About Carmen Kynard

I am an associate professor of English at St. John’s University. I am a former high school teacher with the New York City public schools/Coalition of Essential Schools and college writing instructor at the City University of New York (CUNY). I have led numerous projects focusing on issues of language, literacy, and learning: consultant for the Community Learning Centers Grant Project in Harlem, educational consultant and curriculum developer for the African Diaspora Institute/Caribbean Cultural Center of New York, instructional coordinator for the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, seminar leader for the New York City Writing Project, seminar leader for Looking Both Ways. If the conversation is truly about multiple literacies, political access/action, justice for racially subordinated communities, and critical pedagogy, I am all in! My first book with SUNY Press (2013), _Vernacular Insurrections: Race, Black Protest, and the New Century in Composition-Literacy Studies_, makes Black Freedom a 21st century literacy movement.

The Specter of White Mob Violence and the Spectacle of Black Suffering (My Thoughts on Capitol Violence, Delivered at Texas Woman’s University)

Thank you, Dr. Fehler, for inviting me here and thank you, Dean Tilton, and Dr. van Erve, for your introductions.  I also thank all of the Texas Woman’s University community for being with us this evening.

I acknowledge and honor the Wichita and the very land where I now reside as a newcomer to Fort Worth, Texas. The Wichita call on us to be better stewards of the land; I also hear that call as one that compels me to recognize my unique role as a descendant of enslaved Africans to disentangle white settler colonization from my imaginations and life-purposes.

I start by letting you know that I’m going to read my comments this evening. I have posted these comments on my blog for better accessibility. Parts of this text are also weblinked here if you want a closer look at the sources and events I discuss.

While there is much for us to think through and problematize about the white supremacy that we witnessed in the violence at the Capitol this past January, I want to focus here on the ways that white mob violence is a LONG-STANDING central praxis of white supremacy and is always anti-Black and anti-Semitic.  These are always co-functioning this way so it should “make sense” to us that the Capitol rioters costumed themselves in things like Camp Auschwitz garb and nooses, both of which are the most iconic symbols of the mass murder and violence against Black and Jewish peoples.

And while there was considerable conversation about the differences in the responses to white mob violence and Black peaceful protest, that is just part of the story. White mob violence is specter— and I say specter in the sense that it is truly a kind of reoccurring haunting.  It is often represented as a kind of merely unfortunate, albeit awful, historical event, so that overall white innocence can be maintained.  If you were shocked by what you saw at the Capitol, it means that you have ignored the historical record or have been lulled into thinking these were bygone days by dogma that presents whiteness as innocent.  Meanwhile, Black suffering is spectacle— the thing we are used to seeing as if it is just another segment on the nightly news (which most times, it is). [These circulations of white supremacy are so much more than merely a set of hypocrisies in relation to the over-policing, surveillance, and militaristic responses to Black protest.] 

To get at some of what I mean, I want to look at Bruno Cua today and then step back and look at one specific historical incident of mass violence and voting, namely the 1920 Ocoee Massacre in Florida.  

Though it is just one of many examples, I want to highlight the current case of the 18-year-old Capitol rioter Bruno Cua from Metro Atlanta Georgia. His parents are still pleading with a judge to release him from custody while he awaits trial; they are simply embarrassed that they believed what Trump was telling them about voter fraud.  That is literally the defense—that they are deserving of mercy and forgiveness because Bruno was naïve and they are all now embarrassed.  I’ll come back to this point about shame and embarrassment so just keep that part in mind.

The stories seem to all point to these events: Bruno’s parents took him to D.C. for the rally where Bruno stormed his way inside and shoved a police officer out of his way to get into the Senate chamber.  Bruno described clearly in social media posts what would happen on January 6.  After leaving the capitol, he posted again the next day on January 7, even boasting that the tree of liberty was thirsty for the “blood of tyrants,” namely those people he had singled out at the Capitol, and that he would not give a warning shot the next time around. The next day, on January 8, he was still posting, this time proclaiming that everyone in Congress deserved a public execution.

Bruno is amongst the youngest to have charges brought against him, if not the youngest.  It should go without saying here that every young Black man in America is profiled, harassed, imprisoned, and murdered with impunity for so much less than Bruno’s offenses. And while I don’t believe that the cage and shackle system of our criminal justice system is helpful in the service of justice, it will remain interesting to see just how innocent, forgivable, and deserving of mercy Bruno becomes. 

