Self-Determined: The Final Four

Since Cyber Monday, I have been on a quest to find children’s book that positively reflect Christmas in the context of African American cultures, children, and families.  It started out rough but ended well. 

Since today is officially the second day of Kwanzaa, the day of Kujichagulia (self-determination)— my favorite of the Nguzo Saba–– it  seems appropriate to share my other favorite books from my Cyber Monday adventure today.

Addy’s Surprise

ASI have never followed the American Girl series.  I think it’s because of those scary-lookin dolls that they sell. I knew of Addy’s Stories but have never followed the work of Connie Porter.  That changed this Cyber Monday as I began to take a closer look at the series, especially the one that focuses on Christmas, Addy’s Surprise.  I love the way the little girl and her mother are described in the cold winter of Philadelphia, as well as Addy’s concern for her family who is still enslaved.  Christmas here is, obviously, not about toys and things, but all about the passions and joy of memory and care.  I have not finished the entire series yet, but plan to do so.

Waiting for Christmas

waitingThis is a beautifully illustrated book by Jan Spivey Gilchrist and written by Monica Greenfield (daughter of noted author, Eloise Greenfield). It is the poem-story of a brother and sister on the days and nights before Christmas: playing in the snow, sitting with family at the fireplace, decorating a tree, and finally being able to wish everyone a merry day.  I enjoyed the short poem-story in its brilliant simplicity along with the beautiful renderings of this sweet little boy and girl.

Mim’s Christmas Jam

MimThe name, Pinkney, looms large in African American children’s literature. Jerry Pinkney, noted watercolor artist/illustrator, is the father of Brian Pinkney, whose dynamic use of scratchboard has become his own signature style in children’s literature.  Andrea, an editor-writer, and Brian married and have created a virtual canon of children’s literature.  Mim”s Christmas Jam is one noted example. The story begins with a young brother and sister, Saraleen and Royce, fondly remembering their Christmas traditions with their father who will not be with them to celebrate.  Their father must work in New York City to build the subway, rough and dangerous work that offers no vacation.  They send their father his favorite treat in the world, their mother’s special Christmas jam (a recipe is included in the book).  The jam is so sweet that even their father’s bosses are inclined to give workers the day off for Christmas and with that, Saraleen and Royce, receive their Christmas wish: the return of their father.

Christmas Makes Me Think

christmas-makes-me-think-tony-medina-coverLast, but not least, is Tony Medina’s Christmas Makes Me Think. Medina captures the way a little boy experiences all of the wonders of Christmas: the joys and contradictions.  The little boy, the narrator and source of consciousness, offers a compelling viewpoint.  He cherishes helping his grandmother bake a chocolate cake and seeing the tree and presents in his home.  But he also questions the desire to cut down trees and kill animals to serve on the table.  As he thinks about new gifts and the things he already has, he wants us to notice the homeless and poor who have nothing while he has excess.  Christmas makes him think… about other people, not just himself.  It is a wonderful message told from the voice of a young black boy who is one of the most believable characters I have seen!

Christmas with Mrs. Mary Lee Bendolph!

005.480x480-75“Christmas always came to our house, but Santy Claus only showed up once in a while.”  I love this line.  It does so much in just 16 words.  “Santy Claus” is marked as Other both in how it is named and located as a secondary, um, clause.  It literally delivers Christmas from its consumerist saga and resets it within new sets of practices and values. The line comes from none other than the children’s book written by Patricia McKissack and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney: The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll.  These 16 words are the perfect opening to the historical  story that gets represented in this book.

allilleverwantchristmasdollIn the story, beautifully illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, three sisters receive one special gift: Baby Betty Doll. The sisters, once inseparable— called chickadees by their mother, because they were always chattering, twittering, and doing everything together— are now fighting amongst one another.  When Santy Claus actually does visit in one auspicious year with the beloved Baby Betty Doll, conflict arises since all three must share the one, coveted doll. Nella convinces her two sisters that Baby Betty was her idea and written request to Santy so she should receive the doll.  The other two sisters begrudgingly agree and go on to play outside without their sister.  Nella thinks she is going to have the best day of her life, only to find out it becomes the worst: playing with the doll, all alone, without her sister’s company, bores her to tears.  She apologizes to her two sisters and from there, they work out a plan so that the doll can belong to all three of them.  It the end, they learn that all they really want for Christmas is themselves, their creativity, togetherness, and family, not a store-bought item.

