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 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. 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 crossroad: 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 yet 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…

A Week in the Life of a Black Feminist Pedagogy: Days Five & Six

It’s never just about the “microaggressions.”  Daily aggressions derive their political and emotional meanings and are legitimized inside of the larger contexts of dehumanization. When the white male professor down the hall accused me of stealing his little measly stuff, that happened at the same time that I watched, over and over again, Eric Garner tell NYPD that he couldn’t breathe.  They killed Garner anyway, for standing on the corner with some loosies.  Though the inability to even walk down the hall at the college where you work without being perceived as a thief is not the same as Garner’s murder, a singular social system justifies both.  When I was questioned by a hyper-privileged white administrator about my academic credentials, as if I didn’t have them, that happened at the same time that the initial jury wouldn’t convict Michael Dunn of first-degree murder of Jordan Davis. It took TWO TRIALS to rule against Dunn, a white man shooting at a vehicle with 17-year old Black boys in it. Again, my experience is not similar to Davis’s murder but the trial made the aggressions I faced all the more unbearable. The microaggressions that are sure to come as soon as school starts will be happening alongside countless other incidents: like white people, mostly white women, calling the cops when they see a Black child mowing someone’s lawn or selling bottled water . . . when they see Black folks having a BBQ in the park . . . when they see Black folk _____.  When school starts, we will be fighting today’s current fascist regime to get Brown children out of cages at detention camps.  When school starts, we will still be marching against more theft of Indigenous land and more police shootings of unarmed Black men and women.  There’s only one thing you can do in the midst of all of this when you are a college professor and work in the academy.  GET. OUT.

You’ve got to take your mind back. The microaggressions that you face everyday on campus and living your life in light of what is going on in the world will mess with your mind.  And that’s what Fridays are for in a week in the life of a black feminist pedagogy.  Honestly, you gotta take your mind back everyday, but by Friday, it gets real official for me.

Though we don’t always talk this way: as academics, we are also fundamentally scholars … writers … and researchers.  You need inspiration to maintain that.  I am talking about something different from self-care.  I mean something IN ADDITION to self-care.  Yes, you will need to know how to protect yourself from endless requests on your time and energy, long lines of folk who need something from you yet again and give nothing back, and just the general, never-ending drains on your time and energy.  You have to learn how to replenish, rejuvenate, meditate, and calm your spirit for the work that you do.  But you also need some intellectual inspiration and when it comes to radical theory and praxis where it relates to race, gender, etc, I have never found that at any university where I have worked.  Like I said, you have to GET OUT or your ideas will be as compromised as the folk who tout justice and perpetrate microaggressions like in the campus examples that I opened with.  While my students certainly inspire me, I still need to get away from the classroom at times.  When the weekend comes, I’m out.  It’s a struggle with errands and family but it’s hard to come back to work on Monday to more meaningless, inane, or violent situations unless you refilled your mind with something worthy of your people and your history beforehand.

You need intellectual inspiration in droves if you want to think new things, write in new ways, and research unexplored corners about anti-Blackness and radical futures.  And so when T.G.I.F. comes, I hit the road and get far, far away from my college.  I have even arranged my teaching schedule to accommodate my T.G.I. Intellectual Fridays and weekends.

Many colleges are lenient when faculty cancel classes, especially for professional travel. Unlike every other college where I have worked, my current institution does not play when it comes to canceling classes though.  You better have that cancelled day of class on your syllabus with a detailed assignment that students can do and understand on their own.  All kinds of other mess slides for college-level expectation at my college, but cancelling class does not, at least not in my department. I appreciate this vigilance on the part of my unit.  My students are not busting their behinds for a college degree to have professors who do not bother to show up or just let TAs do the job.  This means that I only teach on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays and get the service work done by Thursday.  I front-load the week so that come Friday, I can be out.  This way I don’t have to cancel classes and disrupt the flow of my teaching.  Allowing Thursday-Friday-Saturday for travel and other intellectual excursions is a lifesaver for my thinking.  Even when I don’t travel, I try to attend some kind of event in New York City to get my mind out of the mess my institution makes of it during the week.  It seems simple but I need to be vigilant with my time and energy too ….otherwise, I will hand over entire weekends to meetings, emails, or phone conversations coddling grown folks who dominate your time because they refuse to figure out meaningful lives for themselves.  You have to fight for the time and space to think and be.

