FEATURED SCHOLAR: ERIC DARNELL PRITCHARD — “When You Know Better, Do Better”: Honoring Intellectual and Emotional Labor Through Diligent Accountability Practices

Eric Darnell Pritchard is an award-winning writer, cultural critic, and Associate Professor of English at the University at Buffalo (SUNY). Eric’s research and teaching focuses on the intersections of race, queerness, sexuality, gender and class with historical and contemporary literacy, literary, and rhetorical practices, as well as fashion, beauty, and popular culture. His first book, Fashioning Lives: Black Queers and the Politics of Literacy (Southern Illinois University Press, November 2016), won three book awards: the inaugural 2017 Outstanding Book Award from the Conference on Community Writing, and the 2018 Advancement of Knowledge Award and the 2018 Lavender Rhetorics Book Award for Excellence in Queer Scholarship, both from the Conference on College Composition and Communication. Fashioning Lives was also recognized as honorable mention for the 2018 Winifred Bryan Horner Outstanding Book Award from the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric. He is also editor of “Sartorial Politics, Intersectionality, and Queer Worldmaking,” a special issue of QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking (Vol. 4, Issue 3, Michigan State University Press, 2017). In addition to his book and edited volume, his scholarly writings have also appeared in numerous venues including Harvard Educational Review, The International Journal of Fashion Studies, Literacy in Composition Studies, Visual Anthropology, and Southern Communication Journal. As a public scholar and cultural critic, his articles and reviews have also been published in Public Books, ART FORUM International, Ebony.com, The Funambulist (Clothing Politics Vol. 1 and Vol. 2), and Diverse: Issues in Higher Education. Currently, Eric is at work on two new books projects. One project is a historical study of community literacies and queer of color feminist activist organizations and collectives. Another project is a biography of 1980s fashion superstar Patrick Kelly. As a self-described “community-accountable intellectual,” to borrow a phrase from Black feminist alchemist Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Eric’s work and service within the communities he loves and is sustained by has also been honored.

I would say that what this essay is about – the imperative to develop an ethical and dogged practice of honoring the intellectual and emotional labor of people of color in rhetoric and composition and beyond – is a new thing. But that is not the truth. Instead, as Carmen Kynard remarked to me recently in one of our sadly TOO MANY conversations about the exhaustion of having to say the same thing over, and over, and over again: “[y]ou been writing this critique for a LONG TIME because this bullshit is so constant and unrelenting.” As usual, she tells no lies.

Indeed, if I had a nickle for every time someone has complained about the epistemological violence of being a person of color and publishing in rhetoric and composition, in the words of legendary House/Ballroom scene Mother Pepper Labeija in the documentary Paris Is Burning, “I would be rich for coins!” This is the very problem being illuminated and powerfully checked through movements such as #CiteASista and citeasista.com, whose “praxis is the inclusion and validation of the voices and knowledge” of all Black women, which they give specificity to the fact that Black trans women are women and that the knowledges and voices of women beyond the academy are just as valuable.” Indeed, the only thing as regular as scholars of color having our intellectual and emotional labor erased and capitalized on in the field of rhetoric and composition is the regularity with which people either 1) twist themselves into pretzels to deny its occurrence, 2) respond with the usual fragility go to of outrage, tears, or gaslighting to hopefully squash any attempts at accountability, 3) or offer the nominal and passive statement “I am listening,” “I hear you,” “I’m here to learn,” or whatever other performative activist-scholar phrase that gets them much but risks them little. In short, the constant and unrelenting nature of this exhausting practice is like clockwork, as are attempts by those on the margins to create a rupture and diligent practice to honor all of our labor, humanity, and potential for a beautiful collective future through doing the work of truth, justice, and accountability through the praxis of love and ancestor-led intellectual practices. But here I/We go again.

Why again? Because, as Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you can do better, then when you know better, do better.” Also, why: because I believe in miracle work, the everyday work of activism that my ancestors, elders, and their descendants across numerous movements for social justice have done in their efforts to create the world we all deserve. This miracle work is what Marianne Williamson, in her book The Law of Divine Compensation: On Work, Money, and Miracles, defines as “a shift in perception from fear to love.” And what I know is that the kind of energy, regardless of intent, that creates a space-time in which we are literally not present to or acknowledging the magnificence of the humans we share life – and in this case an academic field with – is the energy of fear manifested as exclusion, gatekeeping, erasure, and the literal disposal of whole people and what they bring to this world. I reject that with everything I’ve got. I believe that the work that will make the kind of intervention that will last is heart work. As a Black queer femme and feminist “community-accountable” (Alexis Pauline Gumbs) and ancestor-led writer, teacher, scholar, learner, and alchemist, I know, as Williamson has said, that miracle workers “know what changes the heart and if we know what changes a heart, then we know what changes the world.” My intention here is to hopefully change some hearts, including my own. Indeed, there certainly had to be some molecular shifts in my heart, mind, body, and soul to write this post. People who know me well will affirm that while I love people and take seriously creating space and community, I am also very introverted, including in the digital realm. I prefer to mind my business and be about the work I am here to do on the page, in the classroom, and as I engage and collaborate with my kindred. Thus, the energy and cycle that blog posts can send one through is not the context in which I like to engage. Still, writing is my joy. That too has been true my whole life. And while this is not an essay I wanted to write, the exigences that led to it were so egregious I had no choice, my ancestors and my truth will not let me rest.

