This week we read Elaine Richardson’s African American Literacies. I have asked the class, amongst many other things, to come today with an “anchor” from Richardson’s text that works as a grounding definition of African American Literacies. We will do some multimodal, visual work in the classroom with this anchor and the other writing assignments for the week before we get into more discussion about the book.
I want students to walk away having internalized their positions about this text. I am not expecting agreement in the classroom but I do expect internalization. I am more impressed with a student who can articulate a disagreement and stay with it than I am with a student who presents an affinity to Richardson’s work but simply co-opts that work more than lives it out. What I mean by this is simple: if you agree with African American Literacies, then you have to follow it through. There’s some stuff that just shouldn’t sound or look or feel right to you. There are some ways of talking about students that should contort your mouth so bad that it can’t even escape your lips. And, there are some things that you should notice and really question about the educational institutions in which you work and live out your thinking.
In sum, I am suggesting that consciousness cannot live in contradiction to your daily awareness. As one simple example, I am talking about holding one’s self accountable to the wide variety of racial, code words that stamp African American students and other students of color as “other” to the processes of schooling and culturally/mentally deficient: a pantheon of codes that frame students within constructs like motivation, achievement gap, at-risk, basic writers, transitional, impoverished, colorblindness, and more. To frame black students this way would be the antithesis of Richardson’s project.
Think back on what we read last week in Gloria Ladson-Billings’s “Landing on the Wrong Note: The Price We Paid for Brown” and now see below how she particularly interrogates the use of the code “at-risk” (a term I have heard at this institution more than I have ever heard anywhere else):
(This is a 10-minute clip from a larger talk that is available in viewing resources)
If you want to claim Richardson’s ideas as part of your own internalized system of beliefs, then you need to be willing to deconstruct the images and ideas in front of you, not simply roll out Richardson’s name. Don’t just read African American Literacies… internalize it!