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

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 (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!


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

I have decided upon a new series (though I have not finished the previous series: Academia as a Hustle/ Everything I Know about Academia I Learned from Rick Ross). This series will only last for one week though: Monday through Saturday (Ima take Sunday off from blogging because that’s when I spend my time responding to student writing).  I have been thinking a lot lately about the inherent hypocrisy of many “critical” teachers and scholars who have apparently found the answers to challenging our disciplines and universities.  From a life committed to Black Feminist Pedagogy in a neoliberalist university, a decolonial refusal of whiteness and neoliberalism in colleges today is a relentless, exhausting endeavor that is never easy. So I’ll take this week off to keep my own self in check, call out my own mistakes and challenges, and ignore the complicity that folk wanna disguise as political intervention and reflection. If you ain’t real careful, folk out here will have you thinkin veiled misogyny, patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, and/or anti-Blackness can represent you.

So…my trek to campus started like every Monday… at the grocery store.  I have a writing seminar this semester for seniors who are majoring in gender studies.  After I spend the morning working on our class agenda, I stop at the grocery store to pick up food.  I know that the students in my classes are hungry by the time we meet at 3:05pm (and go until 5:45pm).  Most have more classes until late evening. In fact, our wellness center posted on the Gram that 15% of students at CUNY (City University of New York) have reported going hungry sometimes or often. That percentage is higher on my campus. I know what it’s like to have to study and go to school while hungry so the least I can do is TRY to feed my students in both body and mind (when my class size is at 36, I can’t afford this so we are struggling together in those moments).

Before this writing seminar starts, I meet with Kinza who articulates for me the DOPEST reasons why first year writing MUST be politicized via her own history in my class two years ago when she chose to write and design as a Muslim activist and artist.  She is interviewing me for a project and tells me she is inspired by me.  I don’t think she will ever fully understand just how much I am the one who is truly inspired.  I am the teacher I am today because of young women of color like her.  There is another young woman waiting to see me but I don’t get to meet with her because I have to run to class.  As soon as I hit the button on this post, I will need to email her and check in.  I am worried about the things she is going through as a young, poor, Black, queer feminist tryna make it and keep her sense of herself in tact.  I’m not sure how to help her but I’m damn sho gon try.

Yesterday, Rafaelina brought chicken, rice and beans, and plantains for the seminar.  She brought Nellie, who has been sick for quite some time now, some soup.  Rafaelina wanted to ease my burden and the money I am spending on food for the class. I am going to find her a really nice thank you card and put money inside so that she is not coming out of pocket like this.  As the mother of two, she cannot afford this gesture for the class but I am so humbled by her spirit and generosity. She won’t like that I am doing this. The class wants to collect for her and maybe I will let that slide at the end of term.  I just can’t bare to see a single mother spending her little bit on us as long as I have the money in my pocket.  I did promise everyone though that when they are ballers, they can take me out ALL THE DAMN TIME.  Funny thing is: I think they really would.

We spent most of class talking about the activists they follow in relation to the topics of their senior theses which all come down to four areas of study: Black feminist resistance; Black masculinities and sexualities; queer of color critique; and Latinx masculinities and sexualities.  They are paired in what I call accountability partners (I need a better term) so that they are explicitly responsible for someone else in the room and their partners’ writing. The conversations in class are richer than I can even try and transcribe here.  Somehow, someway, we have to center our own stories, push the boundaries of what counts as text, do digital design for counterpublic audiences, engage our own activism, and have some fun with it.   While Broke.  While Hungry.  While Black.  While Brown.  While Queer.  In a university system that invisiblizes the Struggle, at best, until it can pimp out students’ pain to be marketed&pathologized on brochures and videos used to collect white benefactors’ sympathy money. I get nervous every semester wondering if I am cut out for this job.

When I try to explain something about a writing task to the class, Nelly yells out: “what she is sayin yall is don’t be basic!”  Thank you, Nelly, for breaking it down and reminding me to just SAY. IT. LIKE. IT. IS. when I stumble.

By the time I get back to my office, I am exhausted from everything that transpires in class but there are more students to see, in my office and on my train ride home. I get home by 10pm.  Typical Monday.  So much more week to go.

“Don’t You Ever Not Recognize Yourself in Somebody Else”: Words of Wisdom from Marta Moreno Vega

I found myself listening to Marta Moreno Vega’s words last week.  It offered some sanity after an Atlanta-based rapper released a video on social media of 1990s sitcom actress, Maia Campbell, who was completely unraveled in a conversation with him at a local gas station.  I cannot vouch for the young man actually being a rapper; certainly, no one ever really heard of him until he used his phone to garner internet fame by exploiting a Black woman who was once a beloved child-star.  It becomes quite obvious in the video that Maia, who has battled bipolar disorder and drug addiction for many years now, is not doing well and is in complete relapse mode.

The video, which of course went viral, was meant to be “funny.”  The wanna-be rapper who filmed Maia even defended his actions, ranting about how he was not sorry for what he did (he has recently recanted, claiming that he jokes with Maia like this often).  I won’t link the videos here because they are too traumatizing, both Maia’s obvious breakdown and the young man’s willingness to dehumanize her (I won’t say the rapper’s name either since he does not deserve more air time than he has gotten). I see this as yet another example of the spectacular spectacle of Black women’s dehumanization that runs the gamut from Iyanla Vanzant’s/OWN’s pseudo-therapeutic “intervention” in Maia’s life to a young Black man’s calculated decision to humiliate and hypersexualize her.  While it may seem extreme to connect Iyanla to this wanna-be rapper, they connect quite seamlessly for me: both offer up Maia’s body solely for PUBLIC, CONSPICUOUS consumption; neither offer her substance or support in return for the otherwise unttainable attention and stardom they achieve via their chosen media outlets.

As I stated in my opening, in times like these, you need the words of your elders to show/remind you who you really are in the world.  This week, for me, that has meant the AfroLatinx activist, scholar, and teacher, Marta Moreno Vega.  Her closing story in the video below is especially relevant here where she describes her brother’s childhood friend, Jimmy, who was an addict.  One day, Jimmy spoke to her on the street and in her teenage/youth arrogance, she decided he was too dirty and embarrassing to warrant a response or acknowledgement from her.  When Jimmy told Vega’s mother about the incident, Vega was quickly punished and warned that Jimmy’s life could very well be her own, her brother’s, her sister’s, or even her own mother’s life.  Her mother warned her that she must never NOT RECOGNIZE HERSELF IN SOMEBODY ELSE.  As much as social media has offered radical opportunities for a radical Black Presence/ Black Voice/ Black Vision/ Black Humanity, it can eradicate all of that at the same time. The generational wisdom of the elders here as passed down to us from Vega seems critical… seeing ourselves in Maia rather than so easily exploiting her belongs to a legacy of Black expectation that we need to uphold now more than ever.

Happy Mother’s Day to the Women Who Have Kept Me

I did these sketches (above) many years ago.  When I first drew these, I was trying to capture what the women in my family look like on any given Church-Sunday.  I remembered this sketch today in thinking about Mother’s Day and so added some words: Today I thank every woman who ever kept me… [Yes, this post is a re-mix of previous mother’s day posts. Click here for those.]

I have strong memories of being a little girl when adults, especially my family and close neighbors, asked me: “who keep you when your momma work?”  OR “who keepin you right now?” (the second question was when I was on a part of the block where I wasn’t supposed to be or at the corner store without permission). Who keep you?  That’s always been one of my favorite expressions.  No one in my family or immediate kin network ever asked “who babysits you?” I was never babysat. I was always KEPT.

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