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As a forever student in the school of ancestor-led intellectual practices, what I also know is that my ancestors too have been here before, here being speaking truth to power about the siphoning of the intellectual and emotional labor of women and queers of color without acknowledgement.

In this moment I am present to June Jordan and Audre Lorde’s solidarity in holding accountable the lesbian feminist magazine Chrysalis, as discussed by Alexis Pauline Gumbs in her guest essay for GLAAD’s blog “LGBT Black Feminist Legacies in Publishing.” As Gumbs shares, though Lorde served as poetry editor for Chrysalis, she ultimately “quit the publication in frustration with the shady, disrespectful and racist behavior of the otherwise all-white editorial board.” Jordan, an honorary advisory board member, publicly quit Chrysalis’s board, writing to the magazine’s editorship “I hereby resign as Contributing Editor of Chrysalis. I take this action in absolute support of my sister, Audre Lorde.” Jordan concluded the letter daring the editorial board to prove that Lorde and her critiques of them were wrong, saying: “Tell me/show me how your hopelessly academic, pseudo-historical, incestuous and profoundly optional, profoundly trifling, profoundly upper middle class attic white publication can presume to represent our women’s culture.” 

As Gumbs notes, Lorde and Jordan’s actions leave us with many questions to consider for our own self-reflection when we inevitably find ourselves in the same position:

What would it mean today for LGBT writers of color to refuse to be tokenized by publications that do not demonstrate accountability to the communities we love?  What would it mean to refuse to be the next token when our comrades are burnt out by the racism of well-resourced organizations and publications?

What would it look like for us to stand for excellence, transformative inclusivity, and true accountability from our movement publications with passion and audacity?

As they have so many times before, by ancestor helping spirits – in this case Lorde and Jordan – as well as the loving yet hard truth in the questions posed by Gumbs, are what I had/have in mind in this moment. Through the transformative work of Black queer feminist writers and pedagogues like Jordan and Lorde, I know that regardless of what scarcity, careerism, opportunism, and other forms of fear say to me, another way is always possible. And I/We get to choose.

This is a story about a choice I made. A choice I am still making as I write to you. A choice to honor the intellectual and emotional labor of myself and others. A story about a response I received, and a story about my sense of how we move forward collectively in miracle work toward creating the world we all deserve. As always, I trust that the story I am telling and the specificity of experience will make my meaning clear.

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In February 18, 2019, I was invited by the journal Literacy in Composition Studies (LiCS) to join their editorial board. The invitation was warm in stating “We are familiar with your work and would be honored if you would serve on our editorial board. Your scholarship represents the kind of intellectual commitments we would like to see in the pages of our journal, and we trust your judgment to take the journal in exciting directions in the future.” Having previously published in the journal, and having read, cited, taught, and shared other work published in its pages, I would ordinarily have received such an invitation with great joy and happily accepted. Unfortunately, the context for my receiving this email was different.

Just one week prior to receiving this invitation, LiCS began to circulate this call (click here) for papers for a special issue on “Queer and Trans Embodied Literacies.” The special issue was to be guest edited by Zarah Catherine Notter-Moeggenberg with Brenda Glascott, managing editor of LiCS. While I began to read the call with great excitement and interest, it was not long before my reading the CFP, for many reasons, turned to an all too familiar experience of disappointment and exhaustion as a Black queer femme and Black queer feminist studies scholar in rhetoric and composition.

As I wrote on February 21, 2019 in an email to the LiCS editorial management team, as well as the two guest editors of the special issue, “the planned special issue had not referenced race, women of color feminisms, queer of color theory, or the lives of queer people of color in ways that were meaningful and vested with the criticality we have brought to queer theory and trans studies from their inception in composition and rhetoric and in the interdisciplines of Queer and Trans Studies writ large.” I also noted that reading this CFP was the second time in just that same week that such an occurrence had transpired. Indeed, the very same week another rhetoric and composition journal had published a queer theory special issue with its own forms of erasure and exclusion of work by queer people of color in the field.

Having, at this point, been in the field as a Black queer femme and a Black queer feminist theorist and pedagogue since 2004 and been witness to and pushed back on such actions; having suffered any number of epistemological and interactional violences from queer theorists and critical race theory scholars alike; having seen this same stuff two times in the same week after having written a whole book and numerous essays that talk about this very violence, my spirit couldn’t look the other way. So, I did the only thing I know how to do, I wrote the aforementioned email, which I link for you to read in its entirety. But to briefly summarize the email’s most salient points, I discussed how race was only mentioned twice in the entire CFP and the bookended violence of fetishizing of Black queer death on the one hand and the complete erasure of queer of color scholarship in rhetoric and composition on the other. I noted that in a special issue focusing on queer and trans embodiment, the CFP did not demonstrate an understanding of race and embodiment, and excluded research by women of color feminists – many of them queer and trans women of color – who had contributed so much to understandings of embodiment long before the existence of sexuality studies, queer studies, trans studies, or critical race theory. Indeed, in the whole original CFP not one queer of color or feminist of color scholar was cited.

Given the epistemological violence of the original CFP, I asked that LiCS retract this CFP and reissue a revised one that explains why it was being reissued, arguing “that there is a real opportunity for LiCS to be a thought leader here and not simply contribute yet another collection of queer studies work that makes queer, trans, non-binary, and two-spirit people of color, and analyses of race and ethnicity, a spoke in a wheel that turns only between erasure and tokenization. Rather, LiCS can move the conversation forward in ways that really should have happened 23 years ago. Let me be clear: my request is not and does not have to be punitive. Rather, this can be an example to the field of a future for the field, and for queer and trans theorists in particular, about how we can act ethically, with humility, and productively when mistakes are made.”

