Let's not give them a voice: let's get out of their way
Critical notes (28)
The "others", those who are on the other side of the many gaps that mark and cut our society (those gaps that Boaventura de Sousa Santos ended up baptizing as "abyssal lines"), do not need us to give them a voice.
They have it, clear and strong. They have had it for a long time. For generations.
If that voice is not heard, it is not because they do not know how to speak or express themselves, or because they do not know how to make it heard. Nor is it because they need translators, or intermediaries to collect and explain —from structuralism to Epistemologies of the South, cultural studies or whatever...— their words. Or their ideas, experiences and opinions.
They do need that we do not look the other way when they talk to us, as if they did not exist. That we stop neglecting them, minimizing them, taking away their spaces, closing doors to them... That we stop putting sticks on their wheels, even if we do it unconsciously.
In short, they need us to get out of their way.
In a library, that means that we stop putting barriers to them: those walls that are usually based on their skin color, the way they dress or speak, their origin... Those barriers that sometimes are not expressed openly, and others are not even concealed.
It means that we open the collections to whatever they have to say — even if what they want to tell is not endorsed by a university, a recognized publishing house, an interesting review or the scholar on duty. Even if what they want to transmit is not written, and it has to be collected —if it is necessary to collect it...— in audiovisual or sound format, because it moves with oral wings. It means that we stop making them invisible every time we think that what they know, do, narrate, believe or express has no place on our shelves, for it is not good enough...
It means that we ask publishers —especially those that depend on public funds, such as those of many universities— to include their stories, memories and claims in their collections (on paper, digital, or audiovisual). But not their stories told by others, illustrated by others, documented by third parties and explained by some great authority on the subject. Their stories. Their memories. Their claims. Theirs. By them.
It means that we abandon the labels that classify them into "special" spaces and categories. They are not special: they are different only by the fact that they have been placed on the other side of a thousand gaps, and kept there by the desire of a few and the passivity of many. And by instruments such as many documentary languages: those that shape knowledge management and that speak, even today, of "underdeveloped peoples" or "poor minorities". And by labels that are nothing more than euphemisms to hide domination, such as that of "women's literature" in a small library section, which complies with leaving testimony that "women also write" while the main, massive library collection continues to show male, white, scholar authors belonging to the dominant culture...
It means that we stop creating spaces "for them" when what they need is for us to open our spaces to everyone, with everyone, for everyone... They don't need —we don't need— "indigenous libraries" or "afro libraries": we needed public libraries where everyone may come in and where all cultures, languages, knowledge and memories are represented on equal terms... They do not need —we do not need— "workers' libraries" or "feminist libraries": we need committed, solidary, inclusive and respectful libraries, supporting everyone's rights, offering help for all problems, and standing by the side of all struggles...
Getting out of their way means trying to avoid that our stereotypes continue making damage, that our mental barriers continue to be present, that the many prejudices that we still carry with us (sometimes without being aware of it) continue to affect our reality... It means to stop deepening, with our daily actions and inactions, those many gaps that make many human beings invisible in all aspects.
Let's get out of their way, then.
And then, if we stop seeing those "others" as strange objects, or as non-human beings far from our reality, or as mere "subjects of study" to exploit, or as poor devils who just deserve our pity, perhaps we can collaborate with them in their searches and struggles, contribute our grain of sand, and learn a lot about our own reality, our gaps, our defects, and all those struggles that we have not yet begun to fight.
Note belonging to the series Critical notes.
About the post
Text: Edgardo Civallero.
Picture: "Meeting", from Youth Coalition (link).