It is particularly interesting to see how Bruno is depicted as an isolated, naïve white teenager when the fact of the matter is that Bruno is from the Metro Atlanta area, a central Black, critical hub that overturned the white Republican face of Georgia’s politics with record Black voter turn-out in favor of a Democrat president and vice-president, a woman of color to boot, and the first Black and Jewish senators, all organized by Black women activists.  Bruno was not naïve and simple; he was deliberately acting from a place of whiteness that insisted did not need to believe or accept Black agency.  

In fact, this entire election was decided, in large part, by Black voters and Black women organizers in major cities like Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Atlanta.  The white rallying cry that depicted Black voters and Black cities and towns as thieves who had stolen American Democracy has been the same rallying cry for white supremacists since Reconstruction, including in these very same cities.[ I remind us here of the Black activist, Octavius Catto, who was killed on his way to vote in 1871 in Philadelphia; his murderer was never charged and the violent rampage against the Black vote and voice there were, in fact, aided by police.]  If you were shocked by what you saw at the Capitol, it might mean that you have ignored the historical record or have been lulled into thinking it was all just an unfortunate historical accident within the terms of a master narrative that presents whiteness, as a whole, as innocent. 

I also want us to remember the Ocoee Massacre in Florida in November 1920 which remains the largest election-related massacre. [There are, of course, multiple examples of this in relation to voting but sometimes just for living like this and this.]

The entire Black community of Ocoee was forced to flee the town when a prosperous Black farmer, Mose Norman, organized Black people to vote and went to vote himself in the national election in January of 1920.  When civil rights organizations called on Congress to investigate the massacre, they refused. The FBI also refused to act.  The leader of the white mob became the mayor.  After forcing all of the Black residents to leave town, these white insurrectionists stole the properties from this Black community which are collectively evaluated at ten million dollars today. There have been no reparations to these families.

In this 1920 white mob violence, white supremacists massacred what we think might be at least 50 Black people for voting, just 35 miles south of where Trayvon Martin was murdered making white men’s unpunished behavior merely the specter of Zimmerman’s (also judiciously-sanctioned) murder of Trayvon Martin.

I point out here that the insurrectionists at Ocoee celebrated their victory as has steadily been the culture of white mob violence, especially in relation to lynch law.  My connection to lynching if both literal and historical here since the insurrectionists erected a gallows to hang then-Vice President Mike Pence; lynchings were also a prime tool to block the Black vote and white people who deliberately intervened were threatened with death too.

We need to remember that lynching of Black Americans functioned as more than mere execution.  These were forms of entertainment, like the circus had just come to town. These were often large, festive events where white mobs often even erected stages with theater-styled seating. There were exciting advertisements beforehand; photos and postcards were sent to family and friends.  You’d be hard-pressed to find images of white lynch mob members looking ashamed or embarrassed about what they were doing: they are posing for the camera, often in special pre-planned attire, as whole family units.  They took trophies to commemorate what they stole on these “great days” and “wonderful evenings” (these could include chopped off body parts like breasts and phalluses).  These were, in sum, open and very public celebrations and were called acts of JUSTICE. We have to ask ourselves here: why was it so easy, almost automated, for the rioters at the capitol to look, sound, and act so much like a typical lynch mob from a century past?  It is telling here that for Bruno’s parents, and maybe even for much of America and the criminal justice system, their expression of regret and embarrassment, even when inauthentic, is treated as an extraordinary feat since it would be the one cultural practice different from the lynch mobs of 100 years ago. 

If we go back to the massacre at Ocoee in 1920, we see that these were white folx who had lived next to Black folx as neighbors for 30 years, but that didn’t stop them from brutalizing and stealing Black folx’s votes and homes.  So, as a way to wrap up here, I want to return to the fact that Bruno grew up in Atlanta and yet his defense, the commentary from seemingly everyone around him, and much of the public rhetoric right now, is that he had just never known anyone or anything else. BUT…..He. Lives. In. Atlanta…..  Metro Atlanta.  That’s a little over 6 million people and yet the salience of the deeply depressed, easily manipulated, rural white male loner is such a chronic trope of white supremacy that it can be called up anytime and anywhere to convey white innocence. If you listen to these accounts about Bruno’s isolation, you would think I am just acting like the little boy in that 1999 movie, The 6th Sense, that stars Bruce Willis as a child psychologist to a child patient (Haley Joel Osment) who can talk to the dead.  The child is absolutely bewildered by his ghostly talents and so whispers to the psychologist: I SEE DEAD PEOPLE. In my new 2021 version of the movie, I am the main child character who sees Black people in a sixth sense, like a great secret, where I have to walk around whispering “I see Black people”** because no one can see us, like Metro Atlanta ain’t even right there.  Though I might be making arguably an inappropriate joke here, it really is this absurd to me to act like Bruno didn’t understand the world around him and wasn’t acting within the terms of a white racist response to the political successes of a VERY Black Atlanta!  If we center Bruno as a misguided loner, we are in fact merely re-committing what we saw in 1920 Ocoee: no serious investigation, no commitment to act against white violence, an outpouring of forgiveness and understanding, open pathways to future success for leading agitators, and no acknowledgement of Black suffering. 

