The Cowardly Lion had it in the land of Oz.
The Tin Man had it, even though he thought he didn’t.
The Scarecrow had them in abundance.
And L. Frank Baum wrote 14 volumes of the Oz novels, so he must have had the brains, heart, and courage to work on them despite the labor required to write entertaining fiction.
But, according to a tweet posted by the Library Journal – one which they quietly removed, but which was captured and spread virally – book collections in libraries are somehow racist and take up needed space:
Library collections continue to promote and proliferate whiteness with their very existence and the fact that they are physically taking up space in our libraries.
Yes. They really wrote that.
And they linked to an April 15 blog post by a woman who describes herself as an “academic librarian, feminist” who “likes cats, whiskey, intersectional feminism, social justice, critical librarianship (this is getting painful) and CRT (Critical Race Theory).”
The blog post is called, “Whiteness as Collections” and the author is Sofia Leung. And, by the way, Ms. Leung was the recipient of a 2016 Association of Research Libraries scholarship, so you know her work has to be taken seriously.
In the essay, Ms. Leung argues that, as the Tweet indicated, book collections in libraries reflect “whiteness” and take up valuable space that could be used to promote progress, to open shelves to new authors who might represent more diverse skin colors, and, according to this racist notion, to provide more diverse perspectives on life and ethics.
The idea has its roots, as she admits, in the work of Cheryl Harris, who wrote a 1993 piece on “Critical Race Theory” for Harvard in which she tried to make a connection between the concept of private property and whiteness.
(Because, ya know, only white people have embraced the idea of self-ownership and not stealing from one’s neighbor… right?)
Leung made sure to quote Ms. Harris’ blindingly brilliant piece by writing:
She writes, ‘slavery as a system of property facilitated the merger of white identity and property’ (p1721) and the formation of whiteness as property required the erasure of Native peoples. Basically, white people want to stay being white because of the privilege and protection whiteness affords under the law that they created. Harris also makes this really good point, ‘whiteness and property share a common premise – a conceptual nucleus – of a right to “exclude” (1714). Bam! That really hits it on the head.
Are you feeling the head injury?
First, to assume that slavery and property ownership are synonymous is to negate the very root of private property, which is that you own yourself as an axiomatic premise. From that, the idea of working out a way that people can lay claim to space and things on the planet without coming into conflict with others takes shape, and thus, be it religiously derived by people like John Locke, or logically derived by people like Emmanuel Kant (both white, so they must have been doing it for racial reasons), or ethically derived by people like Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu (he must have been secretly white), the founder of Taoism, one arrives at... private property.
Slavery comes as a result of attacks on the concept of private ownership, not due to it, because ownership of oneself is at the heart of all property concepts.
Second, both Ms. Harris and Ms. Leung blithely overlook the logical inconsistency of their own publishing process when looked at in the larger context of their argument. If exclusion is a white racist concept, what do they say about the editing and publishing process whereby the editors of the Harvard journal had to exclude some articles in order to publish Harris’? What about Leung’s blog? By reserving a space for it on the internet, and not including anything anyone else wants in her blog post, Leung is perpetuating this terrible idea of private property and the owner’s control of it.
Using their so-called logic, such exclusion is a vestigial poison derived from white racial superiority, and must be eliminated.
If you are noticing a pattern here, you’re not alone. For Leung to facilitate her ends of making more space for minorities in libraries, and for Harris to facilitate her ends of eliminating “private property” as a valid concept, both of them use the concept of private ownership as a foundational premise – even while calling it a racist creation. By criticizing the act of “exclusion”, they engage in that very act, and validate the concept of private property as a means of managing limited resources and showing value.
The problem with Leung’s thesis is that she fails to recognize the real root of the issue in libraries.
Libraries aren’t private property.
They are publically funded and run, and, as a result, as I often note, they fall prey to the economic problem of the Tragedy of the Commons, whereby everyone is forced to pay for it, so everyone fights over shelf-space, times of operation, size, and on and on…
It’s possible that Leung has a point. Perhaps valuable shelf space is being taken up by certain kinds of books. But we all have different ideas on what those kinds might be. I might want more of my own books in libraries, or books by writers I admire. I might want more shelving devoted to political philosophy and economics, while someone else might want more of the Historical Romance genre.
In a real market, where private property is managed by real owners, those preferences can be exhibited and rise or fall based on the market for them. So some private bookstores can be filled with mostly romance (as I know from working in a bookstore for many years), or some books can be filled with mostly feminist short stories… And we can choose to buy or not.
We can… What’s the word?
Each of us can exclude by not spending his or her money.
Public libraries, as loved as they are by the Library Journal, will always present the ethical quagmire of public funding, and essays like Leung’s criticizing book collections as “whiteness” will not solve this problem.
Only private property and real choice will.
Too bad Library Journal and Ms. Leung didn't exhibit the attributes of those Oz characters when expressing their positions. They might not have been so insulting to one's intelligence.