The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll is set in the Great Depression and works well as the sequel to Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters about a Virginia plantation in 1859, also by Patricia McKissack.  In Christmas in the Big House, McKissack offers a look into the ways that the resources, lifestyles, values, and traditions between the plantation vs. the quarters are stunningly different, with Christmas as one shining example.  Although the book has been criticized for not showing enough of the harshness of slavery, the critique of race and accumulation in the book is on point.  McKissack is, after all, saying something quite deliberate about the histories of values, Christmas, and black communities in this book with one striking scene: the slave master promises his young white daughter that she’ll be able to have her very own slave in 1865 when she will be old enough to know how to be a real master;  meanwhile, down in them slave quarters, a black slave mother tells a young black male that freedom is soon coming so they might postpone their escape.  Given what we know about how news of the Emancipation Proclamation, slave revolts, and icons like Nat Turner traveled amongst slaves, completely out of the sight and hearing of most whites, the striking differences in BOTH the conversations and practices that McKissack portrays is a historical accuracy, not a romantic overpass.

MLLike she does with Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters, McKissack uses historical research to write The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll also. This book is not a world of make believe or simply a story about learning to share.  I was surprised to see how many introductions and discussions of the book leave out the one, very important character who McKissack introduces at the very start in her “Note about the Story”: Mary Lee Bendolph. Once again, we see the white liberalist imperative of a false “universalism” wipe away black historical specificity. The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll  is the narrative of Mrs. Mary Lee Bendolph, called Miz Mary, a famous quilter and storyteller from Gee’s Bend, a legendary African American community of slave descendants who even turned the papering of walls to keep out drafts into an art form.  The three sisters in The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll even play as they wallpaper at their mother’s direction, a practice you can glimpse in the short documentary below:

McKissack’s story about a black family’s gift of one doll to a family of sisters is the story of Miz Mary and her own sisters.  McKissack attempted to create an image of a black family in the Great Depression based on the way that Miz Mary described her own all-black town and life there.  Here is Miz Mary talking about her quilting and how the mainstream apparatus had no way of seeing her work as art because “they didn’t know nuthin about no art”:

McKissack does a wonderful thing in this children’s book.  She goes from the traditions and spiritual values laid into the practices of quilting— sophisticated, century-old practices unseen and unimagined in the white world— to tell a story of what Christmas would have looked like for them.  I created the playlist below to go with McKissack’s children’s book.  The playlist starts with Miz Mary, looks at various events and stories related to the many women in Gee’s Bend, and ends with a historical look at African American women’s quilting as a spiritual/visual rhetoric and journey.

Before I even knew this book was based on Mary Lee Bendolph, I knew McKissack would create The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll to match a real black family’s life.  She always reminds us that we have alternate stories to tell.  We have alternate stories to live by.

 

For All Black Angels

washington-cherry-treeIt was a fellow second grader who first told me that Santa Claus was not real.  I remember coming home with many questions, not about Santa, but about everything else I could think of.  The tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny, Mickey Mouse, the talking animals in my children’s books, Scooby Doo, Bugs Bunny and EVEN Wonder Woman were not real.  That’s a lot for a child to ingest in one day. There was one fiction that I never questioned though.  It was a story that a family friend, who I think of as an uncle, told me.  I had come home excited from school talking non-stop about what I had learned about President George Washington.  My uncle told me to rethink my excitement because the Big G.W. wasn’t all that.  According to him, GW chopped down momma’s cherry tree, lied about it, and so my uncle had no choice but to whup dat ass.  I told everyone about my amazing uncle after that, despite the naysayers and player-haters who insisted that my uncle was not old enough to know GW.  My uncle IS old was my vehement response.  Plus, my uncle had animatedly replayed the whole conversation for me.  You couldn’t make up something like that as far as I was concerned.  I offer this story not to highlight my eventual discovery of my uncle’s age and tall-tale-telling but as a way to counter a problematic Christmas book about African American children.  The fact that my uncle, a man who cannot read and write, replaced white greatness with people who look like me in an everyday children’s conversation is a kind of love and political capacity that escapes far too many.