These new circulations of white supremacy at the Capitol this January will set off new legacies.  Our responses to this moment will put cultural practices in place that activists fifty years and one hundred years from now will have to agitate to undo, like we are doing now… about the 100 years before us… unless we seriously address AND REDRESS the spectacle of Black suffering that is so commonplace to us now as the specter of white supremacist mob violences continually haunts.

**PLEASE NOTE: Secretive whispers of “I see Black people” are something that I learned from Todd Craig in places like 4Cs, the writing center where we once worked, and all other kinds of academic spaces. This is his line, not mine, and so I give FULL CREDIT.

Towards a Black Composition Studies: BLACK AS GRAVITAS (PART II)

This is a year where I am listening and looking closely at those who really step up to the plate or miss the moment as has happened at every past Black Protest moment in my field. I am especially working towards framing composition studies as a place that does dynamic, on-the-ground work to transform the what, how, and why of university curriculum and instruction towards radical, anti-racist, intersected, Black feminist, fugitive goals.

I began the first part of this post arguing that my entry into university spaces has happened on the backs of young Black people.  It would be an erasure of and betrayal to them to act as if my arrival was predicated on my own talent or the goodwill of my colleagues.  I work hard to make sure that I don’t erase or betray and when I do worry, it’s only about whether I have gone far enough in truly rupturing white practices.

Many non-Black faculty at each of these tenure-track positions that I described in my previous post insist that it was their own consciousness and strategies for change that brought me to their campus.   The truth though is that these folk were at their wit’s end on what to do with their angry Black students and the larger public reminders from Black communities that they are as stunningly racist today as they were in the past.  No one will ever credit Black resistance this way because whiteness always attempts to take credit for moral convictions it has not achieved.  Today, the special journal issues on racism, Blackness, and anti-blackness will try to cover for their racist, exclusionary histories for which there is still no reckoning. New criticism and outrage will simply receive the same, canned response: this is just how the organization works (as if this justifies unfairness on the part of the people who choose the organization). White scholars will include a BIPOC author here and there in their publication or reference an example of Black suffering in the media (cuz there are, after all, so many to choose from), but still offer a racist and/or white-racialized framework; reviewers won’t notice and editors won’t intervene. White schools will cherry-pick the least resistant BIPOC students (who are also least attuned to Black radical practices and the intellectual works from the Black Radical Tradition) as their spokespeople. I say these things, not as prediction or sign of hopelessness, but as real-life examples of what I am noticing everywhere right now.

I am clear, however, that I am here because of a sustained Black Challenge by Black college students and communities.  It hit real different too when you locate your Black presence and pedagogies in young Black people’s and Black community revolts. 

You more loose with the tongue in your discipline’s ongoing silences,

you get more irreverently confident, even in the departments that never really wanted you,

you are less prone to low self-esteem despite the systems that always doubt you,

and a whole lot less likely to want to be centered/recognized in white supremacist/academic values. 

More folk should try it because I swear it’s good for the mind, body, and soul.  

Black Studies— Blackness, Black youth protest, and the Black Challenge to the western academy and knowledge—- is the most fundamental intellectual project in western thought as we know it. I learned this quite literally sitting at the feet of Sylvia Wynter who reminded us that we are unravelling an entire episteme, not simply a policy or institution.  If I spend the rest of my academic career achieving her realizations in and with Black studies, I will have done my work here.  I was an undergraduate student when I met her and so this is what I have understood from her since then:

Black changes everything.  