As for the journal itself, I provided quantitative evidence that it too needed to address the fact that since its 2012 inaugural issue “only 1 in 5 articles published in LiCS were authored by visible people of color (that is 13 articles of the 64 published in the journal since its beginning),” only one book authored/edited by a scholar of color was reviewed in its pages, and that with regards to queer and trans theory, the only books reviewed in the journal were written by white authors “despite the fact that recent books by scholars of color who work on and engage queer and trans people of color and two-spirit literacies and rhetorics and women of color feminisms have been visible award-winning works and were not included. (Note that I do not mention my own work). Finally, and most egregiously, I had to note that if I were to accept their invitation I would be the only Black person on the board, and thus also be replacing the previous only Black person on their board. As such, I noted, “[u]nfortunately, this means that unless the plan for LiCS is to take concrete steps to rectify these exclusionary practices, I cannot accept this invitation at this time.” To conclude I acknowledged then, as I do now, that “I can imagine that hearing or reading these words are difficult. I can only ask that they be received with the intent by which they are offered, which is with the sincerest hope that LiCS and the field does change, because we can change. All that is required is a desire and consistent effort to do so, and to go through the difficult but necessary growing pains to create the field and world we all deserve.”

I did receive an immediate and gracious response on February 21, 2019 from two members of the six members of the journal’s editorial management team. One editor, Holly Middleton, wrote:

That same day Brenda Glascott, LiCS’s managing editor and also an original editor of the special issue, wrote to me: 

To which, on February 22, 2019, I responded:

And then on February 25, 2019, Zarah C. Moeggenberg, the other guest editor of the original special issue proposal, wrote to me:

I never heard back from the journal again following this last correspondence.

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If you are attentive to the scholarly developments in rhetoric and composition you may know then that LiCS did retract the CFP, removing “embodied” from the title and reissued a CFP for a special issue on “Queer and Trans* Literacies.” The reissued CFP notes that two additional scholars Wilfredo Flores and Collin Craig – both people of color – will guest co-edit the issue with Zarah C. Moeggenberg, one of the two original guest editors of the special issue. I, for one, am excited about the publication of the issue and the possibilities for how it will prompt prospective contributors to author work that could make interventions that take queer and trans research in literacies, rhetoric, and composition in meaningful and long overdue directions. However, given all the details I’ve shared thus far you might surmise that there is a “But,” and you would be correct.  

One concern about the new CFP, which dovetails back to the larger overlooking of the intellectual and emotional labor of scholars of color, is the lack of a direct link between queer and trans literacies and women of color feminisms. Indeed, at the conclusion of the reissued CFP the coeditors ask “How might we consider citational practices as a form of queer/feminist literacy? As queer literacy practices and histories and rhetorics are bound to privilege, to which working class queer literacies may our field more readily attend? What queer and trans* literacies have we overlooked, silenced, and erased?” They also express a desire for the special issue to “elevate the queer literacy practices we have overlooked, silenced, erased, and colonized…we call upon other LGBTQ+ scholars and accomplices to challenge what we know about queer literacy.” Given this reference to and call for self-reflexive citational practices, and attentiveness to amplify what has been silenced, the lack of citation of Black feminist women scholars in literacy, composition, and rhetoric who, as I noted in my letter to LiCS, are (along with other women of color feminists) owed a debt by queer and trans theory, is unacceptable. While the work of Karma Chavez and Sarah Ahmed are cited, no Black women or women of color in the field who have published work on queer literacies and composition, are cited. For example, the work of Samantha Blackmon, Carmen Kynard, Gwendolyn Pough, and Adela Licona receive no recognition. Given that intersectionality and work at the intersections of sexuality and race owes much to the contributions of women of color feminists in literacy studies, this oversight is especially egregious. In fact, while the CFP correctly states, as I say in my email to LiCS “[w]e see this special issue as an opportunity to ask the questions our field has needed to ask for more than 20 years,” the CFP does not acknowledge that many of these questions – at least those that center race/ethnicity in their analysis – were in fact introduced more than 24 years ago by Harriet Malinowitz in her book Textual Orientations: Lesbian and Gay Students and the Making of Discopurse Communities, the first book on lesbian and gay literacy, composition, and rhetoric. Malinowitz’s work is not cited in the CFP. As I note in my book, while gay and lesbian students of color were central to the argument and analysis of Textual Orientations, unfortunately, queer literacy, composition, and rhetoric research did not pursue Malinowitz’s important lead and include or center queer and trans people of color.

In addition, queer of color and decolonial feminists outside the field who make intersectional work possible within all fields, including literacy, composition, and rhetoric, such as Barbara Smith, Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, Cathy Cohen, Sharon Patricia Holland, Eve Tuck, E. Patrick Johnson, Mae G. Henderson, C. Riley Snorton, Jax Cuevas, Kai Green, Sandra K. Soto, among others are also omitted. Importantly, and consequently, the activist roots of the queer and trans literacies the special issue seeks to embrace and illuminate are completely untethered from the critical genealogy in the citation practices of the CFP. As such, ancestor activists like Lorde, Jordan, Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, Toni Cade Bambara, Gloria Anzaldúa, Grace Lee Boggs, some of whom worked outside the academy and others who worked inside and outside the academy, are not given any credit for what they have done to make our expressions of queer and trans* literacies and scholarship on that work even possible. The same is true for contemporary activists such as CeCe McDonald, Reina Gossett, Che Gossett, Yolo Akili, Adrienne Marie Brown, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, and Alok Vaid-Menon, whose activist literacies evidence and inspire so much life to contemporary queer and transgender studies scholarship, pedagogy, and cultural activism.

