By Lynie Awywen
Recently I have been job-hunting (yes – it is still as awful as you remember) and I have noticed a recurring pattern which prompted me to think about the ways in which ‘whiteness’ continues to masquerade as ‘raceless’. Various organizations (Ontario College of Art & Design University, University of Toronto, University of Ottawa, Toronto Public Library etc.) use the term “racialized” to:
- – express institutional interest in candidates of non-white racial backgrounds for new equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and anti-racism focused positions
- – create a binary between white/racialized to highlight socio-political differences between the “two groups”
The above institutions have been spearheading socially responsible & forward-thinking efforts (‘doing the work’) to advance EDI and anti-racism work in their respective spaces. However this error of viewing whiteness outside the realm of ‘racial identity’ remains consistent. Many other individuals and organizations (including the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, a federal crown corporation with the mission to eliminate racism in Canada and other independent equity consultancy firms) use this term to generally describe Black, Indigenous, people of colour (BIPOC) as well. In my past work I, too, have referred to myself as a ‘racialized woman’. As we grow personally and professionally however, our language needs to match this growth. Words matter.
Let’s always aim to be intentional about language and word choices. Words are embedded in power and privilege and can be strategically selected based on a diverse set of competing interests. When we use the term ‘racialized’ to describe everyone who is not white, it reifies whiteness as the colourless norm. This “standard of humanness” continues to make invisible all the accompanying racial privileges. Critical librarianship has worked to interrogate the realities of the intersections of white supremacy and librarianship, namely its appearance of neutrality. Undergirding the “semblance of neutrality are complex, violent, systemic regimes of power and hegemony” (Adler, 2018).
Although it is commonly well-known that ‘white’ is a racial category, ‘racialized’ is used to reference non-white people. It erases ‘white’ as a racialized identity/category rife with socio-political and historical processes of discourse construction, too. Rodriguez (1991) states
“whiteness is also a historically contingent and socially constructed racial category, once defined to be sure, by privilege and power… whiteness and other racial categories are part of the same racial order and racial hierarchy in the history of this country and in contemporary social reality. Conventional approaches to the study of “race” in [North America] tend to ignore “whiteness” by treating it simply as a given, and even as a benign factor in “race” relations. Such scholarship tends to problematize the “other” in relation to whiteness (Guess, 2006).
Again, this continues to normalize and position whiteness as the ‘default’ standard. It engages in the danger of ahistoricism. An informative piece on the social construction of whiteness is “The invention of whiteness: the long history of a dangerous idea” by Robert P Baird.
Although the neologism BIPOC has generally replaced the longstanding ‘people of colour’ to highlight the unique plights of anti-Blackness and anti-Indigeneity, it does not come without its own set of criticisms (see: Virginia Law Review’s: Why BIPOC Fails by Meera E. Deo). Let’s be real, most Black, and various Indigenous communities do not refer to themselves as ‘BIPOC’ and many reject the term. Ideally names of racial groups should be named and highlighted individually as not to homogenize or irresponsibly lump together. BIPOC should be used only when generally considering how the experiences of people of colour differ from those of white people––the way ‘racialized’ is currently being used.
Other possibilities exist as well that job postings (and other mediums) can benefit from during this time where social justice vernacular is popularly becoming international parlance. The Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) uses the phrase “members of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups” (yes, this is longer but isn’t it time for us to take up space?) in their EDI related statements. I have also seen calls for candidates from “equity-deserving groups” (as opposed to equity-seeking groups). Various options exist. It is important, however, to remember that ‘white’ people too, are racialized.
In conversation with professor, legal librarian and creator of NBU, Marcelo Rodriguez, it became apparent that using ‘racialized’ to describe BIPOC individuals and communities is largely a Canadian occurrence – one virtually non-existent in the American context. This insight that I previously did not have is an important reminder that concepts pertaining to racial identity are time and space contingent. Rodriguez (personal communication, March 21, 2022) refers to the term as ‘highly insulting’, stating “grammatically speaking, racialized is in the past tense form. It implies that someone or something [can] “racialize” you, almost as if someone or something else had the power to define you or your racial identity”. This sentiment aptly echoes my ongoing discomfort with the term.
Words bolster or erase. In the case of “racialized”, the term encourages white people to continue the problematic practice of not thinking about themselves in racial terms. To upend white supremacy and all its existing minions, we need to remember that language impacts how we think, the diverse ways in which we view ourselves and inevitably, how we act and what we advocate for.
Therefore, it is time to ditch the term ‘racialized ‘when discussing BIPOC communities.
Adler, K, Beilin, I & Eamon Tewell. (2018). Reference Librarianship & Justice: History, Practice & Praxis. Sacramento: Library Juice Press.
Guess. (2006). The Social Construction of Whiteness: Racism by Intent, Racism by Consequence. Critical Sociology., 32(4), 649–673. https://doi.org/info:doi/
Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.