In entertainment/popular culture and sports, this has been obvious. I do not mean this in the bourgeois sense of Black exceptionalism but in the sense of the way that Black changes the whole game: from the style of the uniform, to the way audiences participate, to the range of new participants, to the new skills and uses that are deployed and centralized as the new practices, to the force of the critique of the theories presented as all-encompassing. Think about academia here.  Think Black Feminist Thought.  Think Black Queer Theory.  Think Black Trans Studies. Think Black Digital Humanities. Black Pain. Black Struggle. Black Diaspora. Black Love. Black Lives Matters. Black. Black. Black. Black.

Black is not an adjective or identity marker but a whole force field that shifts the gravitas.  

Today I align myself with another particular gravitas:  BLACK… COMPOSITION… STUDIES. 

As a compositionist, I should be in the perfect field to get at and rupture all these anti-Black compositions of the academy.  As it ends up, this discipline trades in pennies with a white academic marketplace so instead, I reach for a Black Composition Studies: 

  • a radical disposition and praxis that attends to racial processing and composing in, within, and against the academy and schooling as its very own kind of literacy and education project
  • a vision of Black studenting in the academy— undergraduate and graduate— that locates the histories of Black protest’s profound, radical interventions and future inventiveness
  •  a commitment to research and pedagogy that works in tandem with Black activism— in content, FORM, and style— and disrupts what education is for, who is at center, what it looks/sounds/feels like, and what it does   
  • a conviction and audacity in knowing that Black will turn this field all the way around until it sets itself right.

As a Black Studies Compositionist, directing my attentions and vision towards a radical, alternative and futuristic purpose of literacy and education is the only option.

Towards a Black Composition Studies: BLACK AS GRAVITAS (PART I)

Thank you to Spark: A 4C4Equality Journal for publishing the earliest version of this reflective essay in their Volume 2 dedicated to Black Studies edited by Sherri Craig & Karrieann Soto Vega. I will be building on this essay throughout this year as part of a new project. This year is a crossroads for composition-rhetoric so I am listening and looking closely at those who really step up to the plate or miss the moment as has happened at every past Black Protest moment for this field. In the coming weeks, I am especially working towards framing composition studies as a place that does dynamic, on-the-ground work to transform the what, how, and why of university curriculum and instruction towards radical, anti-racist, intersected, Black feminist, fugitive goals.

I am a professor in the academy today because young Black people burnt off all of somebody’s edges to get me here.  Once upon a time, I was out there edge-snatching as a Black college student too.  It’s a Black intellectual inheritance.

Black studies and an ongoing radical Black presence in the academy are not the result of a conscientious and interested hiring committee, a department’s desire to represent African American content, a university’s commitment to a multiracial university, or a profession’s/professional organization’s vision of radical democratic relevance.  None of that truly exists in the academy.  Only the adoption of a bourgeois, white, cishetero, masculinist individualism would cause a Black scholar to think that they are here because of the quality of their work or their uncanny skills at navigating white supremacist institutions.  We are here because young Black people and their radical allies demanded it in cities and hamlets everywhere, burning it down when they had to. I am certainly talking about current contexts but I am also historicizing this all way back to the activism related to new visions of schooling in post-emancipation, ongoing into the early 1900s with the New Negro Movement. The Black college student protesters of the 1970s are legendary in how they heralded the multiracial diversity that we see at places like the City University Of New York and other universities today with racially/ethnically diverse student bodies.  These student protesters were the political heirs to Black students at HBCUs who designed their own practices in the Civil Rights Movement decades before.  These 1950s HBCU students can trace themselves back to the major wave of Black student protests at the HBCUs in the 1920s when their colleges’ administration and faculty were mostly white. These historical lessons have been well documented now by many scholars across the K-16 education spectrum, including myself, so I won’t delve deeper.  The point is this: If any aspect of what we do is not in alignment with this foundation on Black youth, then it ain’t Black studies.

As I reflect on the role of Black students in the academy here, I interrupt my own alphabetic text with Black undergraduate students’ visual work in my most recent classroom, Introduction to African American Rhetoric.  The class was interrupted by the Spring 2020 school shutdown under the Coronavirus resulting in a revised syllabus that I called The Spring 2020 Corona Remix. Many mainstream white students across the college were complaining that they wanted more synchronous access to everything and everyone, despite the fact that their socially marginalized peers were self-proclaiming that they were having issues around income, health, housing, food security, wifi access, and disability and so needed alternative accommodations.  Meanwhile, my own Black students were mailing visual projects to my home (an option rather than just digital assignments) that marked the Blackness of an engagement with COVID-19 in ways that will always stay with me.  Their work is centered here visually so that I can see them as I reflect forwards.  Visual work is always critical for me because Black Visuality is more than multimodality; it is an affective and spiritually redemptive space that continually re-processes the dignity of Black Life in a world that insists upon Black Death.  Such student work in my classrooms guides my visions of a Black Composition Studies for an anti-racist university.