Relatedly, I must note also that while both the initial and reissued CFP for the LiCS special issue centers trans* literacies, some key work on trans* literacies is not cited. For example, the many publications of KJ Rawson on the topic of transgender and queer literacies, rhetoric, and composition is not mentioned. There are a few other scholars in rhetoric and composition who have published transgender literacy, rhetoric, and composition research, especially those working on literacy pedagogy, and those too are not included for some reason.

A separate though related point I wish to make about the recognition of the intellectual and emotional labor is about the ways some practices of citational politics enable, albeit perhaps unintentionally, a practice of rhetorical tokenism that leads to a lack of recognition of the fullness of people’s contributions. For instance, when people talk about addressing the politics of citation, sometimes the response to that is to insert a name where you can. And while this is preferable to complete non-acknowledgement, listing a name does not amount to citing people’s work in a meaningful and substantive way that disrupts problematic citation practices. This requires a deep engagement with a person’s work, otherwise it is rhetorical tokenism that is superficial and doesn’t do the work, though it may in fact allow a scholar to feel they have done their due diligence. In the reissued CFP, for example, G Patterson is mentioned for their scholarship that addresses “the university’s neoliberal diversity agenda.” However, G Patterson has consistently produced scholarship that has discussed needing a constant intersectional analysis of trans and non-binary identity that constantly needs to be in conversation with an analysis and deconstruction of other forms of inequality such as racism, not just cisnormativity. Acknowledging that work and depth is important because that’s where the cutting edge is and that is what should be animating a call, not contributing work that has already been offered. We are more than a hamster on the wheel. The function of a CFP is to engage deeply with the work and say where does it take us now. Even if the citation is parenthetical or signposted in notes as for further reading, this is a practice that can maneuver well with the conventions of citation in a genre that leave us time to do little more than cite a name and work.

I confess that, as with citational erasure, I am especially sensitive to rhetorical tokenism because of personal experiences. In recent years, and also in the reissued CFP from LiCS, I have seen my own work uncredited or not properly recognized for the totality of its contributions. For example, in the reissued CFP the concept of “literacy normativity” that I introduce in my book Fashioning Lives: Black Queers and the Politics of Literacy, is cited, however, at no point is my work connected to any of the CFP’s discussions about Black queer literacies, composition, and rhetoric, which is all anything I have ever published has ever been about. The takeaway, to an uninformed reader, would be that the only work cited on the topic of Black queer literacy, rhetoric, and composition is all that has been published, which would not be true given my work and the work of others beyond the scholar cited. Similarly, I have seen similar such citations of my work in other publications where it is cited as literacy and “intersectionality,” which is not incorrect, but when untethered from the intervention it has made through its labor to make space for Black queer literacies, composition, and rhetoric research, it potentially undermines those interventions I have labored long and consistently to make. As I say multiple times in my book, while my work is an example of Black LGBTQ literacies, I never intended nor could it say all the things about Black queer literacies that we still need to have said. I also say my work would not exist if not for the important interventions made by my intellectual ancestors, elders, and peers. To signpost this for my readers, I write amply about the people and scholarship who made my path clear, and in the conclusion, I note where folks in the future could go and should go for future projects because there is still so much left to do. Also, in an interview about my work in 4Cs for Equality’s Zine “Writing for Change,” I am clear to name the work of multiple scholars in rhetoric and composition and also literacy education who are researching and writing on Black queer literacies, composition, and rhetoric. Why is this important? Because labor – emotional and intellectual – must be honored. As David Glisch-Sánchez, my partner and a specialist in the field of the sociology of emotions, Latinx Studies, and Queer Studies has taught me, one of the most inhumane scholarly practices is to ignore and minimize what someone’s intellectual work and full presence in the space-time we share with them has done, is doing, or can do.

I wish also to return to the last correspondence I received from LiCS, as a way to highlight a concluding important way we must be attentive to the intellectual and emotional labor others perform and the responsibility we all have to acknowledge that work. Recall that in the message from Glascott, on behalf of the LiCS editorial management team, I was told that LiCS planned to come back to me about their plans to move forward. As I said, they have not. Instead, Moeggenberg circulated the new CFP on Twitter with the following message:

In the tweet Moeggenberg assigns the reason for the CFP being retracted and revised to the mentorship she and the other two coeditors received from the LiCS editorial team. To be clear, I do not doubt they received feedback and guidance from the LiCS editorial management team on the initial and the second/reissued CFP. But, what is clear from the email record is that the only reason any effort was made to even consider, and ultimately retract the CFP, and revise it, was because of my initial letter and feedback. This tweet erases my intellectual and emotional labor, and also the goodwill I demonstrated (for which Middleton, Glascott, and Moeggenberg thanked me) when I chose to go to them directly as a courtesy to offer a shared opportunity to do better. Even though I find there are problems with the second CFP, despite the improvements, I never believed that my feedback had to be acknowledged. But, when Moeggenberg chose to give all credit to the editorial team, and once they chose to do so and thank someone publicly (which is their right) ethically they should also acknowledge all the sources of feedback received. As such, given their decision to go semi-public, I do have an expectation that I be acknowledged and I think it would be fair for anyone else to have the same expectation. The nature of my comments did not have to be noted given the substance of my contribution, but it would have been appropriate to acknowledge all sources of feedback. Instead, not only was my feedback not acknowledged, surprisingly, I didn’t know they were even reissuing the CFP until I saw it online. It was also forwarded to me by colleagues who were asked by the special issue editors to submit their work and circulate the CFP to others.  What this teaches us is that in order to truly form coalitions and be community-accountable, people need to be impeccable with their word, to quote a tenet of Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements. I would have shared this directly with the LiCS editorial team or the special issue editors if LiCS came back as they said they would.

