What is White Privilege?
What does White Privilege mean in the world of information?
The same systemic racial oppression that occurs in other areas of life, occurs in information creation, dissemination, categorization, searching, and preservation. The traditions of universities and scholarly publishing have been western, globally north, English-language, upper-class, male, and white dominated. Early science societies and journals were white male educators and the white male wealthy who could dabble in scientific inquiry. Broad changes to scholarly publishing have occurred in the last 50 years, but English is still the predominant language for exchanging scholarship and the global north and wealthiest countries are dominant in many fields.
For more information on the role of Classics, race, and the construction of higher education, read the work of Dan-el Padilla Peralta at Princeton University. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/02/magazine/classics-greece-rome-whiteness.html
Categorization: Library of Congress Subject Headings
The subject headings used to describe books and other materials are created by the United States Library of Congress and use a straight, white male assumption as the first lens. When women are used in headings, the assumption is that they are also white and straight. Other related headings are categorized with race and sexuality as secondary.
Without gender, race or geographic qualifications, “Astronauts” can be assumed to mean white American men in terms of library subjects. Anything labeled as 'American' can also be assumed to mean white. Other categories of 'American' are qualified, such as 'African American'.
Official Library of Congress subject headings involving astronauts. Amanda Ros, CC BY
There are 4,065 subject terms containing “women” and only 444 containing “men.” For professions that are assumed to be female, nurse or prostitute, there are headings for Male Nurses and Female Nurses but only Male Prostitutes. There are terms qualifying the white women assumption, African American Women. See the work of Amanda Ros: https://theconversation.com/the-bias-hiding-in-your-library-111951
In the late 1970s, the subject heading “Afro-Americans” replaced “Negroes.” This was in turn replaced by “African Americans” or “Blacks” in 2000. In 2016, a group of Dartmouth College students and librarians petitioned the Library of Congress to replace the outdated and offensive subject heading 'illegal alien' with 'Noncitizens' and 'Unauthorized Immigration'. The Library of Congress planned to make the change but was stopped by an act of Congress. American Libraries magazine examined the current situation, fall 2020.
The B.C. First Nations in Canada has moved away from the Dewey Decimal classification system, that has a white colonial worldview, to one created in the 1970s, the Brian Deer Classification System, that better suits their indigenous peoples worldview.
Preservation: Whose Stories are in Archives?
"Archival work requires an ethics of care for the deeply personal and the deeply political… Record creation, keeping, obstruction, or misrepresentation are all acts of identity and power. Who gets to be remembered and historicized by way of record creation? Who is forgotten or purposefully silenced in history by way of omission or destruction of records? How are records themselves...used to communicate misguided notions of holistic representation, truthfulness, neutrality, and objectivity?" - Elvia Arroyo-Ramirez, 2017, Bias, Perception, and Archival Praxis
"What does it mean to be omitted from history textbooks? What are the implications of not being able to find any (or very few) traces of the past left by people who look like you, share your cultural background, or speak the same native tongue? What impact do these archival absences have on how you might understand your place in society?" - Michelle Caswell, 2014, Seeing Yourself in History: Community Archives and the Fight Against Symbolic Annihilation
Archivist Sam Winn argues that archivists are not yet equipped to deal with these questions, cross-cultural awareness is not taught in their professional education, there is hubristic trust in objectivity or neutrality, this plays to the hegemonic default - ‘white, male, heterosexual, gender-normative, upper-middle class, Global North’. ‘The default is rarely described’. Those who defy these norms are labeled radical, partisan, or activist.
"If we accept the historical fact that African Americans were at the center of American progress from the very beginning, it begs the question then, why is the historical record filled with so many silences, distortions, and erasures around Black people’s lives?" - Bergis Jules, 2016, Confronting Our Failure of Care Around the Legacies of Marginalized People in the Archives
Searching: Algorithms and Bias
Searching: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Bias