White Privilege: Why Should Librarians Care?

Credit: Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Librarians should care because books provide a system through which children can learn about themselves and others in the world around them. When we are curating a collection, it is our responsibility to ask if we are providing balanced selection, or “gentle doses of racism” (referring to a body of children’s literature that promote whiteness as the dominant race )(Larrick, 1965, p. 63). This is perpetuated by the non-fiction and educational materials for children, which omit details that might be unsettling or offensive – such as those mentioned above that help to hide the role of white privilege in history. For example, an effort in Texas, led by Noma Gabler, aspired to rid schools of any textbook content considered anti-family, anti-American, and anti-God. If a large state like Texas rejects a book, publishers might not be able to afford to print it, so no one gets it (Norton, 2011).

Credit: Hafuboti

Censorship is only one part of the equation. The other part of it is intentional inclusion of diverse characters and experiences in literature (or the lack thereof). In other words, the books that never get written or published have an impact too – the impact of their absence. American publishers will publish what is sold, as seen in the example above, so schools, libraries, and individuals must all vote with their dollars for diverse authors, illustrators, topics, and books in order to create a balance. Libraries do not exist to keep things the same, they exist to educate and expand the minds and potential of the public, and that includes expanding the ideas of the public about power and privilege. Schools are still in the midst of debate on the role of multicultural education (Gonsalves, 2008). Libraries can take a stand to be on the cutting edge of culture. If libraries truly strive for equal access for all, they must ensure inclusive and diverse collections are made a priority.