Finally, in addition, note that the reissued CFP mentions that the initial CFP was retracted, however no explanation was provided. In the absence of this key information, the fullness of what we could all stand to learn from LiCS choosing to do better is lost. The reissued CFP seeks to claim space for doing the work of addressing their initial error, but does not say what was wrong in the first place. I would argue that the proverbial “teachable moment,” one that was dependent on truth and reconciliation, is lost in the partial truth and partial mention of the CFP. As my colleague Rasha Diab often said when we were graduate students, “you cannot have justice without claims to injustice.” The reissued CFP tries to have justice, but silences the claim to injustice that animated it in the first place.

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Practices of benefiting from, yet not acknowledging, the intellectual and emotional labor of people happens with far too much ubiquity, and especially happens consistently to scholars of color, women, and queer and trans scholars who do so much mentoring and emotional labor behind the scenes that is either not acknowledged or ignored, and it has to stop.

I speak the truth of the faculty of color who have graduate and undergraduate students attend office hours to “pick your brain” for the scholarship they should be reading to do a thesis/dissertation project in your research area, only to then choose your white, male, cisgender, and/or heterosexual colleagues to make up their committee to your omission.

I speak the truth of the graduate students of color in seminars across the country, who do the emotional and intellectual labor in their classrooms to teach their peers and their teachers, and then have to make do with the little energy left to put a balm to heal the spiritual, physical, and psychological wounds they have to face just to obtain a graduate school education.

I speak the truth of the scholars of color who work on race/ethnicity who have been asked by journals to review work submitted for publication in your area of expertise, only to have your own work gate kept out of those same journals or not even have your work cited in the publications sometimes by editors, sometimes by reviewers who were clearly chosen just to make sure you were not published in that venue.

I speak the truth of those people who, like I, have the undeniable receipts in hand that when it comes to scholars of color the field has engaged in this practice of not acknowledging our intellectual and emotional labor for decades, and rather than tell the truth and do the work, what we see are them ushering graduate students and junior faculty of color onto the same red carpet of tokenism that they used to exhaust their mentors, elders, and ancestors in the field on endless committees, task forces, and performances of doing the work that are nothing more than a cloaking device so that they can remain unaccountable and leave you with no energy to serve your actual purpose.

I speak the truth of the women and femme colleagues who get asked to do the administrative work that makes the wheels turn at our institutions and in the field every single day, and not only are they never recognized, but their work is in fact also used against them in the processes of tenure, promotion, and award.  

I speak the truth of those who speak truth to power and have people say they appreciate your feedback and are listening, only to show through their actions they resent that you told the truth while simultaneously benefiting from your labor.

I speak the truth of the Black feminists in the field who have seen “intersectionality” leveraged on whole panels and plenary sessions at conferences without one Black feminist included in the discussion, as if “intersectionality” is not Black feminist intellectual and emotional labor.

I speak the truth of the queer of color scholars in the field who have seen their white queer scholar peers either ignore queer of color and two-spirit critique altogether or nominally cite the work of queer of color scholars outside the field so as to check the citational politics box, as they simultaneously offer no recognition of the intellectual and emotional labor of the very scholars who work alongside them in rhetoric and composition.

I speak the truth of disability studies scholars and people with disabilities, who have witnessed professional organizations and institutions use their work and activism to pat themselves on the back to claim they are doing the work to address ableism, while simultaneously holding inaccessible conferences and offering no challenge to the ableist policies and practices all around them.

I speak the truth of the activist scholar-teachers – faculty and graduate students alike – who have devoted countless hours to national service for professional organizations, with the enticement that their labor will change things, and yet somehow the intractable status quo preserves itself and their labor is exploited.

I speak these truths because, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, I am and will always be optimistic about the human potential – and the field’s potential – to do and be better.

Less anyone believe that my comments here are exclusive to my experience with LiCS or its editors, I want to be unequivocal in saying that my point here is an indictment of and call for all to do better. There are a number of stories from myself and others about their own exhaustion with the ways that other journals such as College English, CCC, Composition Studies, Rhetoric Review, and Rhetoric Society Quarterly, as well as professional organizations including CCCC, NCTE, RSA, and NCA have engaged in the violence of ignoring or minimizing the intellectual and emotional labor of those maligned on the basis of identity and difference. Also, let me state unequivocally that I have no interest in gatekeeping. I suffered the wounds of that practice so much in my experiences as a graduate student and junior-scholar in the field, and what I know that the people who tried to silence me and my work chose not to know, is that there is nothing to gain from gatekeeping other people and it also will always be unsuccessful. The work – the miracle – will always be born, gatekeeping be damned. It will profit the gatekeeper nothing but the bad karma they clearly are choosing. I want more people to publish in queer and trans* literacies, composition, and rhetoric, and in critical race and ethnic literacies, composition, and rhetoric. We need more people to do that work. And I am grateful to LiCS and to the special issue editors for the reality that they will be giving someone an opportunity to publish in those areas who I and my students will learn from. Still, what I know is that it is possible for that work to be done without doing harm to one another, and my spirit cannot accept less.

