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.
I am just not impressed with students who write in that most splendid of western, vacuous prose using all of those so highly esteemed white literate codes that the western academy eroticizes in its white privileging systems. Recognizing one’s own and other people’s humanity don’t come from writing no teacher’s print essay (especially in a digital era where multimedia composing is so central!) or mesmerizing white audiences with “skillfully”-deployed research methodologies… all that is boring, at best. At worst, this kind of literate activity is violent if those literate codes do not write/compose black and brown folk within new, critical paradigms but manage to accrue personal, bourgeois gain for individual reporters and native informants. I certainly can’t say that all of my classrooms and students challenged hegemonic white norms, but my ¡Adelante! crew sure as hell always did!
I have had a hard time writing here this year and have re-energized mostly with conversations with other activists and scholars who I consider my sistas and brothas, by reading/watching black digital spaces, and staying FAR from all white/mainstream media outlets. My own blog writing just didn’t come so easy this year though I am more committed to open access, public texts than ever before. My ¡Adelante! students’ presentations throughout the semester were part of what has kept me rejuvenated. One student, Ana, introduced me and the class to Fiesta Black’s “Hayi Basile” this spring, a song (released last December 14) and movement that I would not have otherwise been exposed to (start, stop, or pause the soundcloud musicplayer at the top). I just love, for instance, the way that Fiesta Black uses Nicki Minaj-isms in her voice when she is talking about hyper-consumption and then goes back to a South African English to critique it! I knew that Ana wanted to look at Corruption Watch, but I wasn’t so convinced that this organization wouldn’t be just another one of these western and westernizing NGOs that imagine themselves to be saving the Global South with a new, self-righteous imperialism. This often stands in as social justice for college students— this political plague where all social activism is imagined as a billion-dollar Kristof-esque movie with trivial, vapid Hollywood actors and actresses as social leaders. But when Ana introduced us to Fiesta Black, I knew there was something more going on for her. The music, the attitude, and the interview with Fiesta Black’s grandmother (shown in the video below) showed me that, for Ana, who connected all of this to her family in Guatemala, justice wasn’t merely another mainstream fad, but a life-or-death reality she and her peoples were facing:
The choice of centering this work and this artist is exactly what I have seen my ¡Adelante! students like Ana do all semester. It helped me to handle and sustain all the “Hayi Bastile” that Ana and Fiesta Black have so brilliantly named and challenged.