Beware Becoming the Trojan Horse

I am a brown person of color that grew up in a non-US country where white supremacy manifested primarily in the absence of white people following the country’s independence in the early 80’s. My family’s socio-economic privilege inscribed me into whiteness with peers often calling me a ‘white bway’ even when we shared the same shade of brown. I, in turn, internalized this image of myself, simultaneously hating my brown skin and idolizing the whiteness of the Americans, British, and French I encountered through film. In my academic experience as a graduate student in the United States, I had never been in a position of discussing issues of race in a critical way until my first semester of my doctoral degree in a feminist rhetoric, and a Caribbean tourism and sex trade course.

I struggle with how to link my research interests (comics authorship, graduate student labor, and Caribbean tourism rhetorics) to a vision of the nebulous field of rhetoric and composition. Many of the names that I am told are important to know hit me with a dead thump because their prominence feels significant only within an Americentric context. As a person from a global south country with plans to return there following graduation, it is nauseating to think that if I passively take up the names and ideas of folks who most often circulate and talk to them through my scholarship that I may gain social capital, but likely, no definitely, come out of it primarily having embodied the scholarship of white American able-bodied cis-het folks. I see this possibility as dangerous not only for myself, but for future students I work with, carving myself into a Trojan horse that enters a Belizean institution under the guise of a shared nation-state identity only to then unleash rhetorics mired in the epistemologies of empire, patriarchy, white supremacy, and ableism.

That wariness to the default also emerges in my role as associate editor with Studies in Writing and Rhetoric despite our new mission to “seeking out scholars who represent the multiple heritages that exist in our classrooms and our field.” In this role, I am wary of us potentially only working to give lip service to this expansion due to my previous experience working with publications that were great at rewriting mission statements with diversity in mind, but entirely lacking in imagination and effort as to how we might make these publications a place where marginalized body-minds would actually trust to house their work. Therefore my own personal goal in this position has been to think through and listen to folks about how we might enact such expansions, and how I might use my own labor in my limited tenure at SWR to make adjustments in support of who we publish, what we publish, how we solicit writers, and how we circulate their work.

This blog, for instance, was initiated last year to write less conventionally rigorous pieces in response to occasions related to the field, such as the anniversary of James Berlin’s death. In doing so, SWR hoped to meet the exigence of James Berlin’s anniversary with a conversation between scholars that meditated on the uptake and shortcomings of his work. Contributors to that blog series did impressive work of illustrating how Berlin’s work was limited in its imagining of the types of body-minds that reside in contemporary academia, body-minds that continue to be marginalized. What the cumulative effect of these posts demonstrated was the extent to which we have already moved away from Berlin as a marker of the field.  Appreciating this shift, so this blog more effectually serve our critical purposes, I submit that we need to disrupt the type of writing people were likely to expect from an academic publisher’s blog. That we could use this space to write through difficult ideas, to write through failure, make mistakes, listen to when others said we’ve screwed up, and make concrete attempts to do better.

In a previous draft, I elaborated on the origins of SWR blog’s current anti-racist orientation through an anecdote wherein I and two white SWR graduate students composed the first iteration of our call for papers. In response, a colleague expressed concern that that might read as though I were hoping to center white body-minds as the main benefactors of the pieces shared through this blog series. Such concern was highly appreciated, and I told them that my interest in including a description of who was involved in making the call for papers had more to do with a desire to be transparent about SWR’s demographic makeup. Of its active staff, I am currently one of two people of color (in contrast to the diversity of SWR’s board), and like some other people of color working in majority white spaces, I feel a need to echo others’ concerns about the infrequency with which black and brown bodies are able to have a substantive role in an academic press’s orientation and circulation, and how much of that is due to non-white bodies still rarely being present within our graduate and faculty cohorts.

I want people who are in a safe position to share narratives of the myriad of means that racist ideology is perpetuated within institutions. I want to listen to folks as they write through the transformation undertaken by boundary-crossing, both literal and metaphorical, and I want to always be rethinking about this work as it exists along various spheres with a special interest in the microscopic exchanges engaged by people of color in order to limit the perpetuation of racist ideology by friends, colleagues, family, and loved ones, or, as one friend put it, the ways in which people rhetorically strategize to express anti-racist discourse that’s seen not as manipulative, but as an extension of care.

In other words, what’s desired is for the blog to be an instance where people share attempts at intervening within racialized discourse on a variety of scales. From means of overhauling writing curriculum in order to decenter whiteness to navigating strategic responses to hegemonically informed friends and colleagues, this space hopes to provide an opportunity for reflection on a public platform to illuminate the labor that often goes unaccounted for in scholarship-centric academic spaces. We do not want this blog series to become another instance where women of color, who are already taxed with more than their share of academic and emotional labor, become the sounding boards for entire ideologies, but we do hope this reaches those willing to help orient this conversation in fruitful and potentially uncomfortable directions.

A friend recently told me that to have not needed help in life is a privilege, and I need to extend myself beyond that privilege if I want to actually achieve work with others and see them as equally able of offering me their assistance. I need help to think through these things, and SWR needs help in becoming a home to voices belonging to those other than white R1-affiliated professionals.  And maybe you need help with having some time to write through experiences in your own trials at anti-racist pedagogy. If you are, send us at SWR a word at swrseries@gmail.com.

We’re listening.

Check back in 2 weeks for our next post, and read below for the Call for Papers


CFP: Reflections on Antiracist Pedagogies

(Limit of 200-250 words not including attachments)

In line with the field’s attention towards marginalized bodies, voices, and literacies, SWR is undertaking a new collaborative initiative aimed at sharing, reflecting on, and circulating antiracist pedagogies and practices. We see this as a way for the field to more transparently reflect on and resist our own complacency to overlook the systematic oppression of non-white, non-disabled, non-male bodies within the academy.

We are currently looking for submissions across a wide variety of modalities, genres, and perspectives, especially those often disregarded and demeaned in traditional academic frameworks. We invite submissions that offer anti-racist heuristics (such as those listed below) accompanied by an annotation or reflection that contextualizes the assignment, its reception, and its contribution to antiracist pedagogies. It is our hope that authors will share assignments and experiences that felt mutually rewarding for students and teachers, especially those that prompt instructors’ critical self reflection. We also invite proposals for multimodal submissions.

While we invite submissions that go beyond this description, we have focused on examples of anti-racist pedagogical materials to provide a space to cultivate a culture of reciprocity and coalition building outside of the capitalist notions of knowledge that permeate our scholarship/teaching.

Potential Topics to Consider (But Not Limited To):

  • Antiracist Heuristics (Including assignments, policy statements, personal reflections, collectively authored texts, non-alphabetic texts and assignments, etc.)
  •    Reflections on Embodied Experience
  •    The Constraints of Working within Heteronormative, Neoliberal, Ableist, White Supremacist Logics
  •    Antiracist Pedagogy within the Current SocioPolitical Context
  •    Language Ideologies
  •  Public (Non-Academic) Writing

In addition to the description and topics above, we also invite proposals for collaborative and/or multimodal submissions that do not adhere to these guidelines. SWR staff can assist with development of such ideas.

 


 

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