…You Don’t Understand

Why the librarian/mixed race analogy? The more accurate question would be: what took me so long to make the connection? After all, each demographic suffers from the same problem: stereotypes and people’s reaction when we don’t cozily fit into a psychic box.

As librarians, we moan/revel in the public’s perception of us as dowdy crones with bad wardrobes. The reason we’re obsessed? Because we bump into it every freakin’ day of our professional lives, from well-meaning parents who view us as literate babysitters to the dentist who during your root canal wishes they could find a job where they could “read all day”.

For mixed-race folks, it’s less professional and more personal, due to the insidiousness of the stereotypes. They face misconceptions ranging from the tragic mulatto to the exotic Eurasian Woman.

The critical commonality? Librarians and mixed-race people create massive cognitive dissonance when one or the other refuses to fit into a single category. With librarians, it’s again professional: how many of us have patiently described to someone their job of creating taxonomies for digital repositories only to be met with something along the lines of “my daughter likes to play librarian too by pretending to check out books”? No matter how hard we try, people keep trying to shove us into the pigeonhole of dusty books and pilled cardigans.

The pigeonhole for multiracials? The need for most people to push them into one racial category, depending upon how closely you match a race for some, or the one-drop rule for others. The more they resist a category, the greater the public desire they live/breathe/embody it.

So what’s the answer for librarians? Going back to Ms. Gershenfeld’s presentation, it’s more cognitive dissonance–that means leveraging the stereotype by defying it. In essence, we need do what mixed-race folks have been doing for centuries. By exemplifying qualities not publicly associated with us, we can survive as a profession. We need to embrace change and even at times break the rules. If we keep doing it, perhaps the world will drop its sludgy thinking and actually take a good look at what we do.

It takes time, but it works. Heck; just look what it did for Barack Obama.

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