As people read this, I hope that we will individually (at first) and collectively finally get down to the business of assessing and evaluating how we have contributed to this toxic and harmful dynamic, regardless of intention. Practices like this sow the seeds of resentment, fear, anger, and in its most extreme form, despair. Whether conscious or not doing these things are a way of saying to people that they do not matter, and that is by definition a toxic and harmful practice.

I trust that deep down the vast majority of people do want to honor the humanity and labor of those around them but we must also contend with the reality that we are rarely taught to do just that, and in some cases, we are encouraged through norms, institutional structures, and ego to do the opposite. Still, we can learn and choose to better. It is my hope that something I have written here will find your heart, and find also my own, and that we will at last do and be better, together, infinitely shifting from fear to love as we create the world and field we all deserve.

Please note that all comments at this site are closely moderated and vetted by Carmen Kynard.

Consumed & Not Consumed: Memories of Holiday Spendings

macysThis year, my mother (who moved in with me after she lost her job in the recession) wanted to experience Black Friday in New York.  In particular, she wanted to take advantage of a foolish sale at JCPenney.  In New York City, this means going down to 34th Street across from Macy’s.  It was an A.W.F.U.L. experience.  I am not being bah-humbug here: there are times when the holiday windows and decorations in NYC simply inspire me. This year’s Macy’s display bored me to tears though.  The tech wizardry of animated, interactive snow falls was underwhelming.  So I did what was only right: I shared my misery with everyone around me, talking VERY loudly about how stupid and boring the Macy’s windows were.  In truth, this is a deliberate tactic because my mother will get so embarrassed, she will want to leave— this is exactly my purpose.  I did even MORE loud-talking at JCPenney.   The worst part of these outings is the inevitable visit you will need to make to a public restroom but I will admit that I had fun irritating my mother here too. I simply yelled out: it staaaank up in here… damn, girl, what you eat for Thanksgiving?  This bathroom is on FIYAH! 

As a high school student, I had a very distinct relationship to “Black Friday.”  I don’t remember ever using the term, “Black Friday,” though.  I just knew it was the day after Thanksgiving and I could make extra money, even if I wasn’t the legal age to work.  There were two jobs I held throughout high school after Thanksgiving: 1) wrapping gifts at the mall; 2) designing chalkboards and glass windows for shops and stores.  That was the money that bought my or my mother’s coat that year or our Christmas dinner.  At 16 and 17, it was the most I could do to help out my mother whose pittance of a salary barely kept the lights on (and many times, didn’t keep the lights on… winters in Ohio with no electricity is NO JOKE!) If I had internet way back when and could have easily accessed photos of Macy’s windows, I would have pimped myself out for every willing store owner/manager to transform their space to replicate Macy’s displays.  Them rich fools woulda let me too.

2Every gift that I was I ever paid to wrap, which came with very nice tips, came from a wealthy white customer. There was a stock set of designs that customers could choose, but if you added some flair, then you had a steady stream of tips and folk willing to pay.  All I had to do was practice on newspaper at home and then roll out some funky color combos at the store.  On weekends, I could count on taking home the $40 the manager gave me along with another $30-$50 in tips, depending on the number of customers. My family would have a fit if I didn’t wrap our gifts as beautifully as I had for them rich white folk.  Needless to say, I got good at it and still have a reflexive habit to look at a gift’s wrapping and figure out the design.  If you ever get a gift from my mother with a nice bow, it is one that she has saved from a gift-wrapping I did for her— she recycles.  I doubt that the people who paid for my wrapping ever saved it the way my family does though.  My family enjoys the wrapping as much as any gift, especially if it matches their favorite colors, outfit, or home decor.

chalkboardThe store owners and managers who hired me to do their windows and chalkboards were also white.  I got good with those chalkboards too.  For small signs, I could do a sketch at home and then knock that out in half an hour.  That gave me $20.  For larger signs, I wrapped the edges of the chalkboard with an intricate design and left a heavy, easy-to-touch-up border; that way, there was plenty of room in the middle of the board to write daily specials and wash the board without having to re-do the design.   That gave me $40. Different customers got different genres: snow scenes were for non-religious settings; bows, gold, silver, and all kindsa razzle/dazzle was for the wanna-be sophisticates; variations of a St. Nick’s toy factory were for the Christmas die-hards. I could even do mangers and angels if you wanted to make people remember church.  Words-only jobs were the best though: super-easy and really fast!

“Black Friday” signaled WORK for me; consumption was for OTHERS— something that I associated with rich, white people.  Consumption was, for me, whiteness and squandered wealth.  And white folk were the only people who I ever saw with that one thing that gave you big purchasing power back then: credit cards.  I am convinced today that credit is the reason we see so much more shopping than when I was a child— and credit debt today is an equal opportunity deployer (I actually put a coat in layaway a week ago, wanting to catch the sale on the item.  I was the only person on line. I was shocked to even see a store with layaway, the way that I remember my family buying things long ago.)