Every university assignment that I have ever had is the direct result of these students’ Black insurgency which is always visible for me on the paper, canvas, and screen. Each of my tenure track jobs has given me a valuable lesson about the role of this Black insurrection and white colonization, lessons that form not only my intellectual and political relation to Black Studies and Black youth but also my daily reality. I relay these lessons here as a foundation to realizing a Black Composition Studies. Composition studies in the university today is fraught with a colonial history on so many levels. We are most often housed in English departments that overshadow our labor and intellectual work. We still most often function as the illegitimate stepchildren of literary theory which often imagines itself as the only critical space that only rethinks the world and as the only frontrunner of English studies. With literary studies lost in its own elitist self-delusions of bourgeois grandeur, composition studies inherits the daily legacy of what English departments actually do: maintain the colonial legacy of the English language. I could write books on the white settler colonial logic that I hear daily in English department to describe teaching (or rather, lecturing), students’ abilities, language variation, writing assignments, etc. Put most simply, composition studies is the space that focuses on language, particularly the teaching of writing while our cousins in communication studies (who left English departments long ago) focus in on speaking— in its most simplistic point of origins (we all do more than that). Together, we and our cousins confront the dailyness of communication systems in the western world that have annihilated non-white languages and therefore ways of being that do not conform to whiteness. We and our cousins therefore always sit at the crossroads: automate colonization as an institutional pedagogy and rhetorical apparatus… or overthrow it. Black composition studies goes for the latter and, as such, our close proximity to the non-compliant racial protests of Black students has to always stay central.

These are notecards that I received in the mail last spring as a reading response to the course assignment.

When I first began writing about insurgent Black students, I distinctly remember essay reviewers, especially men, arguing that my ideas of Black college students were romantic and essentialist.  In their minds (and ostensibly pedagogies), only they seemed to possess the answers to and practices of a radical protest and scholarly vision in the university.  This ongoing imagination of a university without Black students’ presence (or where they are merely the passive receptacles of the “expert” scholars of Black Studies and/or Composition-Rhetoric Studies) is an egregious form of white supremacist education.  Black students stay at the center of my presence in the academy and in the theoretical work that I do here, not as metaphor or cross to bear, but as the purveyor of a radical, literate/language alternative to who and what count here.

Here’s my first story that gets at more of what I mean. My first, tenure track job was at a Colonized State University in 2005.  They needed someone who could bridge what they called “developmental” writing, urban schools, the distrust of the surrounding Black community, low enrollments of students of color in the major, and attitudinal Black graduate students who were, at best, bored.  Them white folk at that college had been dragged so bad that they had to do something and so they hired me. I learned there that white racist resistance in universities takes the form of really slow or non-moving processes.  White faculty were always: scheduling meetings for discussions on how they feel, scheduling meetings to gauge their collective “temperature,” scheduling meetings to read the agenda out loud, reading the bylaws (most often out loud in meetings), revising the bylaws (read out loud all over again), thinking things over, looking into things, talking to you about your ideas and concerns, and planning to get back to you about your questions (which usually resulted in apologies for non-information and/or more unforeseen delays).  Every process took forever and ultimately went nowhere because white supremacy always takes up a whole lot of time, effort, and policy to stand still and stay the same.  These are not processes that are driven by Black folx or a vision for hiring them; it is Black protest that speeds up time and resets the energy in the academy. None of them meetings and discussions produced change and worked to stall Black freedom more than anything else. All of them folk at the Colonized State University are out here somewhere today, still meeting, revising them same bylaws (and probably still reading them out loud), discussing, thinking, looking into stuff, talking— yup, still doing all of that, and still accomplishing nothing of value for Black lives.  It’s not an accident. Black composition studies always recognizes the micro and yet overdetermined white supremacist processing of our schools and programs and imagines time, space, and possibility differently.

