This is a year where I am listening and looking closely at those who really step up to the plate or miss the moment as has happened at every past Black Protest moment in my field. I am especially working towards framing composition studies as a place that does dynamic, on-the-ground work to transform the what, how, and why of university curriculum and instruction towards radical, anti-racist, intersected, Black feminist, fugitive goals.
I began the first part of this post arguing that my entry into university spaces has happened on the backs of young Black people. It would be an erasure of and betrayal to them to act as if my arrival was predicated on my own talent or the goodwill of my colleagues. I work hard to make sure that I don’t erase or betray and when I do worry, it’s only about whether I have gone far enough in truly rupturing white practices.
Many non-Black faculty at each of these tenure-track positions that I described in my previous post insist that it was their own consciousness and strategies for change that brought me to their campus. The truth though is that these folk were at their wit’s end on what to do with their angry Black students and the larger public reminders from Black communities that they are as stunningly racist today as they were in the past. No one will ever credit Black resistance this way because whiteness always attempts to take credit for moral convictions it has not achieved. Today, the special journal issues on racism, Blackness, and anti-blackness will try to cover for their racist, exclusionary histories for which there is still no reckoning. New criticism and outrage will simply receive the same, canned response: this is just how the organization works (as if this justifies unfairness on the part of the people who choose the organization). White scholars will include a BIPOC author here and there in their publication or reference an example of Black suffering in the media (cuz there are, after all, so many to choose from), but still offer a racist and/or white-racialized framework; reviewers won’t notice and editors won’t intervene. White schools will cherry-pick the least resistant BIPOC students (who are also least attuned to Black radical practices and the intellectual works from the Black Radical Tradition) as their spokespeople. I say these things, not as prediction or sign of hopelessness, but as real-life examples of what I am noticing everywhere right now.
I am clear, however, that I am here because of a sustained Black Challenge by Black college students and communities. It hit real different too when you locate your Black presence and pedagogies in young Black people’s and Black community revolts.
You more loose with the tongue in your discipline’s ongoing silences,
you get more irreverently confident, even in the departments that never really wanted you,
you are less prone to low self-esteem despite the systems that always doubt you,
and a whole lot less likely to want to be centered/recognized in white supremacist/academic values.
More folk should try it because I swear it’s good for the mind, body, and soul.
Black Studies— Blackness, Black youth protest, and the Black Challenge to the western academy and knowledge—- is the most fundamental intellectual project in western thought as we know it. I learned this quite literally sitting at the feet of Sylvia Wynter who reminded us that we are unravelling an entire episteme, not simply a policy or institution. If I spend the rest of my academic career achieving her realizations in and with Black studies, I will have done my work here. I was an undergraduate student when I met her and so this is what I have understood from her since then:
Black changes everything.
In entertainment/popular culture and sports, this has been obvious. I do not mean this in the bourgeois sense of Black exceptionalism but in the sense of the way that Black changes the whole game: from the style of the uniform, to the way audiences participate, to the range of new participants, to the new skills and uses that are deployed and centralized as the new practices, to the force of the critique of the theories presented as all-encompassing. Think about academia here. Think Black Feminist Thought. Think Black Queer Theory. Think Black Trans Studies. Think Black Digital Humanities. Black Pain. Black Struggle. Black Diaspora. Black Love. Black Lives Matters. Black. Black. Black. Black.
Black is not an adjective or identity marker but a whole force field that shifts the gravitas.
Today I align myself with another particular gravitas: BLACK… COMPOSITION… STUDIES.
As a compositionist, I should be in the perfect field to get at and rupture all these anti-Black compositions of the academy. As it ends up, this discipline trades in pennies with a white academic marketplace so instead, I reach for a Black Composition Studies:
- a radical disposition and praxis that attends to racial processing and composing in, within, and against the academy and schooling as its very own kind of literacy and education project
- a vision of Black studenting in the academy— undergraduate and graduate— that locates the histories of Black protest’s profound, radical interventions and future inventiveness
- a commitment to research and pedagogy that works in tandem with Black activism— in content, FORM, and style— and disrupts what education is for, who is at center, what it looks/sounds/feels like, and what it does
- a conviction and audacity in knowing that Black will turn this field all the way around until it sets itself right.
As a Black Studies Compositionist, directing my attentions and vision towards a radical, alternative and futuristic purpose of literacy and education is the only option.