Panelists look to 'decenter whiteness' in university archives

Neetu Chandak
New York Campus Correspondent

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  • During a recent six-day conference in Portland, Oregon, archivists attended a presentation on “Identifying and Dismantling White Supremacy in Archives.”
  • The panel called on archivists to “decenter whiteness by valuing materials produced by people of color and communities of color,” and “explicitly prioritize materials produced by people of color and communities of color.”
  • At another panel promoting the Black Lives Matter movement, one presenter was quoted as saying, “If white activists don’t use their privilege to give the platform over to POC, their activism is exploitive.”
  • During a recent six-day conference in Portland, Oregon, archivists attended a presentation on “Identifying and Dismantling White Supremacy in Archives.”

    The recent ARCHIVES 2017 conference put on by the Society of American Archivists primarily focused on technical issues related to the maintenance of university archives, but one panel was focused on eliminating objectionable material.

    “If white activists don’t use their privilege to give the platform over to POC, their activism is exploitive.”   

    The session—titled “Identifying and Dismantling White Supremacy in Archives: Developing a Plan of Action”—introduced participants to the Peggy McIntosh article, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, then asked them to identify and create a list of white privileges in archives and “brainstorm a concrete plan of action for dismantling [each] particular privilege.”

    [RELATED: MIT ‘diversity learning tree’ offers ‘privilege checklists’]

    An accompanying Google doc provides examples of white privileges, such as “I can be sure materials from my community are represented,” “Materials described primarily in English,” “Subject headings assume white male point of view,” and “Histories of rich white men promoted” to name a few.

    The document suggests a litany of solutions, saying archivists should “decenter whiteness by valuing materials produced by people of color and communities of color,” “explicitly prioritize materials produced by people of color and communities of color,” and “Recruit, train, hire, and retain archivists of color to make appraisal decisions.”

    In addition, it recommends creating compensated “community advisory boards to help make appraisal decisions.”

    [RELATED: Students demand college rescind offer to prof because he’s white]

    Participants were expected to leave the session with concrete plans that they could then implement at their own universities.  

    A poster handed out to attendees further elaborated on the strategies for “dismantling” white supremacy.

    In addition, a workshop called #ArchivesforBlackLives: Archivists respond to Black Lives Matter aimed to encourage support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

    Prominent BLM activist Teressa Raiford helped deliver the presentation, and was quoted by one participant as saying, “If white activists don’t use their privilege to give the platform over to POC, their activism is exploitive [sic].”

    According to Society of American Archivists’ code of ethics, archivists should “accept and encourage a diversity of viewpoints on social, political, and intellectual issues, as represented both in archival records and among members of the profession.”

    Campus Reform reached out to the SAA, as well as the professors involved in the panels, but has not received any responses.

    Follow Campus Reform on Twitter: @CampusReform



    Neetu Chandak

    Neetu Chandak

    New York Campus Correspondent

    Neetu is a New York Campus Correspondent, and reports on liberal bias and abuse on her campus and around the state for Campus Reform. Neetu is a Communications major at Cornell University, where she works with Network for Enlightened Women.

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