reached out to Jarrett, as well as several other archivists involved in the dialog to gain additional perspective on their use of the hashtag #ArchivesSoWhite and potential next steps for the profession. Jarrett Drake, Sam Winn, and Ariel Schudson all graciously agreed to be interviewed for this blog.

The full text of those interviews will follow, but there are several key takeaways reiterated by each archivist worth noting here. The problems of a lack of diversity and the shaping of history based upon the records of the wealthy and powerful have been discussed among archivists for years. We can build upon the momentum of #ArchivesSoWhite to move beyond talk to action. From the collections our repositories acquire to the outreach we conduct, exhibits we mount, and classes we teach, a fundamental shift in how archivists conceptualize their mandate is coming. In addition, we need to reevaluate how we train, hire, support, and retain diverse staff who truly represent the materials for which they care.

Above all, this is not a solitary effort. Both Jarrett and Sam emphasize the twin goals of education and collaboration. We have compiled a brief bibliography with articles and books that provide context and background, allowing us to approach these problems as informed practitioners. Scholars, activists, researchers, and the public all have a stake in this conversation. We will use mechanisms that allow us to seek out and listen to the concerns of our colleagues across disciplines.

Acknowledgement of the lack of diversity in the profession, the realization that personal biases affect our work, and widespread recognition of the gaps in the historical record are not new developments. The question now is how we can take advantage of this particular moment of reflection and cultural consciousness.

Bibliography

Referenced in the #ArchivesSoWhite Dialogue

Zimrig, Carl. Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States. New York: NYU Press, 2016.

Recommended by Interviewees

Berrey, Ellen. “Diversity is for what people: The big lie behind a well-intended word,” Salon, October 26, 2015.

Ettarh, Fobazi. “Black or Queer? Life at the Intersection” Hack Library School, November 19, 2013.

Haris, Verene. “The Archival Sliver: Power, Memory, and Archives in South Africa,” Archival Science 2 (2002): 63.

Harling, Adrienne, “What to Do about Privilege,” Archival Outlook (November/December 2012): 13.

Hathcock, April. Diversity and Inclusion writings on At the Intersection: Blog about the intersection of libraries, law, feminism, and diversity.

Hathcock, April. “White Librarianship in Blackface: Diversity Initiatives in LIS”, In the Library With the Lead Pipe, October 7, 2015.

McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” Independent School (Winter 1990).

Ramierz, Mario. “Being Assumed Not to Be: A Critique of Whiteness as an Archival Imperative,” American Archivist 78 no. 2 (2015): 339.

Swanson, Juleah, Ione Damasco, Isabel Gonzalez-Smith, Dracine Hodges, Todd Honma, and Azusa Tanaka. “Why Diversity Matters: A Roundtable Discussion on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Librarianship,” In the Library With the Lead Pipe, July 29, 2015.

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph  Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History Boston: Beacon Press, 1997.

Vinopal, Jennifer. “The Quest for Diversity in Library Staffing: From Awareness to Action”, In the Library With the Lead Pipe, January 13, 2016.

Additional Sources

Dewey, Barbara I., and Loretta Parham. Achieving diversity : a how-to-do-it manual for librarians. New York : Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2006.

Hastings, Samantha Kelly. “If Diversity Is a Natural State, Why Don’t Our Libraries Mirror the Populations They Serve?.” Library Quarterly 85, no. 2 (April 2015): 133.

Maxey-Harris, Charlene, and Toni Anaya. Diversity plans and programs. Washington, DC : Association of Research Libraries, 2010.

Neely, Teresa Y., and Kuang-Hwei Lee-Smeltzer. Diversity now : people, collections, and services in academic libraries : selected papers from the Big 12 Plus Libraries Consortium Diversity Conference. New York : Haworth Information Press, 2002.

Ryan, Marianne, and Sarah Leadley. “Reflections on Diversity and Organizational Development.” Reference & User Services Quarterly 54, no. 4 (Summer 2015): 6-10.

Wheeler, Ronald. “We All Do It: Unconscious Behavior, Bias, and Diversity.” Law Library Journal 107, no. 2 (Spring 2015): 325-331.

The I&A Steering Committee would like to thank Heather Oswald for writing this post, and Stephanie Bennett and Christine Anne George for coordinating interviews.

I&A On-Call Research Team #1 is:

Christine Anne George, Leader
Stephanie Bennett
Maureen Harlow
Heather Oswald
Linda Reynolds
Kristen Weischedel

If you are aware of an issue that might benefit from a Research Post, please get in touch with us: archivesissues@gmail.com.