Speech and Silence

Race, Neoliberalism, and Intellectual Freedom


  • Maura Seale University of Michigan
  • Rafia Mirza Southern Methodist University


In 1977, the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) produced a film entitled The Speaker which depicts a high school that invites a professor to speak on the inferiority of African Americans. A throughline connects The Speaker in its 1977 incarnation to OIF’s 2018 actions and discourse around its 2018 revision of the “Meeting Rooms: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights†to specifically include hate groups. It is not coincidental that the construction of the library as a marketplace of ideas takes place through debates around the fundamental humanity of Black people in the United States; this throughline is embedded in racial capitalism. In this essay, we argue that debates around intellectual freedom within librarianship, with their reliance on the metaphor of the library as a “marketplace of ideas,†must be understood through the broad lens of racial capitalism. More specifically, we use Jodi Melamed’s typology of liberal antiracisms in the twentieth and twenty-first century to analyze ALA and OIF documents, as well as The Speaker, and draw on Randolph Hohle and David Theo Goldberg’s work to consider the relationships between public space, neoliberal policy, and race at play in the “Meeting Rooms†documents.






Research Articles: Race and Power in Library and Information Studies