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”