(Image source: urban dictionary)
Guest post by Yesenia Villar [Max Macias interviewed Yesenia Villar, creator of @BIPOC_in_LIS for this post.]
There has been an awakening on Instagram this year--a political, social, and historical awakening that is helping to change thinking about race, racism, activism, social justice and more. The beautiful thing about this awakening is that it is being led by BIPOC. One of the most prominent accounts to follow on instagram is @BIPOC_in_LIS! This account brings together so many issues of people who are oppressed--not only in LIS and libraries, but also in education and in general society. Every day I am moved by her posts and also learn from them. @BIPOC_in_LIS can be thought of as a clearinghouse of information related to BIPOC in libraries. @BIPOC_in_LIS goes beyond BIPOC and posts about all sorts of oppressed groups and intersections!
What is @BIPOC_in_LIS?
@BIPOC_in_LIS (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in Library and Information Science) is an Instagram page created in late June 2020 out of sheer frustration with the amount of gatekeeping in my organization. In the bio, I describe myself as an anti-racist librarian holding space, building community, and empowering BIPOC to fully thrive as their authentic selves in academic and professional spaces. My organization lacks a safe space for BIPOC to mentor, collaborate, and innovate. Libraries have always been, and continue to be, despite efforts to diversify, predominantly white spaces. These spaces can be isolating, demoralizing, and intimidating to BIPOC. Often our professors, administration, and white colleagues are oblivious to how the policies, practices, and procedures in our organizations and institutions further disenfranchise marginalized groups. My hope is that the page advocates just as much as it educates and empowers, so that my followers can advocate for themselves and their communities.
(All following images are from the BIPOC_in_LIS IG feed)
What was your motivation?
In our city, as in many cities across the country, people were gathering by the tens of thousands marching in Black Lives Matter rallies. While this movement had been active for years, the brutal killing of George Floyd in the hands of Minneapolis Police Department officers Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao catapulted the movement into the homes of people all over the world. Society was seemingly “awakened” about systemic racism’s prevalence in government institutions, and the lack of judicial action for the killings at the hands of officers assigned to protect its citizenry.
When news broke of Louisville Metro police officers Brett Hankison, Myles Cosgrove, and Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly killing Breonna Taylor while she lay sleeping in her home, I knew that I had been too complicit with white supremacy. As a teengaer I lost a friend to police violence, and just a few years ago I unexpectedly lost my brother. I know too well the pain of sudden loss. While many duly called out for justice in the names of the Black lives lost, I couldn’t help but feel heartbroken for the loved ones left behind to pick up the pieces in their absence. I began to explore how I could not only advocate for Black lives, but also underrepresented, marginalized, and disenfranchised people across an array of groups.
What people often neglect to realize is that public libraries are government institutions. We hold our own biases that further marginalize and oppress disenfranchised communities of color. Librarianship is 86.1% white and mainly straight female, diverse voices and perspectives are systematically disparaged, policed, and suppressed. Predominantly white authority figures dictate our collections, services, and programs. To overcome the homogenization of our profession, we must become radical activists for change.
As my colleague, friend, and mentor Wendy McPherson reminds me:
The fact that public libraries are government institutions is such an important point and lost to many of our colleagues (although rarely to our users). For us as radicals working within this government institution it puts us in a unique and powerful position. We work for our bosses but we also elect our bosses. We can un-elect them. We also have the ability, as the workers with inside information, to monitor, reveal and blow the whistle on any misuse of the public funds. We can legitimately say “open the books,” when management says it doesn’t have the funds to provide a service or change a policy that will benefit BIPOC in the community and/or on staff. We have a responsibility as radical public workers to safeguard the money and its use for our community.
Librarianship is about social justice. If you are, or are thinking of becoming a librarian simply because you love to read, please step aside. Find a job at a bookstore, and vacate the space for a librarian that is on a mission of social justice.
What, if any, has been your obstacle(s)?
Sometimes I struggle with the concept of white saviorism. As a light-skinned Latina, am I perpetuating a version of white [passing] saviorism? I assure you that no white community will accept me into their group; however, in terms of the color hierarchy within the Latinx community, I recognize I have an unearned privilege. Running this page has forced me to acknowledge that despite facing intersecting systems of oppression, I am still very much privileged among the BIPOC LIS community.
I work for a progressive award-winning organization in one of the most diverse cities in the world. The level of racism I experience is minimal in comparison to what other groups across the country experience. Perhaps it is my awareness of my privileges, earned and unearned, that propel me to continue to advocate. In addition to my light-skin tone, I am a U.S. citizen, straight, cis-gendered, neurotypical, young, able-bodied, conventionally attractive, educated, financially stable, and employed. To be granted such privileges without using them to uplift more marginalized groups would be thoughtless.
What, if any, are your fears?
There’s always a fear of retaliation for speaking truth to power. So often, we are judged, dismissed, invalidated, ostracized, harassed, and retaliated against for merely showing up as our authentic selves. We experience tone policing that labels our passion as “aggressive,” policies regulate our style as “unprofessional,” we experience daily microaggressions that slowly break us down. Often our white colleagues are oblivious to the struggles we face. They carelessly say statements like: “The problem with you is that you say what’s on your mind.” As if advocating for yourself and others is a “problem.” I had a supervisor who, instead of evaluating me on my work, passed moral judgments based on her conservative Christian values. It seems as though anytime we fail to conform to dominant ideologies, we face scrutiny. In a profession regulated by whiteness, which expands beyond a racial privilege to encompass an array of dominant ideologies based on class, gender identity, sexual orientation, and so on; being a BIPOC in itself is a battle.
When I express fears of coming forward about my own experiences, my friend, colleague, and confidant Patricia “Patita” Alvarado assures me my feelings are valid. When my ideas are invalidated in meetings, only to be later stolen by colleagues who pass them off as their own, Patita is the person with whom I confide. Sometimes I don’t know if I want to cry, scream, or kick. Sometimes it’s all three. She’ll say things like, “White colleagues are taking advantage of their privilege to advance their careers at the heels of their [Black] and Brown counterparts.” She validates my experiences when my organization and colleagues attempt to lead me to believe I am “overreacting”. We all need a “Patita '' in our lives to give us strength when we feel broken down. I hope that through @BIPOC_in_LIS I can provide some validation for those in need.
What do you hope to accomplish?
Feeling empowered has been an ongoing process. BIPOC often applaud me for my outspokenness. I want everybody to know that I have been an active agent for change in my life. As an advocate, I know that my knowledge will always be questioned. I know that being in white spaces requires me to, as the old adage states, ‘work twice as hard to get half as far’. I simply see no alternative; I refuse to be complicit. As a librarian, I hope to begin to dismantle white supremacy in the field of Library and Information Science. I hope that @BIPOC_in_LIS builds awareness and a community so together we can create more equitable, diverse, and inclusive library spaces.
I would also like to publicly thank Lupita Leyva and Wendy McPherson for their unconditional support. When institutionalized racism tries to kick me down, these women extend an arm to raise me back up. I couldn’t be the librarian I am today if it wasn’t for the mentorship of these women. Thank you also to my friend Charlie Reyes for fueling the riot grrrl inside of me when my light starts to dim.
Thank you all for your time and energy. I hope today finds you well. Stay radical my friends.