This list was created by undergraduates at John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY at the very beginning of spring semester in 2016. Our course is focused on critical race theory and this list was collectively written, modeled after the style of the blogpost— “MY (APPARENTLY) OBLIGATORY RESPONSE TO ‘FORMATION’: IN LIST FORM.” This list captures our initial discussions and definitions of race/racism and its roots and rootedness.
At an event that I recently attended, a high school teacher at a prominent and privileged high school told a frightening story about her students. Her students had read a novel in her class about a young woman who was raped. During the class discussions, students analyzed the text beautifully, said all the right, erudite things; they even composed wonderful essayist prose interpreting the book. However, surprisingly to the teacher, the students had a whole other conversation amongst themselves in the lounge/ common space: the victim of the rape was just a dumb whore as far as they were concerned. Though the teacher was hopeful in regard to the promise of new curricular endeavors, I wonder what it means to teach folk whose violence lies in wait this way.
I am not saying that I have never heard students blame the victims of oppression. Yes, I have. All the time. That’s the nature of consciousness-raising in classrooms: help students see, understand, and dissect where these soul-crushing ideologies come from and fight those ideas back. What I don’t experience much in my classrooms are my non-privileged students (who are the targets of oppression, not the voyeurs looking from afar at it) saying what I want them to say, performing what they think is a liberal, progressive discourse for my approval, and then publicly promoting violence elsewhere. They just say what they think and work ev’ryone’s butt to the bone to try and convince them otherwise.
“It is a great honor. The Church has a very proud history and has really stood for the spirit of African Americans and I would even say the spirit of America in Charleston since 1818, a spirit of defiance and standing up for what is right and what is true… Mother Emanuel, since 1818, has stood for freedom and worship for African Americans in South Carolina. And so it is a humbling privilege that I have to serve as the pastor.”
~ Words from the Late Senator and Reverend Clementa Pinckney from the forthcoming documentary, The AME Movement: African Methodism in South Carolina
In my first semester at my college, before we had even reached the midterm, one student talked openly about what it meant for him to be an Asian American male in the context of Stop-and-Frisk policies in New York City. He is a HipHoppa whose friends are mostly Latino and Black. While he identifies with and as them, as a man of color, he is not targeted for Stop and Frisk. What does this mean? was the question he asked frequently. This is a rather typical exchange in my classrooms. What was not typical, however, about this particular incident was that I decided to talk to colleagues about what I was witnessing, something I rarely do. When I told my colleagues about the kind of reading/writing/thinking that was happening in this class, the only response I ever heard was: but is his prose correct? How’s his grammar? And that’s it. All of these things that students are politicizing and all these fools can talk about is grammar. Even more problematically, the Asian man is a second-generation Chinese-American, but my colleagues assumed he was FOB—fresh off the boat. Based on European/Ellis Island histories of American assimilation and upward mobility, it has not occurred to them that second-generation immigrants are not living the same high life, have a critique of race, and are highly literate in American codes.
I stopped talking to my colleagues about my students and my pedagogy on that day. When I think through what I am seeing in my classrooms, I take my thoughts, excitements, and ponderings elsewhere… and I plan to keep it that way. I have talked to my colleagues across the country about this young man and unlike my local colleagues, they have been fascinated that a first-year freshman took on the research task that he did. The student decided to do a qualitative study to better understand multiracial, New York college students’ experiences of and perspectives on police profiling. He specifically interviewed (using a semi-structured protocol) white, Asian, Latin@, and Black students, a decision motivated by his quest to see and hear what it means to be allied as an Asian man not targeted for profiling. How could he understand this and more, importantly, how might he ensure that his relative privilege not block his own criticality? Like with all qualitative studies, you just don’t know what might happen when you get out there in the down and dirty…
My 2014-2015 schoolyear was bookended on the one end, by the murder of Michael Brown, uprisings in Ferguson, protests in NYC over the strangulation of Eric Garner, the brutal kidnapping of the 43 college students in Liguala, AND on the other end, the uprisings in Baltimore. Though I haven’t written about it yet, I began teaching first year writing this year in collaboration with a Latin@ Leadership program called ¡Adelante! at my college. I try my best NOT to write about the classes and students who I am currently teaching (mostly because them younguns are on here readin). I will forsake that personal rule this time though.
I really can’t imagine what this schoolyear would have been like had I not had the ¡Adelante! students in my life. I have been absolutely exhausted and depleted watching yet another and another and another public execution of a black person. The violence against we brown and black bystanders puts us at risk of all kinds of mental, emotional, and psychological harm too. It has become crystal clear to me that I do not have the patience or inclination to sit in a classroom with young people, especially if they are majority-white, who do not see that the annihilation of black and brown bodies, their language values, and their epistemological systems is REAL and that the wherewithal to fight it, by and with any means necessary, is the most radical intellectual work you can undertake.
For Harriet released a video yesterday, “Black Women OU Students Discuss SAE, Race and the University,” interviewing three young Black women at the University of Oklahoma: Aubriana Busby (Junior), Chelsea Davis (Sophomore), and Ashley Hale (senior), all students involved with OU Unheard. I was delighted to watch and hear these interviews as well as the general footage that we have seen in the past week from Black student protesters on the campus.