Faculty colleagues of color are not something you can count on either.  There are either too few of them or the ones who are there are too busy soothing white egos and catering to white comfort.  I have no patience for them and am REAL CLEAR that this does not belong to the Black Intellectual Traditions of our ancestors . One of my colleagues of color told me that they were warned not to fraternize too closely with other Brown and Black faculty (i.e., sitting next to one another in a department meeting).  I’m not shocked that senior white faculty and administrators would articulate and execute these kinds of slave codes to Brown and Black professors (reminder: slave codes prohibited the enslaved from assembling without a white person present).  However, I AM surprised by how many faculty of color comply so willingly with these campus-plantation rules.  You won’t miss out on any real conversation or interaction of political depth with these Sambo types though.  This is why you need to always fellowship with the radical Brown and Black academics across the country and form a circle that extends well beyond your campus.  Like I already said, I front-load the week so that come Friday, I can be out.

I attend many conferences, but only those that theoretically and politically inspire me and that have folk of color in large attendance.  I refuse to be mesmerized by attending an intellectually-mediocre conference because, like so many academics that I see, it is the only place that makes me feel famous and important.  I also give many talks where I get to meet graduate students and faculty and hear more intimately about their work.  This also lets me see what other universities are doing and keeps me from the provincialism that would suggest that the way my university does something is the only or most contemporary way. Other times, I am just reading a set of articles or a book that pushes me to see, think, or write something in a different way.  I resist the academic rule that you need to read solely or mainly in your discipline.  You won’t grow intellectually that way— you just join the old boys’ club.  And if you are of color, you don’t have the luxury to be so closely wedded to any one field or discipline anyway since none have your people in mind (even ethnic studies often looks for its legitimation today from neoliberalism).  So on T.G.I. Intellectual Fridays, I am reading and learning.  It seems like working at a college, learning would automatically fill my days.  Strangely, it’s not that way.  You have to plan your week around thinking/ learning in order to take your mind back.

A Week in the Life of a Black Feminist Pedagogy: Day Four

People often ask me about my experiences teaching a 3/3 and 3/4 load as a tenure-track, full-time college professor.  It should come as no surprise that teaching fewer (and smaller classes) makes it much easier to publish, the holy grail of the academy.  But the 3/3 load and large class sizes are not what dominates my time at a teaching college. I wish it was all about the classroom. It’s not.  It’s all about the service.

In the past two months, here is what my service (committees, meetings, and such) has looked liked:

  1. A graduate admissions committee where I read thousands of pages of personal statements, sample essays, transcripts, letters of recommendation, etc
  2. A classroom observation for my department
  3. Attendance and participation at five different candidate talks for a new tenure-track position (this meant hours of meetings beforehand to determine the candidates and hours of meetings afterwards to discuss/select the candidates)
  4. Participation on a departmental curriculum committee (no meetings yet but plenty of time needed to read an enrollment agreement for state accreditation issues, a new course proposal, a revision of a minor, etc)
  5. Participation on a college-wide curriculum committee (which meets 3X-4X per month with heavy reading beforehand)
  6. Participation on a committee to select undergraduate essay award winners
  7. Participation in meetings and email exchanges to discuss/assess undergraduate capstone courses
  8. Participation in meetings, email exchanges, and assessment design of my own undergraduate capstone course
  9. Attendance at multiple department/program meetings
  10. Participation in a site visit for external review of a program
  11. Participation on a committee to select undergraduate ePortfolio award winners
  12. Participation in a day-long outcomes assessment meeting as part of the writing program

I do not hold any administrative positions at my college and do not aspire to.  And yet service takes up as much of my time as when I was an actual administrator.  This list does not include service to the professional and community organizations I am part of since those are the things that I want to do.  On Thursdays, day four of a Week in the Life of a Black Feminist Pedagogy, I try to do the prep work required of my campus service obligations. I also mentally map out the next week’s meetings so I know when I will get some space and time to myself in an upcoming week. Many times, I am on campus, not teaching, but doing service.

I am sure I have forgotten some stuff from numbers 1-12 above.  The list would be even longer if I had not outright said NO to many other requests.  Every week brings me another email solicitation to perform yet another mundane task. There is no real recognition for any of this work and certainly no extra pay or course release.  This is the nature of service at a teaching college in a moment shaped by the logics of austerity and neoliberalism: adjuncts teach almost all of the classes while the main role of full-time faculty seems to be the performance of bureaucratic tasks, bottomless meetings, and infinite committee appointments.  Programs are so severely under-resourced that only a Herculean effort on the service work of faculty can keep them afloat, an exploitative cycle that admin will expect and naturalize if you let them.