116637200On Cyber Monday, I searched the corners of google and bing for multicultural Christmas books for children.  I wanted to especially see what African American children in such books did and how the idea of Christmas was depicted in black homes (I decided to save Kwanzaa for later which produces much more interesting books, quite obviously).  I purchased the 1997 text, An Angel Like Me by Mary Hoffman, because the illustrations by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu are just stunning. I was drawn to the text because it takes on the issue of why Christmas paraphernalia features white characters and not brown ones.  Everything that I read online seemed to offer a great review.  While I don’t agree with arguments that white writers can’t compose stories for black children, in this case, those arguments gain some validity.  The lack of connection to black families, black storytelling, and race pride distorts this writer’s entire ability to compose a narrative about black children and their families.

The story gets set off when a black family breaks one of its angel ornaments.  Tyler, the young protagonist of the book, immediately asks why angels are always white, blonde, and feminine.  No one can answer his question.   NO. BODY.  He even asks his mother why Jesus is depicted as white.  Again, no one has an answer for him.  Not a single adult can answer and most seem to say: hmmm, I never noticed that.  Really?  No single black adult in the book has ever thought about whiteness?  How on earth have these black folk survived slavery, Post-Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Reagonomics, post-racism?  Finally, at the end of the book, an art student who babysits for the family, who also couldn’t answer Tyler’s question about the prevalence of white angels, carves Tyler a brown angel that looks just like him and the story ends happily ever after. Now, for some folk, this story is not enough cause for disgust.  Well, they are wrong.  Get off this blog!  It ain’t for you or about you. Only someone who does not know black families and cannot sociologically imagine how they function in this world could write this kind of book.  Could you ever imagine me going up to my uncle, asking him about whiteness, and him NOT having any answer?  Do you really think that any child in my family who asks why Jesus, Santa, or angels are depicted as white finds people who are so stumped that they cannot provide any answer?  You think I ain’t got some answers that I relate in fantastically creative narratives?  Do you think that all we do is sit around and eat sweet potato pie over the holidays and never talk about anything?  What a stoopit book!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA friend recently suggested that I watch an interview with Marianne Williamson where she talks about love.  Now, some of that New Age spirituality gets a little weird to me, but, hey, to each their own. Some of it just borrows too heavily from Non-Western spiritual traditions and remixes all of that for American, bourgeois individualism.  Nevertheless, there are times when a definition or phrase moves me deeply.  In this interview, Williamson gives a definition of love that describes black folk beautifully.  She is not, of course, talking explicitly about black people, but about a kind of everyday practice that I attribute to them: “a spiritual, mental, emotional, personal strength that I develop in myself to refuse to see you as other people might have chosen to see you today.”  She calls this a kind of sacred, daily practice when you “give birth, rebirth, to [someone’s] own self-confidence, their own belief in themselves, their own strength and glory, because you see what others might not see.”  I get this kind of sacred practice and strength everytime I talk to one of my sistafriends and mentors who refuse to see me from the lens of a violating, white, dominant gaze.  I also get this every time I talk to one of my colleagues of color about something that has happened; they don’t ever act like I am overreacting or sweep everything under the rug like most white colleagues do— they have the ability to see and hear me and offer an alternative paradigm outside of white norms.  I can’t think of a better definition than SACRED to describe the teachers, mentors, parents, family, extended family, scholars, friends who see the beauty of black children and families, and choose to portray that back, despite the world that constantly suggests otherwise. I can tell you that it is ONE HELLUVA thing to step out in a world each day that tries to minimize my expertise, question my awareness/consciousness/ability… but then come home to a partner, sistafriend, auntie, uncle, pops, momma, or neighbor who tells me to keep on keeping on, moves me past the toxic energy of dumb folk, and reminds me of who and what I am.  One Helluva Thing!  Though this book ain’t worth the paper it is printed on, its ignorance did remind me to always remember what Black Love is and does.

