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.

Academia as a Hustle; Or, How Everything I Know about Academia, I Learned from Rick Ross (Part I)

I have never been a fan of the rapper, Rick Ross. And yet his cut, “Everyday I’m Hustlin,” is my work anthem.  Katt Williams’ skit didn’t help matters and made the opening hook go viral in my head for years.  Today, I have folders, notebooks, mugs, and all other manner of appropriated paraphernalia to remind myself that this academic game is just that: A HUSTLE.  I even have a file folder that says “#keephustlin” so I can label and be clear on the things that are the hustle. These reminders help me remember and get through the week, day, semester, and year.   Since Rick Ross’s misogynoir, misogyny, and disingenuousness match up quite nicely with life in academia, I don’t even feel bad as a feminist claiming his definition of a hustle in my work life. “Everyday I’m hustlin/Hustle, hustlin hustlin/Hustle, hustlin hustlin/Hustle, hustlin hustlin.”

I should have written this post when the song first dropped circa 2006 but I couldn’t have articulated the nature of my grind in the academy then.  And it’s only been the questions I have received about my stance on 4Cs/NCTE and the academic job market that has compelled me to sit down and write all of this now.

I have been on the market four times now, was successful in each round, and got the job that I liked best at that moment.  I have explored all kinds of institutions, never committed to any one kind, and plan to maintain my stealth, always-on-the-move style until I meet an institution that treats me fairly.  I have seen the insides of search committees, hiring committees, national award committees, and tenure committees and it ain’t never been pretty.  I have walked out of some of those meetings traumatized and exhausted for what/who I had to argue and fight for. I have learned and seen a lot, most of which I can’t even (legally) disclose.  I’ve learned the rules all on my own because no one ever told me, many don’t seem to even see what is right in front of them, and others purposely conceal the strings behind the puppetry.

I am calling this post “Part I,” because I am sure that I will remember more stuff later and will build on this.  Think of this as the raw, uncut, de-bourgeois-professionalized version of what you get on those websites about the hows and whys of the academic market.

I love the WORK that I do as a college educator teaching first-generation, racially marginalized, urban young people of color.  I enjoy fighting for my own language, narrative, geographies, epistemologies, and styles in my research and scholarship.  That’s the WORK… surviving the academy as a job is a whole other game though (see my previous post here on the difference between the work and the job). I call this job a hustle, quite deliberately pushing against the snobbery and tomfoolery that would suggest what we do and what we are about is any different from corporate America.

Let’s start this series talking about publishing: with the research and scholarship.  For the sake of clarity, I will also say that I am talking explicitly here about former or current historically white 4-year universities and colleges. At the end of the day, publishing is still what counts most.  It’s how you get tenure, promotion, or merit pay; it’s how you get the next job; it’s how people know your name and ideas.  I have worked at the first tier of research, the second tier, and now at a teaching college… with “remedial,” undergraduate, master’s degree and Ph.D. students.  The expectations for publishing have not been different for me in any single one of these spaces.  I teach a 3/4 load now with big classes and have to publish as rigorously as when I taught a 2/2 with small classes if I want to ever be full professor.  That means at least one more monograph and 6-12 articles.  All of that is on top of what I did for tenure (a monograph and 10+ articles).  Yeah, do the math.  Don’t get fooled.  If your university wants to be “prestigious,” this is what it’s gon be, regardless if the institution actually even has any prestige. I have colleagues who tell me that publishing at a community college is less “rigorous.”  I have never worked at a community college (only a comprehensive college) but I will say here that I seldom believe these kinds of flat statements since publishing looks very different today than what it did decades ago.

