This list was created by undergraduates at John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY at the very beginning of spring semester in 2016. Our course is focused on critical race theory and this list was collectively written, modeled after the style of the blogpost— “MY (APPARENTLY) OBLIGATORY RESPONSE TO ‘FORMATION’: IN LIST FORM.” This list captures our initial discussions and definitions of race/racism and its roots and rootedness.
When I first tried to publish “ ‘This the ConscienceRebel’: Class Solidarity, Congregational Capital, and Discourse as Activism in the Writing of Black Female College Students,” I must admit that I was taken aback by white resistance in composition studies— the field to which I am most closely aligned by nature of the work that I do but certainly not by the nature of my politics , aesthetics, or pedagogies. I was not surprised that the white editors saw the work— a text that focuses on working class Black female college students— as irrelevant to the wider field. But, I must admit: I was surprised that it was Black female scholars in the field who gave the white editors rhetorical ammunition.
It was Black female reviewers who brought up the point that most professors reading the article would be white and have mostly white students and so would not be able to relate to the content. Yes, you heard that right. It was Black female professors who made that claim. And I shouldn’t have to tell you that the white editors went to town on that right there. Besides the fact that it undermines all Black women when Black women see themselves as tangential to educational research, the idea that the majority of college writing classrooms today mostly enroll white, middle class students IS FALSE! That’s not historically accurate and it certainly does not apply to an era where higher education gets browner and browner every year. Whiteness in this field gets maintained by scholars of color as much as it gets maintained by white scholars and it’s time we start talking about it.
A year ago now, I created this website. I wanted a space to do the online work of my classrooms off the grid of a university’s corporate vibe— a space that would offer a more sonic and visually dynamic course organization. For the most part, that is still the primary goal. Blogging became the way to think through things and the public nature of this practice has meant that I actually do it, consistently, even if no one will read it. Blogging feels like the teaching journals I once kept, back when I could actually write on paper. I like the steady stream of short pieces rather than the longer, extended writing that I often do for publication. It keeps me writing in the in-between time. These are very simple practices in terms of the kind of work that happens in online spaces today but that’s where I am for now.
Other things happened though that I didn’t anticipate. I began to articulate a very particular position on public writing and multimedia spaces where all that I know about the Black Radical Tradition and all that I disdain about neoliberalism began to converge. That has been the single-most benefit to my thinking in the 21st century, a place where everything is digital and everything is commodified: from the continued hyper-spectacle-making of black bodies TO the new century versions of the socially networked Leave-It-To-Beaver family/nation. Any conversation about digital spaces that does not include these levels of analysis is anti-political.
I use the term, “public,” very loosely though when I reference this site. I never even bothered to open the comments section because I don’t foresee anyone wanting to comment. Couple that with spam and the many trolls who piss me off and the commenting feature becomes more irrelevant. Only very recently, I finally did the necessary work to put the “follow” button on this site. Like I said, “public” is a really generous adjective of this website: I ain’t the academic version of Tyler Perry’s Madea and we don’t live in a READING CULTURE, not even for academics, so I ain’t never been fooled into thinking any large group of people is really interested in me or my work. It’s just me and my closest girlfriends really up in this.
What I did not anticipate, however, is that my students would visit me here at this site, like graduate students of color who KNOW they are not included in the intellectual organization of their programs given their experiences, interests, mouths, and proclivity against being white folks’s tokens and lackeys. Those kind of folk in the academy are few and far in between… but the ONLY ONES who really matter to me! White graduate students are also here with me, ones who want to actually think about racism rather than perform some kind of touchy-feel guilt or intellectual chic (those kind always go back to not noticing and, thereby, maintaining racism at the institutions that anoint them with degrees and tenure). These students have been a pleasant surprise… I am honored that they are interested and are with me here. Truly honored. They make up the kind of academy worth being in.
My international colleagues also embolden me. I can see what countries visit each day and I can guess by the hits on a specific post who might be visiting that post. What international comrades remind me, those who visit here and email me about my articles, is that internationalism is NOT the whiteness that white scholars in my field construct. I have been told by editors, time and time again, that people outside of the U.S. will not understand my language and references. It becomes clear from these people that blackness is to be consumed globally but not politicized; no one questions whether people outside the U.S. know Miles Davis or contemporary black musicians… but now, all of a sudden, no one understands our language and cultural references. Black is International, no matter how much white scholars in my field would suggest otherwise and keep us out.
I must say though that my undergraduate students have surprised me most. I never imagined they would find this website interesting and would tune in so often to this blog, students who cut across the last 15 years of my college teaching. They have changed the way that I think and the way that I write. I feel bolder now in what I say and how I will say it. These students have always been more interested in social equality, social action, black feminisms, and radical thought than my colleagues. I am reminded of a white-skinned Latina in my class recently who told me about a professor who proclaimed his shock at her heritage by saying out loud, “wow, I didn’t know you are a wetback.” That departmental klansman didn’t even get a slap on the wrist but this young woman sure had one helluva critique of all the white men at that college who co-sign such violence. We sat and talked for hours at a local coffee shop where we caught one another miscalculating the weight of the system we were in. My former student was surprised that the departmental klansman actually copped to calling her a wetback when confronted; I assured her promptly— why wouldn’t he? It’s his world right here, he knows he can do what he wants. On the other hand, I was surprised that no minimal action was taken against him. The student caught ME that time: why would he be punished? This campus is his world, not ours. Like I said, we talked for hours about our experiences, things I have NEVER discussed with a colleague in that space. Meanwhile, many colleagues in my field are too busy stroking their egos for being accepted at elite, privileged institutions and organizations that do not enroll or register many folk of color to even really notice what is happening to such racially subordinated masses in higher education; others just think the example I gave is an individual act of meanness, not the systemic racism they benefit from. Buncha dumb-asses.
In this next year, I plan to write with undergraduate students even more clearly in mind. If I write with the student in mind who I just described, my content and rhetoric will carry a whole different kind of momentum and weight in what Mecca Jamilah Sullivan has so brilliantly called “THE IMPOSSIBLE FUTURE” at the Feminist Wire.
As for more mundane goals, I also plan to vary some of my vocabulary here. I tend to over-rely on the word, fool— I think this is a good word and keeps me from cussin too much but it can become redundant. I have decided to take it Old Skool, maybe even borrow from Aunt Esther on “Sanford and Son” and diversify my vocabulary: old buzzard and jive turkey come immediately to mind. The terms, Klansmen and Grand Wizard (KKK terms), will become vital new additions and I already know who these terms fit best. It’s gonna be a good year!