The Intertwining Scholarship of Normative Whiteness A review of the utilization of critical Race Theory and explicit naming of racism in LIS Master’s theses.
To create this dataset, I used text and content analysis on the downloadable SILS master's theses in the Carolina Digital Repository between 2017 and 2020 for a total of 319 theses (7 could not be downloaded). Using Moritz Mähr's guide on Working with batches of PDF files, I converting the files to plain text and used grep to locate the theses matching selected terms, then analyzed matching theses to determine which ones utilized Critical Race Theory or explicitly addressed racism of/in LIS/libraries.
Terms and process
My initial search was for Critical Race, to capture both Theory and Practice. 11 theses included reference to or discussion of Critical Race Theory, although several merely introduced the theory and utilized an aspect of it (i.e. counternarrative) to look at another marginalized identity irrespective of race: 8 were determined to address racism while utilizing Critical Race Theory.
Following this search, I proceeded through a series of terms that would likely appear in work that explicitly names and addresses racism in and around libraries and LIS. For these terms, I will list the number of thesis matches (after removing duplicates already analyzed by previous terms) and the number of theses from this list to substantially address racism.
Racism or racist - 32 matches, 14 included; postcolonial or post-colonial - 4 matches, 1 included; intersectional - 6 matches, 1 included; queer theory - 2 matches, 1 included; white supremacy or whiteness or white privilege - 3 results, 0 included; neutrality - 9 results, 0 included; discrimination - 17 results, 2 included; microaggression - 0 results, 0 included; counternarrative - 0 results, 0 included.
What I set out to represent was a visualization of the normative whiteness in LIS that persists from a lack of explicitly naming the racism.
I decided to represent each thesis by a piece of twine:
- white/beige: did not use CRT or explicitly and meaningfully engage with racism
- brown/black: utilized CRT or otherwise explicitly and meaningfully engaged with racism.
Ultimately, I chose to create tassels (similar to what you would see on a graduation cap) with these strands of twine, to represent the theses of a graduating cohort (by year, including spring, summer, and fall graduation).
To create the tassels, I followed a tutorial by Kin.
The resulting tassels show the ease at which the norm (whiteness) remains visible in the absence of significant and widespread work to explicitly name and address it.
Further, over time the strands become more intertwined and knotted, strengthening their position - this can be seen in the resistance to change in the profession that is justified using the "way things have always been done" argument, or pointing to scholarship and standards developed in this way.
Interacting with the object: By rearranging the twine, one can easily obfuscate non-white twine. By intertwining the strands, one can create a stronger strand that withstands force.
While these tassels represent LIS masters theses, they also serve as a symbol of both the academy and professionalized librarianship - the barriers they present, and the normative whiteness they perpetuate.