Here is what I have learned now from MULTIPLE PLACES:

  1. Book chapters do not count.  This is a good strategy when you are in graduate school (as well as book reviews).  What you publish in graduate school cannot be used for tenure; you are only making yourself more “marketable” with chapters in graduate school but you are not building a tenure profile. You gon need to publish to get an academic job these days so chapter it up.
  2. If you are on the tenure track and a book editor comes at you sideways with an inordinate amount of revisions, bow out. You are doing the book editor a favor, not the other way around.  Don’t get this stuff twisted. Publish the piece as a journal article elsewhere. It will count that way.  And show that uppity editor your bare behind (I truly believe this can relieve stress).
  3. Humanities folks will insist that book chapters count (and BTW: book reviews and encyclopedia entries do not count either so don’t do them after graduate school).   If the university is forced to concede, your book chapters might get counted but know that other disciplines at your college think you are a joke and say it out loud every chance they get. Wait and see how that pans out for you when the new dean/provost/president are not humanities scholars.  Good luck with that.
  4. Collaborative publishing does not count unless you have MANY, MANY of these joints and/or your name comes first.  As faculty, collaborative pubs with graduate students are always the best: you get credit for publication AS mentoring that way (many “top-tiered” PhD programs expect faculty to publish with graduate students now). You might get a concession and get through tenure with collab pubs but know that your campus colleagues think you are a joke. Good luck with that.
  5. Publishing with your Ph.D. advisor/diss committee does not count when you are on the tenure track.  You can do this in graduate school but know you are only making yourself more “marketable.”  You gon need to publish to get an academic job these days so go ‘head and roll with your advisor now cuz that’s gotta stop soon.
  6. Publishing a piece in the journal and/or book you are editing does not count.  If you publish in a special issue journal, be ready to argue in your tenure statement that you do not know the editors (make sure that is true).  Special issue journal publications are taken less seriously because it is now commonplace that your friends bypassed a real peer review process for you (even if the editors aren’t your friends, the review process is still not considered as rigorous with special issue journals today).
  7. Publishing in a journal or book series that your colleague down the hall edits does not count.  See #6 above about “commonplace.”
  8. Presentations at local and/or campus conferences do not count.  You will be laughed at if you include these in your tenure narrative unless you force the issue that these presentations were related to your research.  It still won’t count, but you won’t be laughed at.  Don’t let your tenure be Comedy Central. Let the laughs happen somewhere else.
  9. You need to attend conferences but you better be smart and choose wisely.  Time is ticking, money is scarce, and conferences cost way too much.  One or more of three things needs to happen at a conference to make it worth re-attending: a) you get REALLY good feedback that will propel publication; b) you get a REAL offer for publication from an editor of a journal or book series; c) you team with a group of colleagues and work on a new, publishable article (remember #4 above though).  If these three things ain’t happening, you wasted your money and time.  Don’t be a fool listening to folks who act like a conference is a center of gravity for tenure in academia today.
  10. Habitual conference attendance at a single venue is for those who intend to hold HIGH leadership positions at that conference.  Otherwise, if there is a conference that you must attend pre-tenure, then do what I did: swoop in, do your thing, and be out.  Put the line on the CV and be clear that’s all you got from the experience and find another space to sustain you intellectually.  The point for a tenure/promotion committee is to see that you can get regularly accepted to a peer-reviewed national and INTERNATIONAL (you must always stay connected to international scholars) conference, not stay wedded to an organization. if you can swing it, do not pay for the conference hotel— why keep a conference afloat if it is not doing much for you?  If your department chair (or wanna-be chair) demands that you attend a certain conference, make sure that he pays for it (do not use your start-up funds or travel money for their personal edicts).  This ain’t the 1990s.  No one gets tenure or promotion anymore because they have micro-celebrity status at these venues.  You can get that from Twitter, Facebook, or the Gram.  In fact, my Academia.edu account has done more work bringing real bodies to my research and scholarship than any conference I have ever attended. If you are a scholar of color, especially a woman of color, you need to know better than to rely on traditional means of knowledge dissemination in the 21st century anyway.
  11. One book is no longer enough for tenure at most places, especially if that book was your dissertation (and only university presses and Routledge count).  You will be regarded as someone who has not done any serious research and scholarship since graduate school.  You might get a concession and get through tenure with only that one dissertation-turned-book but know that your colleagues think you are a joke. Good luck with that. (Oh, and make sure you are really clear whether your particular institution will accept galleys of your book at tenure/promotion or if they only want hardcopy.)
  12. Citations, citations, citations!  This is the order of the day.  It’s not just about publishing but about who is reading you… yes, even at teaching colleges now.  Stay amongst like-minded scholars who are thinking with you.  If you are marginalized in your field, find a new home.  If folk in your field are not reading and citing you in their research, you are wasting your time with them.  Move on and drop the dead weight.  You might get a concession and get through tenure without the citations but know that your colleagues think you are irrelevant. Good luck with that.
  13. Grants count as a publication but only the big ones.  Be clear that a grant is the equivalent of running a program so it’s a lot of work… but just like a publication.  If you don’t have grants (especially since there is little money in the humanities), publish more articles.  No way around this anymore.  In the humanities, post-doc work will weigh as nicely as grants so pursue that!
  14. Internal grants do not count but you need to apply for every single one of them that comes across your desk/screen (since they usually come from deans, provosts, etc).  You need to make sure that you keep your name and the topics of your research in folks’s mouth.
  15. Accept only the speaking engagements that are meaningful. They take a lot of time away from your research, family, and sleep cycles.  If you like the people, are getting paid, can connect intellectually/professionally with like-minded folk, can introduce your work to a new audience (see #12 above), get to work directly with young folk, and/or can add a line to your CV, do it.  Otherwise, keep it movin and work on #1-14 above.

