Are we ready for this?

Disclaimer: You probably won’t understand what I’m talking about unless you’ve seen the video.

Recently, I watched a YouTube video made by a UCLA student who went on a tirade against the Asian population on campus, and in the library. You can find the original video through the article I linked. Her basic point was that she was irritated because Asian people are always on their cellphones in the library. Her video blew up on YouTube, garnering responses as hateful and ignorant as the initial video. It’s obvious that her perspective was ignorant and racist, and while this blog post is in part a response to that, it’s also a response to the YouTube rebuttals, and to the likelihood of a similar outburst happening in the library setting itself.

This video really irked me for a few different reasons, some personal. First, I am an Asian American, studying in the library and information science field. You won’t see me talking on my cellphone in the library, unless I’m in the break room. Lack of manners has little to do with race, and a lot more to do with a person’s upbringing. My mom, an immigrant from Vietnam, took me to plenty of libraries as a child, which ingrained me in the library culture. This is how I learned how to behave in the library setting. Second, UCLA is a very diverse campus, so you would think that the students would be more culturally aware there. However, in diverse settings, tensions can actually be heightened due to a lack of cultural awareness. Third, the biggest revelation about this whole ordeal is a general inability to understand different cultures, not only by the initial YouTuber, but also by the people who responded to her. What frustrates me is not just the assumptions she makes about Asians (like all non-whites aren’t American), but also the assumptions that people have made about her. I watched a few YouTube videos that responded to hers and they just made up stereotypes about blond, white women. Yes, I get that people are angry, and throwing insults back is an easy go to response, but I’m not satisfied with that.

More immediately, my response was: how would a librarian handle this? I imagined a hypothetical situation with an irate patron spouting inflammatory insults at another patron based on similar stereotyping. What if something like this happened in my library? As future or current information professionals, we have the potential to spread understanding of cultural diversity, but I wonder if we are equipped to deal with these kinds of elevated situations. Are we prepped with enough training in how to handle diverse populations? I had to reflect on my own experiences in library school and whether issues of diversity have ever been discussed.

My program is not diverse and the same goes for my workplace. Not surprisingly, I have occasionally seen a lack of understanding of other cultures, comments that seemed ignorant.  As someone who stands outside the majority, I’m prone to seeing this lack of awareness. Does our education really prepare us for these situations? Probably not. I know some schools might have required courses on diversity but mine isn’t one of them. Honestly, I don’t think you can teach that sort of awareness in the classroom, it has to be learned through interaction with different kinds of people in the real world. I was fortunate enough to have lived in diverse cities growing up, which helped shaped my understanding.

I realize that not everyone is going to have the same exposure to different cultures, as seen by the attitude of this UCLA student. Instead, we can start a dialog within our communities, within the LIS community, and talk about the ways in which we approach cultural differences. Audre Lorde once wrote, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” We can’t change these issues of ignorance by throwing stereotypes and racial slurs in response. Instead, we need to look further at the root of the issue. It’s not just about skin color or superficial differences, but trying to understand various cultural backgrounds and being aware of them.

Other LIS students and bloggers have already reflected on the issue of diversity in LIS. By putting our thoughts out there and engaging with others we have gotten the discussion going, and hopefully raised some awareness. My favorite part about this is the varying viewpoints everyone brings to the table, because the term “diversity” applies, most importantly, to the uniqueness of the person. There are times when I feel helpless, but when I look at the work of my peers, I know that others are thinking about the same issues. It’s easy for a single voice to be drowned out, but as a collective we have more agency for change.

Link to other blog posts on diversity in LIS:

Julia’s Research Blog – Diversity in LIS Education

Hack Library School – Diversity in LIS – From My Perspective

The Melody Party – Diversity in LIS

anthroarchivist – thoughts on diversity

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