Report: Barriers to Authenticity for PoC Academic Librarians (May 2019)

[This content was originally published on May 20, 2019 at The Ink On The Page.]

This is the second of two blogposts sharing some of the qualitative data offered by respondents to my ongoing survey on deauthenticity in racial and ethnic minority academic librarians (read the initial qualitative report on deauthentication and library practice impacts here). For review, deauthentication is “a cognitive process that People of Color (PoC) traverse to prepare for or navigate predominantly White workplace environments, resulting in decisions that hide or reduce aspects of

  1. the influence of their ethnic, racial, or cultural identity,  and 
  2. the presentation of their natural personality, language, physical and mental self-images/representations, interests, relationships, values, traditions, and more,

to avoid macro- or microaggressions, shaming, incivility, punishment or retaliation, and which results in barriers to sharing their whole selves with their colleagues and/or clients.” (Kendrick 2018)

The following data are responses to the survey’s final question,“What do you believe may happen at your workplace or in your library career if you do not engage in deauthentication?”

  • “White coworkers will be uncomfortable or will make cringeworthy comments.”
  • “Probably microaggressions and other hassles would increase.”
  • “At this point, nothing. I am tenure track and my board likes me ( for the most part), but they are older. If my biggest supporters were to die before I get tenure then I would be worried about my job security. Beyond that, I feel like I have no mobility in my position, partially because of perceptions about who I am. I am not taken seriously and I do not get the support I need from administration, but I cannot complain.”
  • “I have been in meetings where potential candidates for employment have been accused of displaying stereotypical behavior even though they did not engage in it during the interview. The accusers recall this behavior even when challenged to specify the details. I work with people who weaponize cultural practices, clothing, hairstyles, and gestures as evidence of otherness and proof that the person would not make a good fit. I would not have been hired if I did not engage in deauthentication.”
  • “I’m generally authentic and it has isolated me and prevented me from being seen as management material, being authentic makes me seem like I’m not a team player. It makes others at work avoid me. They don’t celebrate me.”
  • “I’m already “othered” by being a POC in a predominately white institution. I believe that if I was my authentic self, white women in particular would be even further alienated from me and would feel even more threatened by me. In my double digit career finding points of relatability to white women is frankly impossible and it’s not an effort that white women make. So (I’m realizing this as I type) I make myself and my personality smaller, I take up less space, time and say less.”
  • “A reputation as an outsider, unworthy of promotion, assistance, and generally a loss of credibility.”
  • “It has been happening. I have stopped deauthentication. My hair is now long and I wear my headband often at work I am reclaiming my indigenous heritage. This will be used against me–I’m sure. It is my experience that POC must adhere strictly to Whiteness or suffer career consequences.”
  • “I’ll be labeled a “troublemaker” and “bad fit” and be pushed out of my position through lack of funding and support for professional development, stalled out salary, and watching as others with less experience make unusually large advancements in their careers. This is not something I believe will happen—this is something I know will happen as I’ve watched it happen to others in my department for a variety of different reasons (though not race, as I am the only POC hire within at least the past dozen librarian hires).”
  • “In [my] first professional library job at a community college, I was naive about what the consequences to not engaging in deauthentication. I was more myself at work (at least at the beginning), which means loud and straight to the point.When it came time for my first review, I lost points for “unprofessional behavior” and my supervisor, who was a white woman, sited that I at times seemed “elevated.” To this day I’m not exactly sure what exactly she was trying to say with the word “elevated”, but it certainly wasn’t positive. I know I am often regarded as too loud and obnoxious, and colleagues in the past have definitely “shushed” me or told me to “calm down” when I was only expressing excitement, but I wasn’t expecting to be marked down for it in an official review.”
  • “I’d be way less stressed and able to focus more on my actual job.”
  • “I would get more work done; have better relationships with colleagues and patrons.”
  • “I think that the workplace would be forced to recognize that everyone is different and that who I am as a librarian who happens to be Black is not something I need to change. It is something that should be supported by the institution. Engaging in deauthentication rewards the bad behaviors of others, including the institution, and makes it more difficult for others to enter the field or for me to want to stay.”

Final data analysis from my low-morale study on racial and ethnic minority academic librarians reveal that deauthentication is an (additional) impact factor in PoC low-morale experiences; while this group was not asked about low-morale specifically, we can infer from their included descriptions of systemic abuse, emotional abuse, and negligence, that it is possible that they are moving through these experiences as they deauthenticate.

Works Cited

Kendrick, K.D. (2018, Feb. 5). Considering: Deauthenticity in the workplace. Retrieved from


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