April 17, 2015

Zines fests, neutrality, and tie ins to library work

photo by Jen Collins/ Flickr Creative Commons
Today I was reading here and here about how the Brooklyn Zine Fest silenced People of Color (POC), through removing a panel about #BlackLivesMatter under the guise of keeping the fest "apolitical." This is appalling and additionally depressing to hear about considering that this essentially is a space for activists and those who are endeavoring to express alternative points of view. We have to remember, sadly, that the erasing or silencing of POC can happen anywhere, not just in spaces that have a more hostile agenda.

Also, an 'apolitical' zine fest??? I would say that's a definite oxymoron.

I really want to tie this in to library work. In Jordan Alam's blog post about this, she says:


"Our bodies and lives do not have the privilege to claim that they are ‘apolitical.’ By our basic existence, we must contend with the very politicized assumptions placed upon us, black people most of all. Shutting us out from programming is a choice to align with the dominant racist and anti-black culture."


This is relevant to the argument that we say "we're neutral!" in libraries and that we are aware of and represent "all" points of view. In our collections, in our instruction, in how we organize and describe our materials, and all the work we do. Because this blanket of neutrality supposedly covers the whole library, I would imagine, when making this argument.

But just like at this zine fest, when a point of view was silenced to stay 'apolitical,' it's like turning the conversation around #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter. White people have the luxury of being viewed as "normal" and "apolitical" and "neutral." #AllLivesMatter is the point of view that is always front and center. And this point of view tends to take the perspective of whiteness. POC are always silenced or marginalized or othered. Actually showing "all" points of view would be to put more focus on these perspectives that are not always in the spotlight, as whiteness is the lens we tend to see everything through.

I made this argument with my colleague, Niamh Wallace, in our recent article for C&RL News, "Black Lives Matter! Shedding library neutrality rhetoric for social justice." But I think the point can still be missed by those who might not be seeing past what the true meaning of neutrality in library work means.

Librarians have been talking about this for some time, I have never implied I am the first to discuss this, but I think there is an extra focus or interest in these topics again currently. We should be talking about this as a profession, as being critical involves dialogue. We're not going to always agree, and it's not going to always be in binary terms of right or wrong, but that's not a reason to not engage. And if we are representing diverse communities with different perspectives than ~85% white librarianship, this idea of "we'll just show all points of view" but remain "neutral" misses the point and further marginalizes our users.

I really hope Brooklyn Zine Fest will engage in productive discussion (and apology) about this with their community, particularly zinesters of color, and add an extra event focusing on these issues during the fest.