This little children’s book simply doesn’t pass mustard for representing black children and families.  You need to see us before you can write about us.  There are authors who represent exactly the kind of love I have described and who do achieve a rewriting for black children.  I will turn my attention to them now.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963

I was so struck by the language that I heard black parents using to explain Trayvon Martin’s murder and Zimmerman’s acquittal to their children this summer.  It’s not like these were new explanations for the parents of black children, surely.  Nonetheless, it was the sheer poetry, metaphorical wizardry, and rhetorical intensity that just made me stop dead in my listening tracks.  It’s the same kind of language that just sings off the page when many black authors write YAL (young adult literature) and children’s literature for and about young people of African descent.  That’s why I read African American YAL and children’s literature so voraciously, especially when those texts are trying to creatively offer explanatory models for the past and present of racial violence and an alternative image of humanity that can sustain you.

zora-and-me-208x300There’s just something about the language.  My colleague, Victoria Bond, and her co-author, T.R. Simon, is a case example. I don’t want to spoil their wonderful book, Zora and Me, so I’ll just say that the story revolves around a set of friends who learn about the saga of a woman who is passing as white.  The woman’s husband and lifestyle unleash a level of disrespect and violence onto black communities that is unforgivable.  What Bond and Simon do so beautifully is unpack that violence from the perspective and discourse of young adults who are learning to do better by their people (with one of these friends being the young Zora Neale Hurston).  While this book is, of course, a story that sociologically interrogates the politics of passing, it is also just brilliant in showing how violent this decision is for black communities… and all in a way that is understandable for 12 year olds.  Like I said, the language is just wonderful.

watsonsThat language is also the reason why I have cherished The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis since it came out in 1995.  He shows you the love, dignity, and warmth of a black family while also showing how a young boy deals with and understands the bombing of the 16th Street Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  There is no happy ending to the book, just an ending that lets you know that black love will sustain this family and community.  When you value the language and experience of these kinds of tellings, then you just can’t help but feel real slighted when you see a Hollywood adaptation.  I finally watched the movie version of The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 on the Hallmark channel this weekend.  Mostly, I was just curious to see if the film achieves the brilliance that I think Curtis’s book achieves.  I suspected it wouldn’t and I was right.

The brilliance that Curtis crafted with Kenny’s sorrow and mourning after the church bombing was simply lost.  The plot was there but not the significance, meaning, and historical impact.  What has astonished me is that so many reviews excuse the film’s domestication of Civil Rights protests in Birmingham because the movie is for children.  But the movie is based on a BOOK… a book that did NOT domesticate racist violence in order to hurry up and celebrate the triumph of the North American family (nor did the book ever offer the North as a Promised Land in relation to the Evil South like the movie does).  These tropes are so tired and played out that I sympathized with the wonderful actors in the movie who had to re-play these tropes. I found myself wondering who these domesticated images were for.  Surely, not for those parents who had to explain Trayvon Martin’s murder to their children this summer…or for the children who look like Trayvon!

Freedman_Bureau_Richmond_VAI knew I was traveling down a slippery slope when I first turned on the movie because Hallmark didn’t air the movie on the actual anniversary.  Maybe it’s because I don’t watch too much television but I also found it quite difficult to view this movie when every single commercial was white.  I have never seen so many middle class white women shopping at Walmart as I did in the commercial breaks.  No single commercial with a black family?  A black mother?  A black woman? They did, however, play the infamous Cheerios commercial where the little biracial girl pours cereal over her father’s heart many, many times. Now don’t get me wrong.  I was outraged at the racism this commercial unleashed against that adorable little girl.  But I was equally outraged when those same folk who were posting their comments and links to this commercial on youtube, facebook, twitter, or google+ have not been similarly enraged at the events with Tiana Parker or Quvenzhane Wallis.   It was as if the network just couldn’t let America see too much of two black parents raising black children.  When only biracial children are your source of attention, the hierarchy of value is clear.  I can’t help but be reminded of the white teachers who went to the south to teach black children after emancipation in the late 1800s and wrote long, tearful laments when they saw so many almost-white, mulatto children forced to share in the same racial misery as all those dark Negroes (they saw it as shameful to leave children with so much white in them with black people).  The movie may not have been historically accurate but Hallmark’s messages during the commercial breaks surely were.