To be sure, I see some of this work as necessary: the opportunity to select a faculty person of color as your new colleague; an opening to challenge the uber-traditionalist instructional model of a college; the chance to ensure that graduate students of color get a fair shake and recognition; the occasion to bear witness to the endless machinations that determine the look and color of a college curriculum, its assessments, and its awards.  The procedures to do these things are, nevertheless, utterly ridiculous.

Necessary or not, I won’t be serving on most of these committees in the future.  I can now say: yeah, been there, done that, it was a waste of time and I ain’t doin it again (I mean this very earnestly… this IS exactly what I will say).  I have more to say about service as part of my hustle in academia but I will do that later as part of my ongoing Academia as a Hustle posts.  For now, I will just say that service also has a Black Feminist ethos in my week’s pedagogy.  On some level, many of my colleagues think they are doing socially transformative work in these uber-western, bureaucratic processes and can lose sight of their political center or the very meanings of radical transformation.  Riddled with insecurities in an academy that makes you feel like you have to always prove your worth, many of my colleagues want to feel involved and important and they think this college service stuff is the way.  Some of these folks act like these committees are the equivalent of planting a tree or working with disaster victims!  Get a grip!  What Tiffany King calls “Native feminist politics of decolonial refusal and Black feminist abolitionist politics of skepticism,” what I have been referencing across this series of posts, requires you to have a much more critical lens on the ways you are challenging or co-signing service and the logics of austerity and neoliberalism in higher education. This is especially true since it is women of color who will be most expected to do all this free labor. If you let them, folk will run your body, mind, and spirit into the ground by: 1) over-tasking/over-taxing you; or 2) wasting your energy and time in meetings and committees where progress is slow, where your input is miles higher than what the structure will allow as output.  It’s always worth it to peek behind the emperor’s curtain and see how the shenanigans back there really work but you don’t need to keep visiting.  One time is all you need.  Skepticism and refusal are important services too.

A Week in the Life of a Black Feminist Pedagogy: Day Three

I have met a lot of graduate students in the past three years: at national conferences, at talks and workshops that I have given, from personal emails/DMs, and in the classes that I teach.  I wish I could stay in touch with ALLL of them.  I have seen graduate students from seemingly every corner of the humanities and social sciences, and even some from math and science education.  There is one thing that they all have in common at this historical moment: THEY. ARE. MAD. AS. HELL.  I love it and hope with every connected fiber and tissue related to my being on this earth that they STAY MAD… MAD AF!

On day three of any given week, my Wednesdays, I teach graduate studies.  This semester I am teaching a course called “Intersectionality and Activist Research in the Movement for Black Lives.”  It’s a methodology course that tries to take seriously that a critique and refusal of neoliberal anti-blackness in higher education has to be achieved before our research can make a difference. There are 18 students in the class and at least another 10 still on the proverbial waiting list— there just weren’t enough seats in the room to let them in.  I make my whole day available to my grad students, up to and after my class.  I leave the house between 10am and noon and get back between 10pm and midnight.  I wish I could spend more time with them, but that’s as long as I can stay awake. So this day, day three in the Life of a Black Feminist Pedagogy, is all about teaching graduate students in the 21st century.

It’s only been in the past two years that I have even liked teaching graduate students.  Before now, I found them mostly whiny, nervous, and needy and I gravitated towards the undergraduate students who were just so much better at keepin it all the way real!  Graduate school infantilizes you, makes you feel like the big, bad academy and its arbitrary rules are beyond your grasp so you forget you a grownass wo/man who knows how to navigate and cut through bullshit (and you gon see a whole lot of basic bullshit in the academy; it ain’t nuthin erudite or difficult). It was exhausting being around so many graduate students who had no social awareness or critique of their environment or higher education and so just wanted you to hold their hands, give them rules/standards, and answer dumbass questions they should have been able to tackle with their own common sense. The graduate students who I meet today ain’t like that at all…. and they do solidarity like none I have EVER seen.  Like I said, their anger and disgust with the academy and the whiteness, patriarchy, and exclusion of their disciplines fuels them to act and to act up.  I love every moment of it.  They come with RECEIPTS every damn week. Yes, RECEIPTS!  Callin mofos out each week of class, naming the names and takin it to to folks’ face!  These graduate students understand the depth and possibilities of decolonial refusal.