My next tenure track job was at a Colonized Religious University.  Before my arrival in 2008, the Black graduate students had showed all the way out, especially on online discussion boards I see you, Jessica Barros and Todd Craig, then and now Them white folk didn’t know what to do there either, except to hire me.  I learned about the racism of writing program administration there.  I also learned that I would walk alone in my field because I didn’t know a single professor in my profession who I would have truly called an ally or even friend back then.  It was a hard and lonely lesson, at first, but one that I am forever grateful for because it sharpened my lens on whiteness in my discipline.  The levels of anti-Blackness that I witnessed at the hands of my fellow writing program administrators (WPAs) were disgusting and no one— and I mean no one— was willing to even notice it, much less talk about it.  Anti-Black faculty were rewarded, awarded, buddied up, and promoted to next levels without hesitation. No one in my department—especially not the self-righteous, self-proclaimed-radical literature faculty, the dean’s office, or the provost’s quarters would address any of it.   And no one in the field was even acting like anti-Black racism was part of WPA.  It ain’t a coincidence that the WPA-Listserv remained so white and so racist for so long.  There is actually a whole stain of scholarship that suggests that WPAs are activists because they act in defiance against university systems that oppress student learning.  I read that stuff and can only ask: whatchu talmbout Willis? I have never witnessed such a WPA when it comes to anti-Black classrooms and the writers of those very same theories are as anti-Black as anyone else in the racist institutions that permeate the U.S.  Racist WPA work is not the kind of programming that is relevant to Black youth literacies or the work of Black education; this is not a space that prioritizes the hiring of folk like me either.  WPAs are only now getting called out and still today you simply need something labeled an anti-racist grading system or rubric and you too can continue to mete out anti-Blackness with your WPA work. It’s not like any of this is hidden from view or political dispositions, unless, of course, you refuse to see. Black composition studies is about a disruptive kind of vision and envisioning for schooling.

My next position was in 2013 at a Colonized City University with a student population that was 75% Black and Latinx.  It remains the whitest department I have ever worked in, with an incredibly self-righteously empty rhetoric of diversity and justice, often administered by a supra-white-wealthy elite.  They catch the heat, every once in a while, for all that whiteness given the history of Black and Latinx student protest in that system. And so they hired me.  I saw colonization most thoroughly there: a predominantly Black and Latinx student population with an abysmally low percentage of Black and Latinx tenure-track faculty.  It was a complete cocoon of whiteness.  Black presence was the pen-ultimate evidence of an awe-inspiring progress for which you were required to feel grateful, no matter how you were treated or marginalized.  When you were asked to do something by white administration, you were simply supposed to obey and sacrifice your own well-being because “these communities” needed you (never mind the fact that you and your family are “these communities”).  In my first year, the department even held an end-of-semester party to celebrate the retirement of two white women who study long-dead white people in Europe. The faculty came together in corresponding costumes and presented a well-rehearsed flashmob dance (that is what they called it).  There I was, in the middle of the city with the largest Black+Latinx population in the country, with the largest Latinx college student population in that area of the country (predominantly Dominican), with non-Black/non-Latinx folk dancing their hearts out in recognition of two white professors while dressed as Old English wenches, royalty, and fairies.  I’m not suggesting here that this event was evil.  Ridiculous?  Yes.  Harmful?  No.  The purpose of the event was certainly playfulness and jest, however, the spirit and politics of the mean-white-sorority-girl ethos from which this event was framed permeated the college. If nothing else, whiteness was quite steadfast.  These are not the bodies that centered my universe of being in the academy, not even for casual socializing or humorous encounters; it was the history of an alternative Black student universe that got me here.  At Colonized City University, whiteness remained centered (and often ludicrously so) no matter what else was going on around it. Black composition studies knows that white affect in schools is not neutral, safe, or accidental and so centers alternative embodiments and enfleshments.

And now?  As of 2019, I am at a Colonized Southern University where I see all of my previous colonial experiences cross-pollinating. Young Black women, both undergraduate and graduate, have been slicing and dicing white power everywhere they go on this campus. The penultimate expression is a lawsuit today that names all the names, insists on a trial, and will make history in ways the campus does not foresee.  The Black graduate women in the lawsuit are from my department and so, yup, they hired me (before the lawsuit, that is).  I don’t know exactly what is to come here, but I can certainly guess. I only know that I have learned the following rules about whiteness in the academy:

It will always put Black lives, urgency, and compensation on extended pause.