As for me, I’m going to stick with African American YAL and children’s literature.  That language!  Those messages!  That’s what the U.S. still needs aired.

“The Snowy Day” in Brooklyn 50 Years Later… Visual Emancipations Continued

Though I do not like cold weather or shoveling, spooning away the snow so that I could open up my iron gate and shoveling out my stoop and sidewalk to get myself out of the house today was, I confess, a little fun.  This is the first, real snow in Brooklyn this year and it seems to have brought calm and quiet (there are no power outages or serious emergencies nearby).  No one is driving, honking, walking, working, hustling, or hammering at the factories across the way.  So there’s really nothing to do but stay indoors or go out and play in the snow.   Of all things, snow like this makes me think about one of the cutest, little black boys I know.  His name is Peter and you can see him in Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day (there is an online version at this link).  This Snowy Day today comes exactly 50 years after this children’s book was first awarded the Caldecott with Keats using his own hometown of Brooklyn as the inspiration for the book’s setting.

The book is about a child’s experience of wonderment after waking up from a night’s sleep to a world blanketed in snow.  What made this book such a landmark was that this child is black!  In 1962, a children’s book with a black male child as the subject was unheard of.  In fact, most people never even realized that Ezra Jack Keats was white, a Jewish artist who grew up poor in New York feeling the results of invisibility and ethnic hostility himself.SnowyDay

As Jerry Pinkney, award-winning African American illustrator of children’s books, reminds us (himself inspired by Keats’s depiction of Peter), in 1962, a children’s book about a little black boy would never have been published by a black author and illustrator. Keats faced some deserved criticism for never explicitly referencing the race and culture of the child in his written text.  We don’t really see or know much about Peter’s neighborhood, his family, or his (cultural) context.  What is striking though is that the book still upturned the children’s literary world anyway with just one thing: the visual rhetoric of a little, black boy who simply plays and smiles and looks out the window and wonders.  Keats himself was inspired to create the book after seeing a photo essay of a little boy in 1940 in Life magazine who he thought deserved to be the center of a really innocent child’s tale about joyfully playing.  Keats may not have understood cultural context, but he certainly saw the aesthetic beauty in black children. 41mVs1m7wPL._SL500_AA300_I myself have the book in three, different iterations and I even have the doll that was made a few years ago.  What Keats missed in cultural context, he captured in visual rhetoric by creating the cutest, little black boy in a red snowsuit who is absolutely mesmerized by seeing his footprints in the snow, finding a stick to shake snow off of a tree, feeling snow plop on his head after he shakes the tree, and making snow angels.  Yes, absolutely adorable!

I don’t think enough of us realize that the children’s literature that we have today that features (non-Sambo-typed) children and stories related to people of African descent was a result of Black Freedom Struggles related to the Civil Rights/Black Power Movements.  Before that, only white children counted as children/human in this literary world (not that this isn’t still the case given the fascination with Harry Potter, fairy tales, and the likes). The context of these Black Freedom Struggles explains not only why we have Black Children’s Literature now but also why so many prominent African American writers and visual artists, people who you would normally think would focus their attention only on adults and the world of art galleries, have always been involved with children’s literature.  I have always been mesmerized that artists like Tom Feelings turned their aesthetic gaze toward depicting beautiful and powerful images of black children rather than only toward the fine arts world.  The work of presenting an alternative, aesthetic and ideological world to black children will always be deeply political under structured inequalities.  We need only think back to how nervous Hoover and COINTELPRO became by the Breakfast Program for children that the Black Panther Party ran— this was what Hoover saw as most dangerous, as dangerous as guns.  This is worth noting, especially for those of us who think the images, contexts, and experiences that we serve up to black children can ever be racially neutralized.

