Friday Reads: The End of Race Politics: Arguments for a Colorblind America

Reading this book conjures up thoughts about collection development. Yep, that’s right, for the handful of you that are reading this, I want to talk about collection development, on the record. Not necessarily because you might have limited knowledge of this practice (you may or may not—let’s avoid assumptions), but rather my concern is that some libraries may have forgotten the importance of having balanced library collections, or perhaps have never really believed in the practice in the first place. Coleman Hughes, for instance, presents an alternate view of race politics, taking aim at contemporary works by Ibram Kendi and Robin DiAngelo, among others espousing similar views. He doesn’t pull any punches in his criticism, starting with labeling them as “Neoracists” (to be fair, a term used by many others, including, notably, John McWhorter). We live in times where some (librarian or not) might dismiss outright the assertions of Hughes, limiting his book in library collections (or requesting it’s immediate removal) while categorizing what he has to say as blasphemy, disinformation, or applying any other ridiculous criticism. To me, it doesn’t matter if one agrees or disagrees with what Hughes (or Kendi, DiAngelo, et. al.) has to say; it’s a question of providing the public with an up to date collection of opposing viewpoints on relevant subject matters. For example: Does your library collection contain books by Kendi and Ta-Nehisi Coates, but no antithesis from someone such as Coleman Hughes, Thomas Sowell, Glenn Loury, or John McWhorter? I imagine some might provide a feeble defense to these unbalanced collection development decisions by arguing that they are (as morally superior individuals looking out for you, the uninformed, ignorant reader who is incapable of your own thought) preventing dangerous “misinformation” from being spread and consumed by you. Hey, they are looking out for your interests, or protecting you, and for that reason, you should get off their case. Maybe even thank them. But is that your role as librarian? To be the arbiter of The Truth, one way or another? Ultimate decider of what is accurate or inaccurate? Or is it to offer a robust set of resources, presenting point and counter point, to individuals and the community at large so that they can make their own decisions? I’d argue the latter. Over the past few years, we’ve heard various hyper-ventilations about protecting the public from dangerous misinformation, formation of government ministries of truth, and the antidote to this the library’s promotion of censorship (e.g. casual exclusion of certain viewpoints, de-selection of materials, or non-selection in the first place) to achieve that end. Of course, come to find out, those marginalized as dangerous misinformation spreaders turned out later on to have a track record that is equal to or greater than Larry Holmes (69-6, 44 by KO). Sometimes, this nonsensical censorship is sold under the guise of “information literacy”. The perplexing part is that many seem perfectly OK with this. In response, the Supreme Court opinion in U.S. v. Alvarez comes to mind:

“Our constitutional tradition stands against the idea that we need Oceania’s Ministry of Truth . . . And suppression of speech by the government can make exposure of falsity more difficult, not less so. Society has the right and civic duty to engage in open, dynamic, rational discourse.”

Which brings me to my second rant about balanced collections and that, my friend, is book displays. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for book displays in general, and the promotion of books and other items in the collection, strategically placed towards the checkout aisles like the Swiss Cake Rolls and Snowballs at the grocery store, as an effective strategy for suggestive selling and increasing your stats. But we should be careful about what we decide to promote and by exclusion, not promote. The book display shouldn’t be the librarian’s personal exhibition of what they think patrons should be reading (and by exclusion from the exhibit, not reading). Nor should it be the librarian’s opportunity to promote his or her own social or political causes at the expense of presenting any opposing viewpoints. For this reason, I believe the display should be somewhat generic in nature. All too often, they aren’t. They may be well intended, to correspond to a certain monthly event or holiday, for instance. Seems innocuous on the surface. But the problem with this is the display promotes those groups included in that monthly event and has the effect of excluding all others. Let’s cut to the chase, and use as an example the plethora of history/heritage months that have been designated, since we are talking about race under the blanket of this book on race relations by Coleman Hughes. Does your library have a display for Black History Month? If so, does it display for all the other history or heritage months to cover all members of your community? What about Asian History Month (May)? Hispanic (September)? Native Americans (November)? Let’s not forget the Irish (March). Arab-Americans (April)? Of course, there are many groups absent from these lists, and Jewish history doesn’t get it’s own billing (sharing May with the Asians). Why is that? Do all these history months divide the population by pointing out our differences (one of the key points Hughes makes), or bring them together? What if you are French Canadian? German? Italian? Welsh? Norwegian? Swedish? Slovakian? Or a member of virtually any other conceivable ethnic group not mentioned here? Does the absence of a book display for your group mean the library seeks to exclude you or send the message that those other groups matter, but you don’t? Perhaps the library should focus its attention in a broad way on American history, and then include a wide range of authors representing various viewpoints on various subjects. Maybe you agree (as I do) with Morgan Freeman, who concluded that Black History Month (and all the others, by applying the same logic) is a ridiculous farce:

“You’re going to relegate my history to a month? … Black history is American history. [Mike Wallace]: How are we going to get rid of racism and … [Morgan Freeman] Stop talking about it. I’m going to stop calling you a white man. And I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man. I know you as Mike Wallace. You know me as Morgan Freeman.”

Now a few words about Hughes and The End of Race Politics in particular. It would be easy to take the approach that Hughes speaks the truth, thank him for having the audacity to call out the Neoracists, elevate his prescription for a colorblind society, and discount (or outright dismiss) people like Ibram (“the only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination”) Kendi as race hustlers or race grifters. Of course, such action would violate the deeply held free exchange of thought principles enunciated throughout today’s write up. The takeaway is that ALL of these resources should be held and equally promoted in the library, point and counter point, for the reader seeking to understand and develop their own views on race and what might ultimately be the prescription for a better America. And, since almost all of these authors seem to claim succession to the legacy of MLK Jr., perhaps someone seeking knowledge on these subjects should read his books as well (and they should be stocked in the library collection), including the last one, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community.

Hughes, Coleman. The End of Race Politics: Arguments for a Colorblind America. Thesis. 2024.

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