Needless to say, I had never gone “shopping” on a “Black Friday” til this week (I didn’t make any actual purchase).  Everyone looked like they drank the kool-aid!  In contrast, everyone that I knew in my youth had to work the day after Thanksgiving. I don’t recall anyone waking up at 3am to go to the mall before their jobs.  While I certainly don’t ever wish to return to the economic poverty that characterized my youth, I find immense value in having never understood myself or Christmas in terms of conspicuous consumption.  We would do well to remember that we have not always been or ever needed to be neoliberal subjects and hyper-consumers.  We seem to have forgotten the wealth in spirit and mind of a people who never hesitated to remind a young girl that her creativity and talent were worth more than dollars, that you and the holidays are always about so much more than the people who can buy you. 

A Black Education Congress (ABEC)

Please Click Here for ABEC website.

Please Click Here for ABEC website.

I originally intended to stop/ write/ reflect for each of my past three days at the Black Education Congress.  Yes, that was certainly the intention.  But this language and this written form of the Word just got in the way.  There were so many moments that touched me.  I wouldn’t be able to define and chronicle those moments linearly even if I wanted to.  This morning, I am left with one resonance that I am carrying with me.  I expect new resonances to fill me in coming days and weeks so I will keep that discussion going here.

I realize today the weight of an experience that I seldom receive, an experience that maybe I have never had… being in a room filled with concentric circles, nested cyphers, filled with people of Afrikan descent who have the education and well-being of Black children first and foremost in their heart, mind, spirit.  Just imagine it!  It might sound simple, but how many times have you actually experienced THAT? I needed to stop today and realize that I am never in such a space and to also realize what that space-powerfulness has given me.  I don’t mean the folk who are trying to usher black children into a middle class pseudo-bourgeoisie (I say pseudo because middle-classness means something completely different in this time, even though most folk don’t realize that.)  I don’t mean THEM folk.  These days I feel lucky if I can find a set of black colleagues, scattered across the country, who have a dynamic, critical vision for Black Education.  And I am lucky if have a sista across campus who I can meet after our classes are over and just talk.  Like I said… L-U-C-K-Y!  I had them sistas-in-the-wings at Rutgers-Newark, for instance (given the history and spirit of Newark), but you had to sustain a whole lotta foolishness in your department first. And while I attend professional conferences and panels where I do meet such soul-sustaining folk, more often than not, most black folk are busy trying to be famous and/or network so that they can become famous.  That’s the culture in which black youth must survive a hostile education and it is the culture in which we most often must fight to help them not merely survive but thrive.

I am thinking back to the opening night with the procession of elders punctuated by the opening words of Dr. Adelaide Sanford.  This is what I mean by these words not allowing the weight and fullness of a Black Experience.  Here is a video of the Queen Mother from a July 2013 talk in Philly:

As powerful as this video is, it does not begin to capture what it was like to be in that room that night at a circle with other black teachers and high school students (who were ENRAPTURED, by the way, of course!)  And as powerful as this video is, it does not capture what it is like to be in Dr. Adelaide Sanford’s presence with black educators at your side. It is THAT feeling that I am carrying with me today and that I now take with me as I educate young people of color.

My Grandmother’s Intentionality: Languaging and Living

Audre Lorde QuoteMy father’s mother is the only woman who I have ever called my grandmother. She passed away a few years ago but I think of her always and talk to her often in my dreams.  As I get older, I see the intentionality that guided her life in renewed ways.

My grandmother wasn’t someone who you could call talkative.  She said what she meant and meant what she said.  I don’t recall any moment in my life when I ever saw her get upset and say something that she regretted later.  If she called you out your name, then that was your deserved name and unless you made a character change, that was the name that stayed with you.  Words were not things you took lightly and they were not things you could take back.  This is how most black folk I am close to think. Language shapes you and everything around you; it must always be intentional and it always was for my grandmother.  It is such an anomaly as an academic where talk-talk-talking-nonstop is what folk do.  There’s lotsa talking in these spaces— the arrogance and psychoses of always dominating the space by runnin your mouf— but not a whole lot of thinking and listening.  At best, I am usually bored and, at worst, I am often offended.  Strangely enough, I have read scholarship for years that indicates that my grandmother’s working class roots and vocabulary are a detriment to my language skills and yet the intentionality of her ways with words is the only one based in any deeply philosophical thought that I can see and hear for miles around me, despite all this middle class social capital folk have.

My grandmother (center, in pearls) with her 15 children and 60+ grandchildren & greatgrandchidren

My grandmother (center, in pearls) with her 15 children and 60+ grandchildren & greatgrandchidren

I don’t have any memory of my grandfather, my grandmother’s husband, because he died when I was very young. My grandmother was in her early 50s and never dated again.  I never even sensed from her, the way I do with many of the women around me as a child and now, that she wished she had a man or was ever interested in a man’s help or nurture.  Male attention was never the center of her life nor did she think it should be central to any other woman’s life.  At 50, after birthing 15 children, she was still very fly, always looking at least 10-15 years younger, tall, slender but very curved, with skin so smooth it looked like she woke up wearing foundation.  Even when she wore the family picnic T-shirt at 70+ years old, she adorned herself with pearls and shoes to match. She was, quite simply, content with who and where she was.  It’s a feeling that I can’t quite describe but one that I just don’t sense from many folks.  Most people I see are always trying to climb higher, become famous/known/seen, get to a more prestigious university (or pretend that the place where they work is Hahvahd), buy more things, have more clout.  There was never a time when I felt my grandmother was looking for something, for someone, for some place else, as if something was missing inside of her.  My father and his 14 siblings have often talked about how she would get mad at them for just staring too long at the Sears catalog which she called a Wish Book, something that she considered very dangerous.  You didn’t worship things outside of yourself that way, especially if it was connected to whiteness.