I know this is a radically different era because it diverges so sharply from my years in a PhD program (2000-2005).  By the time I started dissertating, my advisors— Suzanne Carothers, Gordon Pradl, and John Mayher— supported and trusted whatever creative move I tried to make, regardless of whether or not it ended successfully because they valued my process.  However, getting to that point was a LONG journey.  My very first graduate seminar in my very first semester, a required doctoral course, was the worst class I have ever taken.  I remember it vividly.  I was simply cast as the antagonistic loud-mouth.  No one wanted to make waves and jeopardize their future opportunities. This meant that no one had a intelligent critique of anything. It was a curriculum theory seminar and it didn’t matter where you landed on the political spectrum, this class taught you absolutely nothing.  Because I worked part-time and did consulting as a full-time student with four classes per semester, I chose my coursework quite deliberately.  I just did not have the time to waste on useless reading and writing. This class pissed me off every week!  Many of our required readings came from the Brookings Institute. I was the only one who brought that up in class as an issue as, of course, the antagonistic one.  Most of the students in the class did not consider themselves conservative or right-wing like Brookings and yet they did not flinch or ask a single question about the relevance of this to our work.  After all, being down for the go-along eventually produces silence, complacency, and complicity.  Internet search was a REAL thing back then (though google search was still a baby) but my peers had not even bothered to do that because they were determined to obey.  If you asked most of them today, they couldn’t tell you what Brookings was/is or that Mickey D assigned so many readings from it (Mickey D is what I called that professor because he was about as real and deep as McDonald’s). There was only one required reading all semester about race (from Brookings) in a class about curriculum theory and nothing from a Black author.  No one said a word against it.  Not once. The class was so bad that even if you were a conservative, right-wing Republican, you wouldn’t have learned a thing, certainly not enough to get you taken seriously by Brookings.  Issa all-around failure.  Mickey D wrote on my final paper that he was not interested, as a white mainstream man, in my ideas regarding race, hegemony, dominance, and whiteness (his exact words) and gave me an A-.  I got an A in the course but still stomped my way to the dean’s office on his basic Mickey D butt.  My fellowship required me to present and publish annually and I so insisted that this would not be possible if I had to sit in submediocre classes that did not reflect current research trends.  From that point, I got out of every required course in the program and only took the courses I wanted to take.  It made no sense to me, as someone who studied language, to have to sit in classes taught by folk like Mickey D when someone like Ngugi was teaching across the street.  I fought for myself and won that battle… and I was the only one in my cohort and program/school who took classes with Ngugi, who taught me more about teaching just from his presence than anyone I had met.

I had no peers who battled our curriculum and program with me, but if I were a graduate student today, it would be different.  This is as much a rhetorical and linguistic shift today as it is a political/curricular one.  I see and hear this in the ways that radical scholars like Tiffany King and Eve Tuck have taught me, work that I see within the terms of what Tiffany King calls a “Native feminist politics of decolonial refusal and Black feminist abolitionist politics of skepticism”:

Native feminist politics of decolonial refusal and Black feminist abolitionist politics of skepticism … diverge from the polite, communicative acts of the public sphere…  they do not play by the rules…practices of refusal and skepticism interrupt and out codes of civil and collegial discursive protocol  …. The force, break with decorum, and style in which Black and Native feminists confront discursive violence can change the nature of future encounters…. Refusal and skepticism are modes of engagement that are uncooperative and force an impasse in a discursive exchange.

I can’t say all graduate students today are ready to burn shit down.  Many, if not most, are mediocre, careerist weasels with hopes of nothing more than selling us out so they can become the next celebrity tokens.  But there are enough dope, decolonizing, critical graduate students today to get some fires started.  There’s no way that I would go back and re-do graduate school. No one wants that but I do wish I had been in graduate school with the folk I see today. If I were a graduate student alongside the students I see today, I would be further advanced theoretically, politically, and ideologically because I wouldn’t be as suffocated by the mediocre theory and praxis that are often sold as the only viable options.  I feel sorry for all these fools with their Mickey D inclinations today.  Their days are OVUH!