Chilling effects: Sexism, Racism, and #thatdarnlist

If you haven’t been following the latest and greatest in Archivists ListServ drama, count yourself and your probably normal blood pressure measurements lucky.

To sum up:

  • FeministLibrarian wrote a post about Listserv changes to policy. You can see that here:  
  • A certain individual disagreed quite vehemently with FeministLibrarian’s blog posting.
  • A number of people disagreed quite vehemently to Certain individual.
  • Two weeks later, Certain individual returns to the list, proceeds to claim history as unbiased, western history as the bestest EVAR, while being racist and demands to know the credentials of a female member of the profession.
  • Throughout all this, Certain Individual called points raised by female posters as “irrational.”

Here’s Christopher Columbus saving the native population from their BBQing and no undergarment wearing ways by enslaving and killing them and raping them and basically committing genocide! YAY WESTERN HISTORY.

The post was eventually shut down, and there a number of people who can tell you all about western history and it’s inherent biases etc. etc.   However, I want to focus on something else because a lot of digital ink (including my own) has been spilled about western history.

The chilling effect this has on members of the profession.  Especially those who are not in places of power.  This means non-white archivists, non-western archivists, women archivists, LGBT archivists, and any individual who has felt themselves discounted by Western History.    As a white, cis-woman, I don’t feel like I’m entirely the person to be talking about this, but I will speak in general terms.

A Chilling effect is the effect of numerous minor discounting actions (called micro-aggressions) against certain populations who do not hold power that as a cumulative effect makes those groups not want to participate in or to leave the field in which they have worked.   This has been better documented in STEM, but I feel that it will hold true here as well.

This can include a lot of things:

  • Conflicting Roles between expectations due to gender, orientation or race and job expectations
  • perceived lack of authority
  • Small actions like being left out of committees and meetings that directly affect them.
  • Off hand comments regarding common stereotypes.
  • Discounting ideas that came up from someone from the minority group.
  • Ignoring or minimizing contributions

And I could go on.  And this has gone on, historically in the archivists listserv, specifically towards women in this case (although the blatant racism is also a chilling effect in the profession)

Now, I can already hear the cry of “BUT ARCHIVISTS ARE MOSTLY WOMEN.”  This is true.  We also tend not to be the ones in power in the listserv.  Or historically, we have not.

Notice, for instance, when male posters, who tend to be outspoken, get into disagreements on the list, they go after female posters, specifically, younger ones.  Those young women are silenced in the field, because it’s very hard to come back after getting throughly trounced, when other posters were ignored.

When the Certain Poster attacked the credentials of another archivist, he chose to attack the credentials of a woman who disagreed with him, despite the fact that people disagreeing with him were not only women. He also focused on how the contributions of commentary written by women was Irrational, while the men were merely factually incorrect.

This isn’t the first time this has happened.  This won’t be the last.  The first time I remember this happening I was in my first year as a professional.  Some posters went after a woman archivist and the terms used were not about how they disagreed with her interpretation of the facts, but rather that she was irrational and over emotional for disagreeing.  That was 7ish years ago.

As someone who is pretty outspoken when I’m not drowning under actual work (like I was this week), I find this frightening.  Many of us, myself included, get into archives to share information, to help tell those untold stories, and if we’re honest, because we don’t really want to get into fights with people (ok, most of the time I don’t want to fight).  Why do you think our policies tend to be so rigorous?

So many of us are silenced, just when our voices should most be heard.  The continual micro-agressions on the list prevent a future of our profession that looks different than it does now.  One where there is more diversity all throughout the field overall, as leaders on the list, in our literature, in our blogs, and our archives.

We do not want our future as a profession to look just like our past.  A vast majority of us will be women or persons of color or LGBT and the vast majority of loud voices will be white guys, telling us that we’re irrational.