Every single item that I listed above is almost a direct quote. D.I.R.E.C.T. These are NOT my interpretations.  If anyone tells you differently,  they are lying or do not know what time it is in the academy today. These same people will turn around and smile in your face and tell you everything is okay with your tenure packet. When you do book chapters, large-scale anthologies (which are the equivalent of textbooks— which also do not count), articles in friends’ journals, and/or publications with advisors, it is for name recognition in that topic, bigger record/concert sales (oops, I mean books), solidarity with your peeples, and/or how-to statements that will make people want to pay you to come give workshops. These are their own legitimate reasons… it won’t count for your tenure/promotion or stature at the university though. KNOW THAT! These rules will likely change 5-10 years from now but I suspect stuff will escalate, not de-escalate.  I can promise you that #1-15 are how it goes down TODAY.

No one fights for or defends you or your field in these closed-door meetings; your record alone has to do all of the work so you need clarity on what has value in that record.  I have witnessed a case where the room did not think a woman deserved to even make it to her mid-tenure review because she only had two articles in print that, combined, had only been cited 5 times.  This was at a teaching college with a heavy teaching load.  Her chairperson gave her NO mentoring whatsoever (and may have even sabotaged her) and since that department still only has an interim chair today, she still has not received any sustained mentoring. Only one person (a senior male scholar of color) in that room argued on her behalf about the absurdity of dropping her.  No one else said a word in her defense. I have no idea what has happened to her.  So yeah, it gets REALLY REAL out here.

I have fought on behalf of colleagues in many of these instances. When I won those battles in those closed-door meetings, it was never a full victory.  People just conceded my point but regarded the scholar in question as a good teacher, a good administrator, or as a good person who works really hard.  These too are direct quotes and these are not compliments.

In between #1-15 above, you will have to fight to do the work that you love, the work that means something to you, the work that transforms your social circumstances.   You will notice that there is nothing INTELLECTUAL, ACTIVIST, or SOCIALLY TRANSFORMATIVE in #1-15.  It’s a pecking order and ranking system only (hence, my overuse of the word COUNT).  It’s… a… hustle… and like I said at the beginning of this post: “Everyday I’m hustlin/Hustle, hustlin hustlin/Hustle, hustlin hustlin/Hustle, hustlin hustlin.”  

