Progress Not Perfection: The Work of Ariel Schudson


This was originally posted as part of the #ArchivesSoWhite Interview series on the SAA (Society of American Archivists) Issues & Advocacy Blog


I&A Research Teams are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession. Under the leadership of the I&A Steering Committee, the Research Teams compile their findings into Research Posts for the I&A blog. Each Research Post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. This Research Post comes from On-Call Research Team #1, which is mobilized to investigate issues as they arise.

Please be aware that the sources cited have not been vetted and do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable.

Due to the amount of information Research Team #1 gathered, this will be a 4-part series, with the Intro & Bibliography and then interviews with Jarrett DrakeSamantha Winn, and Ariel Schudson.

What does #archivessowhite mean to you?

This is a tricky question. The “meaning” of #archivessowhite is complex. There is the technical meaning in each individuated archival landscape- how varied is your content? Does it have a history of being diverse? Are you (as a responsible archivist) doing your part to keep up with it? If it isn’t relevant to the content, #archivessowhite also is applicable to the employment. Is your archive making certain to diversify your staff?

This meaning is what I see as one of the most salient: #archivessowhite is a hashtag and movement that has grown out of the strong feeling of discontent and aggravation at the willful and continued lack of representation of communities of color within archival content. Even if the materials themselves and the histories exist, it has come to light, time and time again, that there are overtures to keep current power structures (basically Rich Straight White Dudes) in power. To add insult to injury, the meaning is itself extended by reaffirming the white supremacist structures inherent within archival content and histories by the severe lack of archivists/librarians/historians of color in the profession and limiting their power or reach either economically or socially in the same manner that POC are marginalized on a larger professional scale in non-archival contexts. White male cis-structures abound in academia and seek to squish. And that sucks!!

What conversations do you wish to hear archivists having, and where? Better yet, what action do you want archivists to be taking?

I want to hear white archivists having conversations about how they are going to fix the system. I want to hear White Feminist Librarians start listening to the Women Librarians of Color when they actually are talking about the same issues but the White Feminists (not the same as white feminists) are so afraid that they are going to lose something (and I’m really not sure what they are going to lose…I’ll give them my number, we can go try to find it together). Archivists are one of the most COMMUNITY-CENTERED fields. We need each other. What does it say about us when we are being exclusionary and not listening? One of the things that we do is oral history, right? The thing we need to do is start listening to the Archivists of Color who want to a) contribute and b) have themselves be heard.  We need to be having these conversations at conferences, Meet-ups, online Tweet-ups. Of note: it is not the responsibility of Archivists of Color to educate white archivists on How To Be An Ally. We have to make a decision that we want to have our future reflect a more accurate past. And that has to also be pressed upon why we do these things too. We do not become archivists to make taste decisions or to (really) have opinions. We become archivists so that the past is well documented and preserved. And in order to do this, we MUST reject the way the archives have been leaning (ie totally white).

In what moment did it dawn on you that archives had failed diversity and inclusion, or did you always see this enormous gap/lack in the profession?

It didn’t always dawn on me that our archives were failing us. I am grateful to the #archivessowhite hashtag (as well as a few other amazing archivists that I follow on twitter) because they really got me thinking about how our materials are preserved and what works we save. I’m fairly lucky. I work in moving image archiving and race and privilege has certainly been a huge discussion in that landscape, due to some people that I have personally worked with like Professor Allyson Field. I have recognized that my archival colleagues are primarily white.  Inter-archival outreach is something that I feel really strongly about because I feel like we deal with similar issues on a meta-level but we may not talk about it (ie #archivessowhite).  I am grateful that I believe: “You’re an archivist? I’m an archivist! We’re all archivists!” no matter what the materials so that I have added people on social media and been able to capture these online conversations & acquire valuable colleagues.

What would you like the archives, and the archivists, of the future to be? What actions do you see helping the field move on that direction?

We clearly need archivists of the future to be more racially varied and rework the power system. Let’s break down present structures and be less frightened of change (it’s going to come whether you like it or not and we’re in the field that is prepping for change). I hope that the archivist population of the future will get to a point where they will receive materials from Stonewall and Ferguson and just know that they are critically valuable and have their supervisors be as joyful and passionate about their preservation as they are. I hope there will be no arguments about how to preserve legal documents from the Trayvon Martin case or Black Lives Matter flyers. This is the kind of archivist landscape that we need. I do worry that there is a segment of people who, while I respect and value them for their hard work and intelligence, may not be able to evolve to this level. I hope that we can all work together to get to a higher ground. The thing I love the most about archiving is our community-ness but we have a problem that needs to be fixed.

What readings (up to 3) do you recommend to archivists who need to up their knowledge around archives and race?

Three (well, more…) basic readings about archives and race I would suggest:

This is just necessary:

There are some great articles in here, but in particular, Adrienne Harling’s What to do About Privilege

Diversity & Librarian Conversation:

Can we find another word for Diversity?

April Hathcock – multiple writings on diversity & inclusion. ALL very good!

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