White Privilege is not in the Library of Congress Subject Headings

This is not a discussion of how whiteness-as-assumed-default manifests in the LCSH, rather, as was pointed out to me by Jenna Freedman, this is a rant about how ‘White privilege’ as a term is not in the LCSH.

Here is the excerpt from Jenna’s link to the SACO decision meeting:

White privilege

White privilege is a particular way of viewing racism; instead of looking at the disadvantages that people of color experience, the scholarship examines the privileges white people have.  The concept is covered by several existing headings, such as Racism;Race discrimination; [class of persons or ethnic group]—Social conditions; [place]—Race relations; [ethnic group]—Race identity; etc.  The meeting feels that the existing subject headings are sufficient.  The proposal was not approved.

(emphasis theirs)

This is emphatically wrong. The following terms:

  • Racism
  • Race discrimination
  • [Class of persons or ethnic group] — Social conditions
  • [Place] — Race relations
  • [Ethnic group] — Race identity

Do not encapsulate or really even lean towards what White privilege is or how it works.

“White[:] privilege the ability for Whites to maintain an elevated status in society that masks racial inequality.”
— Andersen, M.; Taylor, H.; Logio, K. (2014), Sociology: The Essentials (8th ed.), Cengage Learning, p. 424, ISBN 978-1-285-96566-6

As the last part of that definition implies, many discussions of white privilege use the term ‘blind’ or ‘unconscious’ — precisely because some white folks (I am no exception, believe me, I was a firm believer in “I have no privilege!” for far too much of my youth…) do not think they have any privilege over people of color. This is why it is so important to highlight that white privilege is not simply an extension of racism or race discrimination, but a fundamental part of the make-up of the United States.

As LC rejected the term, let’s see what headings have been assigned to books that explicitly use the term ‘White privilege’ in their titles or contents:

  •  White privilege : essential readings on the other side of racism
    by Paula S Rothenberg;

    • United States — Race relations.
      Whites — Race identity — United States.
      Whites — United States — Social conditions.
  • Seeing white : an introduction to white privilege and race
    by Jean O’Malley Halley; Amy Eshleman; Ramya Mahadevan Vijaya

    • Race awareness.
      Whites — Race identity.
      Race discrimination.
  • Understanding white privilege : creating pathways to authentic relationships across race
    by Frances E Kendall

    • Whites — Race identity.
      United States — Race relations.
      Race discrimination — United States.
  • Dismantling white privilege : pedagogy, politics, and whiteness
    by Nelson M Rodriguez; Leila E Villaverde;

    • Critical pedagogy — United States.
      Whites — Race identity — United States.
      Discrimination in education — United States.
  • White privilege and racism : perceptions and actions
    by Carole L Lund; Scipio A J Colin;

    • Adult education.
      Discrimination in education.
      Whites — Race identity.

Here we come to my major criticism: while ‘discrimination’ appears as a heading in four of the five books, which illustrates the disadvantages given to non-whites, none of the headings, and certainly none of the ones under ‘Whites’ have any hint of an advantage. 

Neither ‘Social conditions’, nor ‘Race identity’ imparts the notion that white folks have a leg-up and an advantage over people of color in every facet of American society. They simply serve to say “this book is about white folks” and “this book is about white folks as white folks.

I hope I’ve sufficiently demonstrated why the terms offered by LC as equivalent are in fact, not equivalent, nor close enough to cover the topic.

“Literary warrant” is the canonical call to arms for the creation of new subject headings. Well “White privilege” has 199 hits in LC’s catalog, and 1,747 in WorldCat.

Add the term, SACO.

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6 thoughts on “White Privilege is not in the Library of Congress Subject Headings

    1. thanks! While I’m sure they could use it more often, or perhaps apply it retroactively, there are a lot of LC records using the LCSH “Anti-racism”.

      Perform a browse search at their catalog to see

      (in case the search will “save” I’ll paste mine here: https://catalog.loc.gov/vwebv/search?searchCode=SUBJ%2B&searchArg=anti-racism&searchType=1&limitTo=none&fromYear=&toYear=&limitTo=LOCA%3Dall&limitTo=PLAC%3Dall&limitTo=TYPE%3Dall&limitTo=LANG%3Dall&recCount=25)

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      1. Thanks, yes, I’m aware LC uses the subject heading Anti-racism but just not as much as they could. And wondering if there’s a stated reasons or the clear preference away from it (which is what my link – to a research article shows).

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  1. Ah! I’m sorry, I misunderstood —

    Having actually now read the link in question, I see what you mean.

    There’s no policy that I’m aware of for the assigning of anti-racism vs. racism as a heading in LCSH, my best guess is that catalogers are misunderstanding when to apply which heading, and are interpreting a book that is about anti-racism as about racism itself. As you say, they are conflating the two. But it’s only a guess…

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