I am exhausted just thinking back and chronicling all of these lessons … but I ain’t done yet.  The next posts will tackle service, teaching, and digitation.  I hope to get even blunter with it.

How Institutional Racism Trained Me to Be a Doomsday Prepper

I have never watched a full episode of one of those reality shows featuring doomsday preppers, the over-the-top survivalists who prepare for the end of civilization, nuclear invasion, or natural catastrophe.  I am however very familiar with preparing for the inevitable racial targeting that comes with being a woman of color working in educational institutions.

Many people at universities today are thinking critically about the safety of racially marginalized groups on campus and the threats to teaching politically-charged content in this post-election moment.  I don’t mean to suggest here that this critical care and thought are widespread though.  There are just as many places that move forward— business as usual— with their love affairs with classic Europe, administrivia, departmental parties, and neoliberalist regimes of outcomes assessment.  Academics doing the work of questioning and thinking through where we are today, those who commit to pedagogy as something more rigorous than an anemic list of suggestions about teaching tolerance, are a rare gem. It seems to me though that institutional racism has long prepared us for the coming doomsdays on university campuses.  The very campus protests related to #BlackLivesMatter showed us students who challenged their administrations to deal with the racism they were facing and not simply dismiss campus-wide white supremacy under the auspices of (for-whites-only) “free speech”?  The very history of Black college student protest, dating back to the 1920s, connected off-campus racism with the treatment Black students face on campus.   As an undergraduate in 1989, I never walked alone on campus, especially at night, not simply because I was a woman, but a Black woman.  As women, we know we are always the potential victims of sexual assault, but as a Black woman, you also know that no one will care or notice when that happens.  Black men on campus certainly weren’t any safer; Black masculinity does not offer that.  They didn’t travel alone either for fear of the campus police who had no ability to see their bodies as part of the student population.  Doomsday was always here.

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Culture, Care, and Competence

chartI walk through the main entrance of my college’s main building each day. There are three entrance points for the public in this ten-story building. We don’t have many campus buildings; space is limited in NYC so we build up rather than out, giving a large body-traffic flow at this main building.  This is my fourth semester teaching at my current college and, though this may be a strange observation, I have never entered or exited the building when the student in front of me did not hold the door open for me.

I noticed this pattern right away.  It is something that I have never witnessed at any other university.  It happens every single day.  And, if I am standing on line, the students let me go first.  I do not know any of these students, but they recognize me as a professor right away.

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Still… Teaching to Transgress

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about bell hooks’s book, Teaching to Transgress, in part based on her series of taped, public dialogues that she has been doing at the New School (and her upcoming keynote address at NWSA) and, in another part, based on my own current teaching location.

I have felt for a long time now that if we want to talk about a radical, transformative education for young people of color, we need to be teaching in the schools that actually enroll them in large numbers.   I have said it and I have meant it. And I do not mean after-school programs, though our presence there is vital. I mean bearing witness to the day-to-day of current schooling regimes as an insider there, not merely as an academic researcher/note-taker. You can call me an Old Skool Black Studies Scholar in that regard, because I just can’t see giving all that I know how to do solely to white students at a privileged university, no matter how much they might need to see and hear someone like me.  I have worked now in three spaces as a tenure-track professor at colleges whose enrollments are largely or mostly students of color from racially subordinated groups: a state university (not the flagship campus, but a space trying to be that); a private university; and a city university. Teaching to Trangress in these spaces is more than just a notion, especially when it is so dauntingly unwelcomed by what Sylvia Wynter would often call “the grammarians of the social order”— those academics whose intellectual lens are so deeply ingrained with dominant reproductive modes of racism and social stratification that their sole, intellectual job is the maintenance of our current systems of logic. You don’t even need to strain your mind and imagination to recognize who these folk are.

Today, I have been looking at the ELA Regents exam in New York State, the state exam in English Language Arts.  Here is the August 2014 exam posted on the state website:

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