The biggest complaint I get from my students is that I assign too much reading and writing. I heed this complaint only to the extent that I check myself that I am not being unreasonable with students who have to work to feed and clothe themselves and am not, thereby, making a college degree outside of their reach. Other than that, GAME ON!
For each class meeting, I assign a reading, whether undergraduate or graduate, with a short writing assignment. I do not assign that one, major final paper at the end of the term. Instead, I opt for weekly short pieces through the semester culminating in a portfolio of sorts at the end. Each week, you need to write/design/draw your thinking alongside what we are reading. I do not expect a coherent, linear essay or even written text for that matter. I never assign a reading and then quiz students in class. That takes up valuable time in class when they need to be talking to one another, pulling apart ideas, and piecing them back together again with their colleagues in the room who will see or notice something different. I never assign a reading without a written text to accompany it. I collect and comment to all of this writing as a reader, not a grader. You are graded for doing it, not the form, grammar, or political agreement. I won’t back down from this pedagogy, especially if students are reading about issues related to Blackness, gender, race, sexuality, bodies, and cultures. I believe this pedagogy forces young people of color to do something school seldom requires of them when it comes to Black and Brown Knowledge: KNOW WHAT THE HELL YOU TALKIN BOUT!
You see, when it comes to things like Black women’s histories, Black Feminist thought, Black radical traditions, Black queer theory, Black Trans studies, I meet students all of the time, undergrad and grad, who think they need to just come to class and discuss and debate “the issues.” I just don’t respect mess like that. Before you open your mouth on any of that, you gon hafta read sumthin, you gon hafta know a genealogy, you gon need a sense of an extant literature, you gon hafta #SayTheirNames, you gon hafta examine and look/listen closely. Brown and Black students are not always expected to do this. They are just expected to racially represent for a headcount; that alone will qualify you as a speaking authority. Meanwhile, there is no hesitation, for instance, on that part of white students to condemn all of Black Feminism and Intersectionality Studies as essentialized identity politics (that’s how grad students say it) or racist and angry (that’s how undergrads say it) when, before they met me, they had never even heard the terms. White theory and scholarship do not work that way though— for whiteness, you are expected to know a FULL BIBLIOGRAPHY .
Many of my more mainstream undergrad students, for instance, are surprised that I expect them to read so much in my gender studies classes. They expected to just come to class and argue and debate. I’m real clear on why this ain’t happenin. Why on earth would anyone want to hear what they have to say about Black Queer theory or Black Feminist thought when they have never even heard the terms and couldn’t name a historical or contemporary theorist or activist? Blackness, you see, does not come with the requirement of a bibliography, not for white students or for students of color. This permeates the wider whitestream culture of academia too.
If a Brown or Black headcount is all that is needed, then anyone slightly malenated can represent the neoliberalist needs of a university or institution to perform master narratives of diversity and inclusion. Once again, you do NOT need to know what you talkin bout. I mean more than folk who are embraced because they are palatable to white comfort. I’m mean people who are allowed to be a lil simple or outright dumb when it comes to Black and Brown scholarship. You ain’t got to read, study, think deeply, or investigate anything to be an expert of Black and Brown issues … you just have to read the email request for your malenated attendance at a white function.
So, yeah, my classes ask students to know their shit before they presume themselves part of any critical discussion or any social change machine. But that also means I gotta do my homework too. So on Tuesday, Day Two in A Week in the Life of a Black Feminist Pedagogy, I am fully taking advantage of the luxury of reading and thinking. I have to skip my committee meeting this week because I am on another campus that day. That frees up the time I would have taken to review the lengthy materials beforehand. Thankfully, I’m not giving any talks this week so I don’t have to do that prep work. My phone conferences/meetings are at the end of the week. My errands can wait until the weekend. My deadlines don’t come down until next Monday. So on Tuesday, I get my own self ready for my own graduate classes. This week’s topic: Black Feminist and Indigenous Feminist challenges to post-humanism— in particular, what Tiffany King calls “Native feminist politics of decolonial refusal and Black feminist abolitionist politics of skepticism” (and all the other posts: post-identity, post-race, post-intersectionality, post-composition, post-subject, post-sanity…. and the research methodologies therein). It’s a good Tuesday!