Honey-I-Love-and-Other-Love-Poems-9780808567431While Keats introduced me to the cutest little black boy ever, it was the Dillons, as illustrators, and Eloise Greenfield, as writer, that gave me little black girls so that I could better see myself and the little girls I played with.  That book is Honey, I Love published in 1978.  In Rudine Sim Bishop’s interview, Greenfield tells Bishop, a noted historian and scholar of African American children’s literature:

I liked that phrase, “Honey, let me tell you.” It was a phrase that was used a lot by African American people, but it had not reached the point where it had become stereotyped. So I wanted to use that, and that’s where the title came from. And I wanted to write about things that children love, about childhoods where there may or may not be much money, but there’s so much fun.

I have owned many copies of this book in my day— all replicas of the original, small pocket version, pictured above, that I would stuff in my purse when I was trying to imitate the grown-up ladies, stuffing it, also of course with nothing but small toys and candies (I also, however, have the equally stunning later 1995 version illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist).  greenfield 2These little girls with hair/afros that come alive and dance all over the page as much as their arms and legs are absolutely stunning. Honey, I Love, just like The Snowy Day, offers us counter-hegemonic and revolutionary visual images of black children; but where Honey diverges is that we get a Black Story, a Black Girl story, a series of poems no less, to go along with the visual emancipation of what Greenfield calls “sweet little gingerbread girls” (see the poem, Keepsake).  In the book, you can find one of these little, black girls trying on her momma’s clothes and learning to stuff things in a pocketbook too; while yet another is dancing to Earth Wind and Fire and The Jackson Five!

As someone who studies, thinks and write about literacies and composition studies, these books— or, rather, these AfroVisual manifestoes— offer me an important reminder: radical texts do not simply offer us new, powerful ways to read and write and do language.  They also help us SEE.  After all my shoveling and playing in the snow today, this is what I will be thinking about.

Public & Private Writing on New Plantations

Priscilla

See 2008 South Carolina State Museum Exhibit

My graduate advisor, Suzanne Carothers, is one of the most thoughtful pedagogues that I know, someone who thinks about the education of pre-school and elementary black children in strikingly alternative and radical ways.  In a recent conversation, she reminded me that black children’s role on slave plantations was to take care of white children close in age group.  Until that conversation, I had not thought of the wide-ranging ramifications of this.  It immediately triggered the countless histories and narratives I have read of African American adults explaining how they learned to read and write in slavery via the required chores they had to perform as children: carry  white children’s books for them to school; stand outside the schoolroom and wait for white children to finish school and carry their things home; stand in attention while white children learned or played, eagerly awaiting a command from them.  We know from the archives that black children used these moments to eavesdrop on school lessons, learn the alphabet, and trick white kids in disseminating the information white children had learned.   We have not talked enough though about what this relationship between white children and black children as learners meant for the epistemological construction of plantation life.  What is most interesting to me is the way in which Carothers marks this relationship as central to classrooms today: black children are still always expected to teach and help white children understand race or African American lives.  In my teaching context, I am talking about those moments in the college classroom where the issue of race or black history comes up and all the white people in the classroom turn to look at the one (or two or three) black student(s) in the room.  Or, there is the moment where a certain theory or issue comes up that is so obviously racialized, but it is up to that one (or two or three) black student(s) in the room to point it out, not the teacher’s role, and the room (or digital interface), of course, just goes dead silent. This seems like a story every black college graduate I know can tell and you can read about this kind of psychic warfare in countless educational accounts of black students’ experiences in schools.  I don’t think, however, we are often inclined to call and link these experiences of black students to slavery in the way Carothers has for me: these kind of moments in classrooms are simply the vestige of a plantation economy of knowledge and learning in the context of white dominance. That kind of framework pushes me to think about race and classrooms in a whole different way and question how, when, and where white children are made dominant.

