Race, Publishing & Rhetoric of Rejection

Tonight is the last class of the semester where students will be talking about their final projects, work we have been moving towards all semester in the writing projects.  Every aspect of this course— the syllabus and the weekly topics— have been pretty much made visible on this website.  And with wordpress, I can see what search terms people are using to land on the website. It takes a while for google to really “see” and list a new website so the first months and weeks of this class/website leave no real footprint to track. But, in these last two months, that has started to change.  And guess what course topic has coincided with what people search for most often?  The picture of Eric B. and Rakim at the right posted under “I Know You Got Soul”!  Thass right!  It seems appropriate that we make a note of this fact in a class on African American Literacies and Education!

I designed and proposed this course to my college more than a year ago now and this group of students are the first to experience it!  To wrap up, I am asking students to enter the fray now as researchers, with their own publication-ready pieces.  These final research projects will be graded and responded to as if they were journal articles. The options are a) a 30-page article in a research journal (print or online); b) a 15-page article in a research journal (print or online) (I ask that students not make the mistake of thinking that just because the articles in these journals are shorter, that they are somehow easier to write or that the expectations for citations, etc are somehow less stringent.  It just means that you say more in less space!); OR c) a multimodal webtext  (the target journal is Kairos and the webtext that was awarded the best webtext of the year).  Students have been working on these topics through the semester and now need to meet the following requirements:

1)    Offer a definition of and brief historical connection to African American literacies

2)    Reference and/or show how they are using Elaine Richardson’s work

3)    Have, at minimum, 30 citations in works cited AND in-text citations

4)    Use MLA or whatever style the target journal wants

5)    Show an original, theoretical position or qualitative/quantitative project

6)   Communicate methods clearly (if using human subjects, the IRB protocol number and all consent forms must be submitted)

But what I want to actually talk about tonight is getting students to really submit their works to a journal.  This means that students will have to go out on a limb and do what graduate students seldom do: let go of fear and insecurity… in other words: allow themselves to risk getting their work rejected.  There is a certain kind of exposure, a raw nakedness, with submitting work for publication when you do not have an “in” with that journal.  But if the work really moves past the bourgeois recitation of the right formulas and popular trends/tropes in the field, then exposing that work and set of ideas is exactly what we need to do.

I have been asked on numerous occasions, how I get articles published. The answer is really simple.  I don’t fret the rejections!  I just find another intellectual home for my work and, let me just say, I have heard ALL manner of foolishness.  When I have used expressions of my family, especially my grandmother from rural Alabama, I have been told that she is too ignorant to reference in academic work (these people only get away with such comments because they are protected by blind review— if I knew who they were, I can promise you that they would never say such a thing to or about a black woman ever again).  I have been OFTEN told that people are not interested in black women’s writing— “why is it even relevant” was the exact question I once received.  I have been frequently told that my work is appropriate for cultural studies, but not for writing studies.  I have been told that I need to explain why I have street literacy.  I have been told that audiences outside of the U.S. will not recognize Black culture/ Black English in my work (as an aside: the searches for Eric B. and Rakim are only written in ENGLISH 50% of the time!)  I have been told that my writing style needs to be more gentle.  These are pretty much exact quotes and not even the 1/2!  I was even told once that I do not know how to write at all (go back and check my earlier statement about blind review). With such rejections, all from comp-rhet sources, I receive a new and worthwhile, intellectual exercise: I get to confront an unyielding whiteness and nepotism in a space where not enough really criticize that.  I am grateful for all of these comments: I get to hear people’s true politics, see who they really are, and I get to find myself a better community to connect with.

So I simply keeps it movin now.  I want my students to know and do the same: if their piece is rejected at first and they really believe the work moves past the banal celebrity culture of academia and its trendy catch-phrases and, instead, confronts racism in the experiences of black folk to stall racism (rather than profit from it), they need to know now not to trip on these rhetorics of rejection and keep it movin intellectually too.  You can’t expect a world which dehumanizes black people to create an academy with a set of most white faculty and bourgeois minority allies that can then turn around and respect black folk.  And you can’t give up because white racism rejects you— it is just acting within the terms of its own logic.

So, maybe the folks landing on this website know something important: we should just take it back to Eric B. and Rakim and “hold the microphone like a grudge”… there IS a world out there willing to hear that:

Internalizing Richardson’s African American Literacies

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!