LACUNY 2016 Institute: Race Matters: Race, Racism and Antiracism
The tension between the individual and the structural continues to be a key issue in racial politics. This tension has marked recent discussions on the dog-whistle demagoguery of Donald Trump, the racialization of violence through Thug/Loner/Terrorist media narratives, the accountability of police brutality perpetrators, and beyond. The degree to which racialized power and difference are understood to represent individual phenomena and/or structural phenomena — and the anti-racist implications of such critical understandings — have long been sites of contention in anti-racist discourse. As Goldberg (1993) has demonstrated, the liberal racial politics that has dominated anti-racist thought has tended to locate racism and anti-racism (and, indeed, race itself) chiefly as matters of individual (in)action. In particular, racism comes to be framed as aberrant ignorance and irrationality and anti-racism as “self-work,” whether this be personal “unlearning” or individual institutional reform; consequently, investigations of racism as a structuring aspect of broader social, economic, and political arrangements tend to be deemphasized. The goal becomes diversification of existing arrangements towards harmonious “race relations” rather than the exploration of the complex ways in which such structures work to reproduce race and white supremacy.
This presentation seeks to explore this central problem in anti-racist analysis within the context of Library and Information Studies (LIS). While LIS critics (e.g. Honma (2005), Hussey (2010), Peterson (1996, 1999)) have long pointed to the tendency within dominant narratives of diversity to ignore structural critique, individualized accounts of racial power and difference continue to dominate the field, underpinning literature on cultural competence, microaggressions, demographic alignment, and white privilege and allyship.
Drawing on work by Goldberg (1993, 1997, 2002, 2009), Ahmed (2012), Bonnett (2000), López (2014), and other critical race scholars, the proposed paper will offer context through (a) an overview of key issues in critical race engagements with the question of the individual versus the structural; and (b) an elaboration of the ways in which such issues play out in LIS discourse on race. We will then explore questions on the dynamics, implications, possibilities, and challenges of individual and structural analyses. What, for instance, might an LIS emphasis on structural dynamics look like? Would a shift towards such an emphasis require changes in research culture? And what modes of analysis might such a shift enable? Is analysis like this methodologically practical in the library world (and what are the implications of asking such a question)? If white supremacy is understood to be a structural formation, how do we integrate critique of individual behavior, from microaggression to macroaggression? Does individual education have a place within structural analysis? How — if at all — might individual and structural approaches ultimately work in tandem to create more robust critiques of white supremacy from within our field?
In highlighting key analytical tensions within anti-racist politics, this presentation hopes to contribute to the foundation of a more theoretically nuanced understanding of race, power, and difference within our field’s emerging critical race analyses.
Hudson, D., & Schlesselman-Tarango, G. "On Structures and Self-Work: Locating Anti-racist Politics in LIS." Presentation at LACUNY Institute, Race Matters: Race, Racism, and Antiracism. Brooklyn College, NY. May 20, 2016.