842d548028

Slave Children on Board the “Daphne”

I would like to hold myself accountable to offering black students something different from this “plantation economy of knowledge and learning in the context of white dominance.”   What this means concretely, for instance, right now is that in the first three weeks of my current class, my students do print-based writing (there is an informal writing assignment due each class) that they can email or hand in to ONLY me.  They are not posting their stuff online anywhere for the class or the world to read.  I need to see, hear, encounter their racial ideologies first and take them on.  I need to see who and what I am working with first.  I especially need to see the work we will need to do as a classroom before we can educate people outside of our classroom.  It is a seeming contradiction that so much, if not ALL, of my class depends on digital spaces; yet my students are not writing in the same open, digital spaces that contains the class materials (not yet).   To put it most simply: NO STUDENT in my class will be waxing on online with anti-black comments.  I am thinking here about my first semester teaching graduate classes where white male graduate students wrote quite freely in their weekly seminar papers about how lazy black people are and how slutty black women are.  I deal with that quite readily and willingly on my own, and pretty regularly (and have been able to count on white faculty not noticing or caring).  In my second year as an assistant professor, I encountered a white male student who had text-messaged sexually vile statements to the women of color in one of his classes where students were required to put their numbers on a class-distributed phone list.  When I reported his behavior, it was clear to me that I alone— the only untenured member of the department of the time— had to work with the women to file a complaint and would have to deal with the student alone in my own class in a way that would make sure he didn’t pass my class and, therefore, lose his position in the program— a program that certified teachers to work in urban high schools.  Like I said, I KNOW I am alone on all of this but I am also very clear: such students will not unleash racial violence and distribute their texts online in digitized classroom-discussion boards or in public online spaces as part of the work that happens in my class.  Not. On. My. Watch.  From my perspective, teachers need to be held accountable for such digital texts when white men such as the ones I described go online with this stuff. It is not the job of black students in the class to challenge them, to help them, to push them, all of which, as Carothers helped me to see, is a kind of ongoing plantation logic and relationship system.   Despite the liberalism that would say everyone is speaking their own minds, it is not a democracy when black people are being dehumanized.  I am not talking about the alternative liberal universe either where we don’t talk about race at all (hence, no one noticing the ideas of white male students I am talking about except me).  What I am talking about here is a kind of AfroDigital consciousness that works against these public spaces when the violence of racism is fully alive in classrooms.  No teacher’s classroom and no teacher’s assignment are ever innocent!

My class this semester always enrolls a large number of black female students, probably more than any other class on the campus (I learned yesterday that mine is the only class about black women).  I will not expose them to students who espouse anti-black/anti-black-woman diatribes on class digital, discussion boards. I know the damage that does given how many students of color come to me to talk about exactly such experiences in their other classes (I won’t even tell you how many white students have dropped my classes, no matter the subject, after the first day seeing me and seeing my syllabus).  Black women get enough of this kind of hostility elsewhere; they don’t need more of it in my classroom too.  As we move through the semester, I strategically choose when and where students will go public with their writing—whether with the class or with the wider digital universe.  I think this is especially relevant given a kind of liberalist mantra in my field about the general goodness of all, real audiences when students write digital texts.  I ain’t tryna hear that.  I experience writing and audience in very different ways.

I want to see teachers (and in my field, this means mostly white teachers) held accountable for the epistemological violence their students inflict on black bodies.  I am not suggesting that it is the fault of teachers when their students espouse racism but when they do that espousing within a public assignment that is teacher-required, then teachers need to be held accountable.   In fact, I think it is a crucial aspect of an AfroDigital pedagogy to further this kind of accountability.  It ain’t democratic to let students say and do racism; but we can surely ensure democracy by checking them and their teachers on it.  An AfroDigital pedagogy  does not comfort and take care of white children on our newest plantations in ways that maintain racialized hierarchies.  It must achieve the opposite.