A Week in the Life of a Black Feminist Pedagogy: Day One

I have decided upon a new series (though I have not finished the previous series: Academia as a Hustle/ Everything I Know about Academia I Learned from Rick Ross). This series will only last for one week though: Monday through Saturday (Ima take Sunday off from blogging because that’s when I spend my time responding to student writing).  I have been thinking a lot lately about the inherent hypocrisy of many “critical” teachers and scholars who have apparently found the answers to challenging our disciplines and universities.  From a life committed to Black Feminist Pedagogy in a neoliberalist university, a decolonial refusal of whiteness and neoliberalism in colleges today is a relentless, exhausting endeavor that is never easy. So I’ll take this week off to keep my own self in check, call out my own mistakes and challenges, and ignore the complicity that folk wanna disguise as political intervention and reflection. If you ain’t real careful, folk out here will have you thinkin veiled misogyny, patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, and/or anti-Blackness can represent you.

So…my trek to campus started like every Monday… at the grocery store.  I have a writing seminar this semester for seniors who are majoring in gender studies.  After I spend the morning working on our class agenda, I stop at the grocery store to pick up food.  I know that the students in my classes are hungry by the time we meet at 3:05pm (and go until 5:45pm).  Most have more classes until late evening. In fact, our wellness center posted on the Gram that 15% of students at CUNY (City University of New York) have reported going hungry sometimes or often. That percentage is higher on my campus. I know what it’s like to have to study and go to school while hungry so the least I can do is TRY to feed my students in both body and mind (when my class size is at 36, I can’t afford this so we are struggling together in those moments).

Before this writing seminar starts, I meet with Kinza who articulates for me the DOPEST reasons why first year writing MUST be politicized via her own history in my class two years ago when she chose to write and design as a Muslim activist and artist.  She is interviewing me for a project and tells me she is inspired by me.  I don’t think she will ever fully understand just how much I am the one who is truly inspired.  I am the teacher I am today because of young women of color like her.  There is another young woman waiting to see me but I don’t get to meet with her because I have to run to class.  As soon as I hit the button on this post, I will need to email her and check in.  I am worried about the things she is going through as a young, poor, Black, queer feminist tryna make it and keep her sense of herself in tact.  I’m not sure how to help her but I’m damn sho gon try.

Yesterday, Rafaelina brought chicken, rice and beans, and plantains for the seminar.  She brought Nellie, who has been sick for quite some time now, some soup.  Rafaelina wanted to ease my burden and the money I am spending on food for the class. I am going to find her a really nice thank you card and put money inside so that she is not coming out of pocket like this.  As the mother of two, she cannot afford this gesture for the class but I am so humbled by her spirit and generosity. She won’t like that I am doing this. The class wants to collect for her and maybe I will let that slide at the end of term.  I just can’t bare to see a single mother spending her little bit on us as long as I have the money in my pocket.  I did promise everyone though that when they are ballers, they can take me out ALL THE DAMN TIME.  Funny thing is: I think they really would.

We spent most of class talking about the activists they follow in relation to the topics of their senior theses which all come down to four areas of study: Black feminist resistance; Black masculinities and sexualities; queer of color critique; and Latinx masculinities and sexualities.  They are paired in what I call accountability partners (I need a better term) so that they are explicitly responsible for someone else in the room and their partners’ writing. The conversations in class are richer than I can even try and transcribe here.  Somehow, someway, we have to center our own stories, push the boundaries of what counts as text, do digital design for counterpublic audiences, engage our own activism, and have some fun with it.   While Broke.  While Hungry.  While Black.  While Brown.  While Queer.  In a university system that invisiblizes the Struggle, at best, until it can pimp out students’ pain to be marketed&pathologized on brochures and videos used to collect white benefactors’ sympathy money. I get nervous every semester wondering if I am cut out for this job.

When I try to explain something about a writing task to the class, Nelly yells out: “what she is sayin yall is don’t be basic!”  Thank you, Nelly, for breaking it down and reminding me to just SAY. IT. LIKE. IT. IS. when I stumble.

By the time I get back to my office, I am exhausted from everything that transpires in class but there are more students to see, in my office and on my train ride home. I get home by 10pm.  Typical Monday.  So much more week to go.

The Former High School Teacher Reflects on College Teaching & Development

When I first started teaching college writing, I did so as a former high school teacher. I was told, both explicitly and implicitly, that I should not identify myself as a secondary teacher. College teaching was more intellectual and exacting; in fact, high school teaching wasn’t even respected enough to be called teaching, especially in university English departments. It was 1998; I was 27 years old and quite perplexed. I just couldn’t get my head around what people were telling me in comparison with what I was seeing at the college: the MOST horrible teaching and curriculum design I had ever encountered.

aolAt the time, Amazon was still relatively new as well as online bookstores. We were, after all, still using dial-up internet and AOL! This means that college bookstores actually ordered all of the books for students and created what were then called “course packets”— the binder that the bookstore created with the photocopied readings that you would use in the semester. That’s probably why I knew my readings and weekly course plans before a semester started… you HAD to back then. There was no possibility of finding a photocopy machine, emailing students in advance of class (not all had email), or using smartboard/electronic lecterns to share a new departure from the syllabus. At that college where I was told to never mention the fact of my high school teaching, I did what I had done as a college student: I went into the bookstore and looked at what every professor at the college assigned for the semester. That’s how I chose my college courses as an undergraduate student— who seemed to actually offer real learning based on what we would read? I remember that day at my new college teaching post very well. There was one professor on the whole campus who assigned a Toni Morrison book. I was THAT professor, the adjunct and former high school teacher supposedly so intellectually challenged by the curricular requirements of college learning and teaching that she was the only one who included Toni Morrison. If the classroom teaching and curriculum was bad, then the “official” faculty professional development was even WORSE!

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