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:

Power, Dominance & Acquiescence

I often wish that I could be faster and more critical in how I respond to oppressive circumstances in my everyday life.  I admit that there are times when I am simply dumbstruck when I should be expecting foolishness and should, therefore, be able to respond much more quickly.  Instead, I just sit there stupidly wondering: what is goin on up in here?  I can forgive myself for being slow on the uptake, but I am beginning to question how many times I am not counter-acting/counter-thinking at all.

For some reason, today, my mind goes back to a professional conference that I attended at least three years ago now.  The panel discussion that I attended was designed to be a conversation about various issues related to the labor and organization of prominent college writing programs. It should go without saying, given the trends of this particular conference/ field, that the panel was all-white and predominantly male.  Like I said, I am used to those trends so this alone was not what bothered me.  One of the panelists, a well-regarded white male scholar/administrator (at least by some), who I will here call New Henrickson, rightly problematized the ways in which the teaching of writing in his program was gendered as female labor, a trend that scholars have shown to be dominant when looking at contingent/part-time labor in colleges today, especially when it comes to the teaching of college writing.  Then the scholar went on, in what he thought was a clever quip, to say that he felt like the main character from the HBO series, Big Love, Bill Henrickson (hence, the inspiration for my re-naming here).  The audience chuckled… but my jaw almost dropped to the bottom of my chair.  Did he really just say that? Does he NOT know that he is talking out loud and that, hence, people can HEAR him?  I never said anything to anyone, just sat there, with the violence of this discourse hanging over me.

I have never actually watched Big Love— I just know it was about a Fundamentalist Mormon polygamist and Republican senator in Utah and his many wives. Supposedly, there is good social commentary about male dominance and patriarchy in the series but I never sat through it long enough to find out.  The one and only conversation that I have ever had about New Henrickson’s comment at this conference was with another male scholar in the audience. This scholar was perturbed by the comment but mostly because his program was not given an award for its innovation the way that New Henrickson’s program had been.   It wasn’t a conversation that I could really relate to: such an award is not something I would ever covet if it is offered to white men who metaphor-ize themselves as polygamist heads-of-households in relation to the underpaid/under-valued women who do the bulk of the work in the U.S. of teaching college writing.  I am reminded here of Marc Bousquet’s work:

As for gender, the rendering of faculty positions to the extreme of economic irrationality (six courses a year for $15,000, eg)  assigns them disproportionately to women, especially persons–whether male or female–married to professionals and managers. The other, primary wage earner supports the economically irrational partner, a person teaching for what used to be called pin money. This structural feminizing of the job was traditionally associated with converting the positions formerly held by men (such as secretarial positions, once a high-status job) to those held increasingly by women… a “pyramid scheme” especially for women faculty.

Broadly speaking across many disciplines and institution types women still tend to disproportionately hold low-paying, low-status, insecure teaching-only or teaching-intensive jobs while men continue to disproportionately hold high-paying, high-status, secure research-intensive and top administrative positions.

When I look at Bousquet’s work, I begin to think New Henrickson’s quip— with all its attending meanings related to race, capitalism, and gender— may have been a soberly, accurate portrayal of the academy and the field.

So how did I handle this moment?  I stayed quiet and then always steered clear of New Henrickson, his mentees, and all of his homies.  All well and good, maybe, except that this is beginning to feel like selling out.  At what point does silence become the co-signing of hegemony? And at what point do women trade in this silence in order to acquire a kind of professional comfort and ease in their disciplines, even if it means they do so at the expense of their own bodies and minds?  New Henrickson is not of my generation but his misogyny is not done, especially in this world where it is rewarded (the award his program received is an accolade that surely fared him well in the institutional hierarchy in which he can now insert himself at his college campus.)  And while women of color may be reluctant to publicly critique male scholars of color for fear of the violent, black-on-black intra-fratricidal display it will offer to white audiences, women of color are not publicly criticizing New Henrickson either and it’s not always clear where the private critiques of his male comrades of color are.   Racial respect/nonviolence in white spaces is not the sole issue here.

I am not saying that I should have jumped up and slapped this fool in the mouth– either with my hands or with my words. Like I said, I am not quick enough for that anyway.   But it does seem that if I want to claim radical anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-heterosexist, anti-consumerist work, I need to reach a more definitive point where I say something, counter-theorize these very real and very everyday moments of epistemic violence, and/or set up intellectual-political shop elsewhere to really do the work that is needed.  That’s the best plan that I have for the present and future as of right now.  I am working on it!