Antiracist Writing Pedagogy: Racialized Places of Labor and Listening

by Asao B. Inoue
Professor and Director of University Writing & the Writing Center
University of Washington Tacoma

 

First, an exercise in listening, not for me, but you, dear reader. The place I grew up, and the place in which I began reading and writing. This is the origin of my antiracist pedagogy.

I grew up in North Las Vegas in government, subsidized housing. Each apartment was white brick with three windows, one next to the front door, and one in each of the two bedrooms. Thinking back now, our home seemed like a cement box, not a home, yet it was my home. One of my strongest memories of living on Stats Street in North Las Vegas was coming home after the landlord had fumigated the entire building. We opened the door to find literally thousands of dead or dying cockroaches everywhere. They created a bed of carcasses the size of quarters and silver dollars on the floors and carpet, some still writhing and twitching. The roaches, legs up, formed a layer of bodies on tables, couch, chairs — everything. Some were dangling from the ceiling, dropping periodically. They ticked when they hit a hard surface. I remember the ticking.

As the door swung open, my mother clutched us closer and sat down in the doorway of our apartment. The three of us sat on the cement stoop, and she put her face in her hands and cried. It was the first and almost only time I remember seeing my mother cry. I was maybe seven years old. A friend came over that night and helped my mom vacuum up the roaches. I remember snatches of the entire evening. It was traumatic for us all. I never really recovered from the experience. Piles of shiny-backed, brown roaches, some in their death-throws, most dead, that’s what I remember. The feeling of helplessness, of thinking how do we live in such a place? How have we lived in such a place? How do we escape? How will we ever make this our home again? How do I go to school tomorrow, and come home, and learn? You see, I knew, even then at seven or eight years old, that this was the place where I would need to do the labors required to learn. I would need to sit on those floors, or in that chair, and read my school books, or write the first essay I remember writing, ironically about who I was, about my skin, my color — yes, that’s how I translated the prompt, “who are you?” Those floors would be where I would sit and read each night, book after book, and win the second grade reading contest. It was not easy labor. Continue reading “Antiracist Writing Pedagogy: Racialized Places of Labor and Listening”

Overcoming Gratitude: How the GOP Tax Bill Could Impact International Students

On Saturday morning of December 2, millions of people in the United States woke up the news that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act had passed in the Senate. For current graduate students, this was a step closer to the passing of the House’s version of the bill that would make tuition waivers taxable income, dramatically increasing the amount of taxes graduate student would have to pay in addition to the various ways the bill would devastate folks healthcare and labor security.

As an organizer working with the Syracuse Graduate Employees United (SGEU), I have been struggling over the past few weeks about how I might address this in the next installment of the SWR blog on anti-racist pedagogies. Given that the new SWR mission statement calls for an expansion of sites and discourses of study, I ultimately decided to share a speech I wrote for a rally (with help from Poonam Argarde, a fellow international student and friend) hosted by SGEU on Wednesday November 29 at Syracuse University. Its alignment with anti-racist pedagogies stems from a recognition of how existing structures within higher education, such as the ever-increasing workload expected of graduate students and the ever-existing threat to documentation status, work to keep marginalized bodies in precarity in order to maintain exploitative labor practices.

The speech was intended to address the ways that the bill will impact the lives of international graduate students as well as why I think union organizing will be key to collectively addressing any potential repercussions. Although this speech focuses on international students, I want to be clear that I don’t want to conflate all international students with students of color, but international students are often from countries largely populated by people of color, especially at my own institution. My hope is that by articulating the issues facing international students, we may be better able to join in solidarity with U.S. students of color, and recognize the ways in which we are sometimes pitted against each other within educational spaces heavily laden with white supremacist ideology that perpetuate narratives of competition between students of non-white identities.

Since last week, I have been finding other pieces highlighting the impact that the bill will have on international graduate students. Desiring something more polyphonic than my own voice, I have hyperlinked to those pieces throughout the speech. They are worth checking out and provide a more rounded view of how international students think they’ll be impacted by a change in the tuition waiver structure. Continue reading “Overcoming Gratitude: How the GOP Tax Bill Could Impact International Students”

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. Continue reading “Beware Becoming the Trojan Horse”