The academic world has become over-saturated with alternative reading lists and bibliographies. While often produced as a solution to the lack of engagement with diverse scholarship, their creation doesn't address a the core of the problem: it's not about an inability to find resources, but a lack of further engagement - whether because of a lack of willingness to engage or a lack of understanding of how to engage. This project attempts to make it easier and more enjoyable to engage with an alternative bibliography that is oftentimes overwhelming and daunting for those already hesitant to engage.
While this project was initially produced through the Art History Graduate Student Union at the University of Toronto and was funded by the affiliated department, it was shortly defunded once those working on the project had left the institution, highlighting one of the major challenges Black Digital Humanities projects often face - a lack of institutional support. The bibliography has since moved to the Jackson State University Department of Art and Theatre where it is being used as an alternative to the traditional syllabus to help engage non-traditional undergraduate students in academic scholarship.
This project requires analyzing two distinct parts of a reading list: its content and its form. While our project was originally conceptualized within the context of the Art History department at UofT - with the target audience being the predominantly white faculty members - our scope evolved over time. As we worked on this project, we began to have internal discussions regarding what to include in the bibliography and recognized that a bibliography for white faculty would look drastically different from one geared toward minoritized students. This became an issue we were constantly grappling with during the development of this project.
As Sara Ahmed states in her 2006 article "The Nonperformativity of Antiracism," DEI initiatives like the anti-racist reading list "has become about image management: Diversity and equality work is about generating the right image and correcting the wrong one." Rather than doing anything substantive to challenge the system, these initiatives see the verbalized commitment to change as the very action itself. Her later work On Being Included expands on this, making the bolder claim that anti-racism is, itself, a tool for white supremacy to "chang[e] perceptions of whiteness rather than changing the whiteness of organizations." This put us in a tricky position - as largely racialized students working on this project that's directly funded by the university, we did not want to further reproduce this system and become the faces of diversity the university uses to signal alleged change.
“I don't want to be included. Instead, I want to question who created the standard in the first place. After a lifetime of embodying difference, I have no desire to be equal. I want to deconstruct the structural power of a system that marked me out as different. I don't wish to be assimilated into the status quo. I want to be liberated from all the negative assumptions that my characteristics bring. The same onus is not on me to change. Instead it's the world around me."
- Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race
What would it then mean to "deconstruct the structural power of [the] system" within the context of this project? Fundamentally, one of the first things to be done was to recalibrate where we are looking from. Rather than creating a reading list for white scholars to learn about diversity - reinforcing the notion that they are the superordinate group - our project prioritizes the needs of marginalized students and scholars with the understanding that the extra "work" needed to be done by white scholars to understand a resource not directly catered to them is itself integral to the work of (un)learning.
Drawing upon archival theorists allows us to better understand the ways that archival categorization can reinforce structural norms. As Achille Mbembe states in "The Power of the Archive and its Limits," archives are not simply a neutral collection of materials, but a reflection of active decisions made. Archival collections get its power from the stories it tells through how objects are organized in relation to both one another and within the larger structural context of the archive. We put particular care into not reinforcing "the danger of a single story" (Adichie, 2009) through the ways we presented information.