My grandmother would never have called herself a black feminist or womanist, those are academic labels that wouldn’t have done much for her life.  But when I heard Audre Lorde say things like “Who I am is what fulfills me and what fulfills the vision I have of a world,” I could gather those words into my being because of my grandmother.  Why would I ever be desperate for an alternative role model when I can clearly see and value the blackness from which I already emanate?  For me, my grandmother is one of the most radical black women/black people/intellectuals I know.  She lived her life never wanting to be somewhere else, never wanting to be something else, never wanting to be with someone else, never aspiring to be a social climber and insomuch that those projects/desires are always dictated by whiteness, she lived a life few of us today seem able to even imagine, much less achieve.

August Beginnings & Back-to-School Bling

afroAs a little girl, I cut my mother’s hair once…when she was sleeping.  Not much, just a little trim, but not really having a conception of time, I imagine that I thought it would grow back right away.  Needless to say, that experiment was not appreciated so I turned my attention to my next, unsuspecting victim: my father.  At the time, my father had a very large afro.  If I said I would grease his scalp, he would pretty much let me do what I wanted with his hair.  While he was watching the game or something on television, I would grease his scalp and then braid his whole head of hair in tiny braids, put colorful barrettes on each end, then dress up my dolls and do their hair to match.  That could take the better half of an afternoon or evening (it was a slow graduation from two-strand twisting to three-strand braiding).  My father is also a pretty chill person (and pretty funny) so if he needed to go outside for something, he would go out, just like that, with a head full of barrettes— take out the trash, help the elderly couple down the street, go to the co’ner sto’, you name it.  I would often be by his side, excited for everyone to see my creation.  And I was always very encouraged by my audience who told me to keep doing that to my father’s hair because he was lookin realllll good; it never once occurred to me that them folks was teasing.  My father once took his license photo like that after I agreed to tone down some of the barrettes; it was just too time-consuming to undo all of the braids and pick out his afro.  Let me tell you, that license picture got a whole lot of views, it was like the 1970s version of going viral.  Again, I assumed it was my hairdressing talent that was so intriguing.  I smile when I think about it: all of these people who made sure to never squash who I was. I remember it as a community that always found humor and celebration in the everyday.  Though my father was haunted by the many demons that squashed the fullness of working-class/working-poor black men who had just come home from the army in the 70s, I always remember my father as a comrade in my aesthetic creations and I took full advantage of it.

Imagine this Jacket... with sequin&rhinestone roller skate emblems all over!

Imagine this Jacket… with sequin&rhinestone roller skate emblems all over! And pants to match!  Wowzers!

A close replica of my roller skates... just add more handmade pom poms!

A close replica of my roller skates… just add more homemade pom poms!

Every August, my father scraped together his money, took me back-to-school shopping, and pretty much let me run through Montgomery Ward and get whatever I wanted.  It was a dream come true.  Sometimes I could spend $50; in a really good fiscal year, it was $75.  My parents were divorced and not communicating with one another which, to my delight, meant that my mother could not interfere with my choices.  When you shop with my mother, it’s all about practicality (since this could very well be the only time in the year when we bought new clothes.)  For my mother, it’s all about: how long will it last, can it be let out when you grow more, what else does it match, is it comfortable, how do you wash it, can you wear it on a gym day, can you wear it when it gets cold out…. all that ol’ mundane stuff.  My father did not talk that way; he did not think he really knew what kind of clothes little girls wore so I took the opportunity to educate him myself.  On one occasion, that meant a very shiny, blue jacket with pants to match, covered in sequin-and-sparkle-speckled roller skates with tassels for buttons.  It was F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S and ON SALE!  Score!  My mother, on the other hand, was furious.  You can’t wear that to school… and… blah, blah, blah.  If I had been allowed, I would have worn that joint EVERYday.  To top it all off, this outfit matched my roller skates AND the pom poms on the toe!!!!  I mean, really, what more could you ask for?

Every August, like my teacher-colleagues everywhere, I turn my attention to back-to-school, no longer as a student but as a teacher. It’s all about syllabi, projects, and classroom assignments now.  When you walk into Staples these days, you just know who the teachers are and if you look at the supplies in their hands, baskets, or carts, you can tell which grades they teach too.  This August, I am remembering rituals at this time of new beginnings.  I am excited for the new classes I will teach, my new train/subway/commute route, my new colleagues, and all the new students who will walk through my classroom doors.  My collection of children’s books, many of which are oversized, fit on the floor-to-ceiling shelves in my new office. I have 6 feet of leftover space for new books or other collectibles (or transfers from home shelves teeming over) and a big comfortable chair.  I even found out that the modular shelving system comes with extra shelves when I need them (space like this a real rarity in New York City).  For me, this is all just F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S!  Another score!

In the past years, August would hit and it would just feel like doomsday: “the cotton is ready to be picked” is what I would OFTEN say….and I meant it too!  But this year, I get to savor the rituals, the excitement, and the newness in the air.  As a little girl, I marked all of that with a little bling.  Inspired by the adults from my childhood, I am re-realizing that new beginnings and the everyday should, indeed, be celebrated.