It will always be awarded, tenured, promoted, praised, compensated, elevated.

It will always present itself as right, just, and progressing forward (and sometimes even call itself critical and allied) for which Black folk are supposed to show gratefulness and awe.

It will always remain steadfast in how it centers itself everywhere all the time.

It will always ignore the deep damage and social deaths it causes.

It will always be contested.

It will always be unwritten.

It will never stop us.

I have yet to see anything different here. Black Composition Studies gives me this lens and critique but it also gives me the audacity to speak, fight back, and imagine an alternative way of thinking, being, and acting in the academy, in my classrooms, and especially in my field.

I am not suggesting that Black Composition Studies is only for Black folx. However, it ain’t for appropriation by folx in my field who continue to do stuff like write a Statement for Black Lives Matter in their departments and programs and not reference a single Black compositionist. Yall ain’t nowhere near ready and Black composition studies is here to let you know it. Black composition studies is not exclusive… but it is rigorous in the mechanisms and politics of its inclusions. 

Stay tuned for PART TWO…

For Black Feminists Who Have Considered Solidarity/ When the Academy is Enuf

Dedicated to the seven Black women and author, Ntozake Shange, of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf… and the five Black women who have come forward as TCU’s Jane Does.

I skipped a department meeting this week.  There’s nothing particularly urgent about this fact since such meetings are usually futile in their ability to accomplish actual tasks anyway.  This time though, I just couldn’t bear the performance of non-Black faculty or graduate students, who are not usually even invited and were even once barricaded from entering a department meeting by a dean.   Somehow all have discovered a new political voice in relation to instructional requirements under the Coronavirus… and have been deathly silent when it comes to the abuse faced by Black folk.  Yes, this is a new resistance of a sort, but it is solely in the service of whiteness for whom danger and death under COVID are newfound, daily realities.  I plan to keep chanting #BlackLivesMatter because I know we are not included in this rage against new white precarity.

This meeting that I skipped was with an administrator who started at the university less than a month ago.  And, yup, you guessed it: a woman of color.  And, yup, you guessed it: from all reports I have heard, faculty and graduate students piped up in ways they have never publicly done when white leadership was at the helm (even when it locked them outside of the door), and especially not when Black pain was the topic of discussion. 

Black pain is not an abstraction in this space.  In FACT, you can read all about it below in the 215-point STATEMENT OF FACTS of this lawsuit. I am pasting the whole thing here because this text needs to be required reading for those who are interested in anti-racist teaching, the racial history of higher education, and especially the brutal experiences of Black women-identified undergraduate and graduate students today. 

Doc-38-2020.06.10-Jane-Doe-No.-1-et-al-v.-TCU-et-al-Second-Amended-Complaint-2

This is what higher education looks like for Black women across the country, and these five Black women— called Jane Doe #1 (read pp. 30-66; pp. 94-99), Jane Doe #2 (read pp. 67-74), Jane Doe #3 (read pp. 74-78), Jane Doe #4 and Jane Doe #5 (read pp. 78-94)—  are making history today.  They faced abuse, ridicule, and neglect at the hands of their peers, faculty, and administrations in ways that would have us in uproar if they weren’t Black.  The lawsuit details the ways that these women filed complaints with leaders of programs and departments seemingly everywhere, with any kind of faculty member who seemed they might listen, and with every Title IX-ish type of office designed to officially investigate such claims.  NO ONE—and I mean NO ONE— ever helped or protected them. Honor and recognize these women in the ways that their campus hasn’t.    I plan to keep chanting #SayHerName because I know we are not included in this rage against new white precarity.

Even though it’s summer time and technically, educators have the summer off (unless teaching summer courses), every week is some new foolishness in my inbox.  It’s like school is still in session.  So let’s REALLY get in session here and stay mindful of who we are as Black staff, educators, researchers, and students in this moment.  Remember the stories of the Jane Does above and show some courage. It’s what they deserve. We are not going to change the academy overnight, but we can most certainly control how we act upon it RIGHT NOW:

  1. All kinda folk need a Black friend or colleague to co-sign or advise them right now. Black advice and guidance are now the Golden Fleece of the Academy.  Do not participate in these informal discussions, ad hoc committees, or free consultations.  Your ideas will be plagiarized by people who do not have their own (this has always happened, but expect it to escalate).  White feminists will especially call this collaboration.  It’s not.  Folk of color will try and milk your ideas for their own white favor and visibility too. It’s all just plagiarism without the Turnitin.   Call them on it and steer clear. Stop needing to be needed. The closer you are to these vampiric people, the more you are implicated in their violence.
  2. Let’s stick with #1 a little more here: All kinda folk will need you on their new committees, task forces, programs, mission statements, or suddenly conscious projects Take notice when a group of BIPOC faculty is gathered together and led by a white (usually male) leader (or a person of color acting for a white leader).  You are there to help the white leader who will get the credit.   You are like a corporate silent partner, except without any remuneration.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that whiteness values your thinking all of a sudden.  The closer you are to these inauthentic projects, the more you are implicated in their violence.
  3. If white administrators and leaders have been accused of racial harm and do not voluntarily step down from their positions, know that these are NOT allies.  At a time of a global pandemic that is targeting Brown and Black peoples during unprecedented racial protest in every state of the union, an administrator who has not practiced real anti-racism and has caused harm to Black people is INCOMPETENT for the tasks at hand. IN…COM…PE….TENT.  This ain’t something a workshop, apology letter, or deep meditation can fix.  They must step down.  If they do not, do not work with them, do not support them, do not sign on to their ideas. Monitor AS VIGILANTLY as you can how many of their meetings you must attend, how much of their policy you must implement, how much time you must spend with them. Keep your distance as best as you possibly can. Stop taking their classes and attending their workshops (contest it if it is a REQUIREMENT). The closer you are to these harmful administrators, the more you are implicated in their violence.
  4. Notice the close friends of the white administrators and leaders who have been accused of racial harm. Their friends are NOT allies either.  These are friendships based in white nepotism and advancement, a value system a real ally would forego.   If you are a friend of a white administrator or leader who has been accused of racial harm, hold your homie accountable and if they refuse, get yourself some new homies.  The closer you are to these anti-Black campus leaders, the more you are implicated in their violence.
  5. For the folk who do step down (see #3 and #4), notice whether or not they actually STEP UP when they step down.  I have never witnessed a white administrator step down and repair their harm.  What I have always gotten is a lunch request where the only thing being served is gaslighting.  For starters, the people who you have harmed do not want your lunch, coffee, or phone call so back off.  We are also not interested in your life-story, list of Black-based volunteer activities as proof you are not racist, white tears, or convictions of how YOU perceive our misunderstandings of racism.  Stay away from these lunches and excuses.  And be wary of the warm, fuzzy, and congratulatory good-bye letters listing the outstanding accomplishments of demoted folk accused of violence. These writers are not allies either.  Do not be lulled into this white complacency touted as sympathy for abusers. Wanna know what I call people who have made significant accomplishments for which they were never credited or recognized?  BLACK FOLK! The closer you are to these fake apologies, the more you are implicated in their violence.
  6. Black folk will be in high demand on thesis/ dissertation committees now. Ask yourself some questions. Are you the token? Has the rest of the committee (or at least some of them) perpetrated anti-Black harm?  Does the dissertation center white theory and then merely pepper-sprinkle Black scholars on top and without deep analysis?   Can you see trends in the racial politics of thesis/ dissertation committees across the country right now? How many students of a perpetrator have been hired in your field and department?  How many graduate student assistants of a perpetrator have been hired in your administrative ranks?  How has your department’s graduate program siphoned off its anti-Blackness into the rest of the academy?  The closer you are to these anti-Black graduate students and their mentors, the more you are implicated in their violence.
  7. Don’t trust whiteness when it uses this excuse: I didn’t know this was happening. Ignorance is not a justification for not acting towards racial justice. I have never had the luxury of not knowing when a Black student on my campus was being brutalized, even when I wasn’t actually present on the campus.  Willful white ignorance is not a pass for the racial violence that serves as the foundation on which white institutions (and their white privileged accomplices) rest.

Everyone has somehow found consciousness and mission statements these days but all are still deeply wedded to institutional anti-Blackness. That is the nature of the academy.  If you think your university is somehow better, then you ain’t thinkin right.  If you think working outside of academia saves you, then you haven’t come to terms with the fact that INSTITUTIONAL RACISM means all institutions work within the terms of anti-Blackness, yes even in the non-profit industrial complex (actually, especially there). 

These 7 points are things many of us have always kept in mind as we move through the academy.  The stakes are higher now in a summer that will be like no other.