Recently, Dr. Suzanne Carothers, my advisor for my doctoral dissertation, asked me some key questions to think and write about as I re-imagine and re-direct this phase of my life in academia. I thought the questions were particularly poignant and critical and so I share them here. I imagine myself often returning to these answers and re-addressing these same questions as I way to keep myself in check and move forward with what I say I want to be and do. I thank Dr. Carothers, the most exquisite writing teacher I have ever had, for always prodding and always teaching me!
(1) I am proud that I have chosen to always be a critical educator, that I have not seen such work as simply the necessary evil of being a scholar, writer, researcher, and academic, though this has certainly been the message I have been given after graduate school.
(2) I have also never backed down from working at colleges where the students are predominantly working class and of-color. I refuse to use the bodies of people of color as a marketing tool to promote diversity, the prevailing (and sometimes only) acknowledgement of people of color that I have seen at such institutions. This means that I have never had (and, thus, am willing to forego) teaching assistants, research assistants, start-up research funds, significant financial rewards/promotion, publishing/professional opportunities, sabbaticals, time, updated technology (at those few places where I have had a current computer, it didn’t work for very long), and other resources that come from prestigious and/or well-endowed research universities. It’s not that I think these material things compromise people’s work (nothing is ever that simple). However, these are the privileged spaces that new faculty like me are supposed to mark as coveted where I can, for instance, write about working class black folk but never actually see them in any of my classes. That’s not the route I have chosen. I like this path and I am proud that being on path and being on purpose are how I have chosen to navigate my life thus far.
(3) I am most proud of finishing my book (what was once my dissertation). I don’t so much mean the final product. I am just proud of hanging in there, never backing down from or giving up on my ideas despite the disagreements I had to face. It would have been quite easy to give up on the book and publishing altogether given the resistance that I face from many circles— especially this notion that things are so much better, a sentiment that I have heard from black scholars too, or that I must make myself more palatable (i.e., marketable and auction-block-able) to wider audiences. I wonder who these fools are talking about— certainly not the black masses where every measure of structural racism tells us that we are living a Neo-Jim-Crow? I like that publishing means that I have more fully realized my ancestral legacy: the one where we know we have to always keep on pushin.
When you think about the teaching and learning environments you create, what makes them work? What’s central to that dynamic for you? And, how do you know when you have achieved it?
I think classrooms are meant to bring the content of what students are learning and reading full circle. I think here about the class I will teach in spring 2013: African American women’s rhetoric. Here, for instance, we will read Ida B. Wells and ask ourselves how she affected the world for all of us by her ways with words. As the teacher, I ask myself: what does it mean to bring Ida B. Wells alive in this classroom? What would an Ida-B-Wells-pedagogy look like and do? It would mean not just talking about her but talking with her! I want students to fight, and fight hard, come hell or high water, for what is right, notice the racial subjugation of the people around them, and fight for those lives as if it were their own life they were fighting for. This means I am looking for students to talk about more than just the content of Ida B. Wells’s life and work. I look for students to engage their own intellectual and political purposes, in their own time and place. Essentially, I hope they can achieve what Fanon suggested: “each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” I may not be able to ensure the fulfillment part but I can certainly move students in the direction of discovery, that’s what teaching Ida B. Wells would have to do.
Finish these thoughts:
Scholarship for me is . . . and
My scholarship matters because . . .
Scholarship for me is slipping through the cracks, digging deep down, and unearthing the voices and visions that can sustain us.
My scholarship matters because the world we live in requires a level of thinking and creativity that moves beyond what we are used to. Scholarship can do that work if we treat it as something more than static words, bling, and status.
What is it you want to do in and beyond the academy?
Both in and out of the academy, if I could achieve my heart’s desire, I would want to be like Parliament and “make my funk the P-Funk… I want my funk uncut.” I like the way they named their collective and their music (Parliament Funk as P-Funk) but also that P-Funk meant that they were intentionally examining and exploring Funk at its highest levels of expression and possibility, as a thing/thought of its own kind and genius. Though I may not have the right words to explain that here, that’s what I would want writing, teaching, and envisioning myself as a black woman to feel like. They weren’t claiming to invent funk but they were claiming that they could insert their own version and vision and encourage the world to do the same. I can’t imagine a better way of being one’s self in and beyond the academy.
What four adjectives would you use to describe yourself?
…principled, creative, unapologetically black-centric, and always evolving!