In addition to my reeling shock, disbelief, and re-evaluation of social and political dynamics in North America, a few other things have happened since Donald Trump was named president-elect that have made me take a look at my role as a librarian:
- My Young Adult Materials class (LIS 9364 at the University of Western Ontario, led by Paulette Rothbauer) had a discussion about what librarians can do for young people in a Trump era and proceeded to compile a list of resources for teens. (A launching point for our discussion was The Role of Teen Librarians and Staff in the Current Social Climate developed by UNC library school students and faculty, so shout-out to them).
- The ALA released a press release in which ALA president Julie Todaro is quoted saying: “We are ready to work with President-elect Trump, his transition team, incoming administration and members of Congress to bring more economic opportunity to all Americans and advance other goals we have in common.” (She has since released a statement apologizing for and backtracking on this).
- Twitter exploded with responses from librarians (such as this one from Emily Drabinski) condemning the ALA’s support for collaborating with the incoming Trump administration.
I am not excited about a Trump presidency, and I am heartbroken that he is who the American people have chosen to be their future commander-in-chief. I think it is very important for librarians to be considering how to bring people in and support them, such as the UNC students did, and essential that we speak up about our objections to political leaders that threaten what our profession believes in, like Emily Drabinski did.
What I can’t seem to reconcile is that, while I am anti-Trump, I am not anti-Trump-supporter. Am I part of the problem? Am I the racist white person in the room?
I think I could have been.
I grew up in Abbotsford, BC, a conservative “city in the country” in British Columbia’s so-called Bible Belt. I lived in a low-crime, overwhelmingly-white, residential neighbourhood with detached houses full of other normative suburban white families with their 2.5 kids. My parents had good jobs, though they never received university education. They raised me to believe in hard work, honesty, and integrity prevailing above all else. That’s what got them to where they were in life, I always thought.
That, and the fact that they were white. But I didn’t figure this out until much later.
In fact, I was still touting the merits of hard work and the uselessness of affirmative action up until I was 21 years-old. After two years of university education (in a very critical, left-leaning anthropology department, I should add) I still didn’t really understand structural inequality.
It took a lot to break out the mold that was formed for me by my family, neighbourhood, and upbringing, but my education and increase in diverse media consumption chipped away at my belief in the sole importance of hard work over two decades. Now, I get it: I was handed a big white, straight, cis, able, middle-class gift that so many people in this world don’t receive. And that’s really not fair.
But I still remember being on the other side–not understanding why activists were so angry; getting flustered anytime someone “from the left” confronted me about an article I wrote for the student newspaper; and generally feeling completely alienated (and, honestly, like I was quite stupid) by a lot of the advocacy efforts I saw on my undergrad campus.
And so this is why I have a soft spot for Trump supporters. Nobody, white people especially, wakes up woke. It can take a lot of work to understand and unpack the racial/class/gender/etc. baggage that we all carry, and some people will never be encouraged to work through that in a meaningful way.
This is where I think librarians can come in–particularly librarians like me.
People who are going to be further marginalized by a Trump administration are already shouldering so much of the burden of activism and advocacy, and I do not think it is their responsibility to also show kindness to the Trump supporters who were simply never told another story about themselves or their country. People of colour, queer and LGBTQ folks, Muslims, and everyone else feeling the hate from a Trump America deserve the space to be angry, and they do not need to be pushed in front of their oppressors to teach them about their whiteness.
But we do need to talk critically about whiteness and privilege. We need to reach out with kindness and provide information and spaces for discussion about race, class, and inequality specifically targeted at white people who might never have been encouraged to think differently about their world. Reconciliation across this hateful divide is not going to happen with both sides shouting in isolation from one another–after all, that’s how we got here in the first place.
Note (January 5, 2017): Someone recently pointed out that this post makes it sound like I think only ignorant, uninformed, and/or racist people voted for Donald Trump. I wanted to take a moment to clarify that I understand people had a wide variety of reasons for voting for Donald Trump, but I suppose what disheartens me is that people voted for him despite the fear and bigotry he epitomizes. I would rather live in a world where that is a dealbreaker for more people when considering who to vote for their country’s leader, and I think calling people in is an important step to getting there.