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:

“I Know You Got Soul”

My students and I have not seen one another in quite some time now: all classes were canceled for a while in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy; I was in Oakland for a few days presenting at a conference; in between that, we had something of a blizzard (Snow Storm, Athena); students on the Manhattan campus had to pack up all their belongings in 2 hours, in the dark, to be squirreled and packed off to dorms across Queens; some of my students are undoubtedly still cleaning homes and Sandy debris.  In the midst of all of that, school goes on: topics for final project topics have been set; we have mandates to make up missed time that will cut into the Winter break; we have been trying to still do our research all along.   Some are also teaching so this means they are attending departmental meetings or even doing the assessment/research projects that I have facilitated in my own program.  We have a few more weeks left in the semester to grind out like this.  It seems safe to say, if my levels of energy are any indication, that we are ALL drained and depleted.  But we are here.  Same place, same time.  And we WILL focus back in on what we really came here to do, despite all that other institutional stuff that gets in the way.

I take full responsibility for not designing a better sequence of discussions and events that could have linked us better in the time that we were away from one another.  How do we crank the energy all the way back up?  How do we capture what we already did, looked at, wrote, and discussed?  How do we step boldly into the rest of the semester and the work we still need to do?

I have hit a pedagogical challenge beyond the limits of my own imagination because I don’t have any clear, quick answers to these questions other than to apologize for the time away …and then catapult us right back into the semester. I’ll say/do that apology like this though:

It’s been a long time, I shouldn’t have left you
Without a strong rhyme to step to
Think of how many weak shows you slept through…

and then, brought to you live (forward to 2 minutes and 30 seconds) …

In short, let’s get back to the work at hand and get it poppin!



This week we are explicitly reading about black masculinities and literacies and/or black girlhood, womanism, and literate lives.  As a way to represent all of that, I want to look closely at Nikkey Finny’s “Foreword” for Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward a Hip Hop Feminist Pedagogy by Ruth Nicole Brown.  Here are the (some) of the lines that moved me:

I have been asked at least one hundred times to travel and talk to young girls about the path of my own life. I have been honored to do so.  But I have never been asked to travel and listen to any young girls talk about how they see the world or how they think the world sees them.  Always while there, in the middle of whatever I have come to say, even if I look up and reach out in the hopes of lifting up a two-way conversation into the air, most of the girls still look lost.  What could I possibly want to hear from them? Everything!

All understanding is not always available to the tongue.  I am a woman deeply connected to my body… This understanding of the body came to me through my poetic sensibilities.  I have and keep a fierce responsibility to my body as well as to my mind.  I hold on to this responsibility by way of words, language, and silence…

Black girls know the answers to a wide universe of things but nobody is asking them any questions…

What does it mean to have a sun-drenched intimate cathedral of space created for the questions Black girls want to ask?… This is the Black girl praise house… [This is] the tradition of the old Camp Meeting revival, where the longed for spirit makes the journey to be fed and IS fed… [This is] the voice of Ida B. Wells saying, ‘I wish I could put my arms around my people and fly away,’ but instead firing up her anti-lyncing campaign…

Nikky Finney offers us these lenses here into black women’s literate lives as a way to see and hear the weight of what we are dealing with this week.  I’ll close here with her 2011 Acceptance Speech of the National Book Award in poetry where she gives us a bridge all the way back to how we started the class: in the slave quarter culture.