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Posts Tagged ‘ethnicity’

First a little background: I grew up in small town Indiana. My mom is Hispanic; my dad white.

It’s the mid-1980s. I’m in the second grade. I remember this event like it was yesterday: It turned out to be my first inkling of “information literacy” – although too young to know it – and the term itself wasn’t emphasized until 1989.

This is what happened: My mom came to visit me at school. After she left, one of my classmates asked me in all seriousness:

Is your mom Mrs. Huxtable?

Yes, Claire Huxtable. The mom from 1980s hit The Cosby Show.

As a second grader, I couldn’t define the word askance, but that was the look I had on my face.

Here’s how the conversation unfolded:

Me: Where did you hear that?

Him: Nowhere. I just thought that.

[Insert future librarian thinking: Where did he get his information from? Why hasn't he verified it?]

Me: You know that Mrs. Huxtable is just a character on The Cosby Show, right? She’s not a real person.

[Insert future librarian thinking: Why can't he distinguish between fiction and real-life?]

Him: Oh.

Me: You also know that Mrs. Huxtable is African-American, right? My mom is Mexican.

[Insert future librarian thinking: I want to go grab the shiny new World Book Encyclopedia off of the shelf. Why isn't he using prior knowledge as context? After all, I know he's eaten at my aunt's taco truck. Everyone in town knows it!]

Him: Oh. Ok.

Another classmate: “I heard your mom was Hawaiian.”

Me: [sigh]

Here’s my mom – mid-1980s (top) and Mrs. Huxtable, aka Phylicia Rashad (bottom). What do you think?

photo

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Several readers have commented and emailed me in earnest asking:

Why are all of your Lego librarians white?

Well, my first reaction to this question is that they’re not white. They’re Lego yellow, devoid of ethnicity.

Lily white or Lego yellow? [screen shot from Lego website]

Lily white or Lego yellow? [screen shot from Lego website]

Quoted by Gizmodo in 2010, Lego’s Brand Relations Manager Michael McNally stated:

The yellow-headed minifigure was a conscious choice. Because of their ethnically neutral skin color, Lego people can be any people—in any story, at any time.

Lego does produce non-yellow minifigures, but these are only part of special licensed sets (such as Harry Potter, Star Wars, DC and Marvel superheroes, etc.) in which skin color is matched to the actor’s appearance. This began in the early 2000s, when Lego produced an NBA series featuring star basketball players, many of whom were African-American. The decision was made to produce the Lego minifigures in the athletes’ likeness. Makes sense.

Reflecting on Our Profession

This brings me back to the original question. We project our own notions onto these Lego people. Does a sea of yellow Lego librarians really read “white”? Is it because of our own lack of ethnic diversity in our profession?

It’s an interesting question. Why isn’t the library profession more ethnically diverse? The latest data I could find on the ethnic make-up of librarians was from 2009-2010 and posted on ALA’s Office for Diversity website: the Diversity Counts 2009-2010 report. Here’s a snapshot:

  • 118,666 credentialed librarians
  • White: 88%
  • Black: 5%
  • Asian: 3%
  • Native American: < 1%
  • Two or more races: < 1%
  • Latino: 3%

These statistics mirror more recent data collected on ALA members: remember NOT all librarians belong to ALA.

So what is it about librarianship that fails to attract minorities? Is it a lack of promotion about librarianship as a career? A lack of mentors? Barriers to the MLS? Or are we failing to retain minorities that enter the profession?

Michael Kelly writing in Library Journal addressed some of these issues earlier this year (The MLS and the Race Line and Diversity Never Happens), while Hui-Fen Chang examines the issue from an academic library perspective.

There are a good number of scholarships, grants, and leadership programs in place by professional organizations and academic institutions to recruit and attract a diverse workforce. Detractors will argue that we shouldn’t be “privileging” one group of people over another. But that’s not what diversity is about. It’s about bring people who haven’t had a seat at the table TO the table. It’s about taking steps to meet the needs of our increasingly diverse and multiethnic clientele.

So see, Lego librarians aren’t just cute and fun…they can also lead us into debate on serious and timely issues, too.

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