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Black(ness) in Bold: Black Professors, Black Experiences and Black Magic.

a dialectical display of revolution, research, ideas, theory and love.

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Teaching

Black Sista Professors in the Line of Open Carry

texascarry OC_Summary-2016

Today is the first day of my second year as an Assistant Professor of Education in Houston, Texas. As I embark upon this academic year, it is hard to ignore the feeling of unease in my body. As of August 1, 2016, it officially became legal to carry guns on campus. I learned that this would occur a few days after moving here a year ago with a newborn, a 2-year old and my husband. There was much to do at that time to say the least: unpack, become acclimated to life in Houston, Texas, prepare brand new course syllabi, pump breast milk for my son when I was away from him, figure out how to drive, etc. etc. I did not have the time to fully think about what this gun-wielding law would mean for me in a year. So, like most Black women with much to do, I kept going. I created new syllabi, I met new colleagues, I learned about the urban campus in the heart of downtown, which was more on the quiet side in comparison to New York. The silence bored me. I missed the noise of home, but I kept going, because that is what we do, us sistas of the sun, we keep going even when we should stop and reflect.

Many things happened to me in my first year. I experienced racism (been there). I shut down racist colleagues (done that). I spoke up at meetings (I am free). I started this blog (I don’t believe in censorship). I learned that my Blackness (still) precedes my doctorate, my actions, my ideas and my perspective every time I speak. But this does not bother me, because I have learned how to love myself without white supremacist validation. Yet still, actively rejecting white supremacy can be dangerous while living in a Black sista body, rocking Black sista hair and blazing Black sista boldness. And now students can carry guns, because it is “their legal right.” As a Critical Race Theorist, I know that the law is not colorblind in any way, shape or form although, it proposes to be just that. Assata taught me. Tamir taught me. Renisha taught me. Aiyanna Stanley Jones taught me. Jordan Davis taught me, which may explain why I am still cautious about how loud my music is when driving close to police cars or other white civilians who the law chooses to protect when they pull out pistols upon hearing so-called “thug” music. To be free in this Black sista body also means that I have to make a living and come home to my family each day. How do I make a living in spaces that were not built for me, that were not built for the kind of radical sparks that emanate from my soul intentionally and impulsively?

Now that students can carry guns in a state like Texas at a public institution where I am employed, I find myself thinking about how to preserve the integrity of my work. How do I continue to practice social justice pedagogy in a space where some students may be armed? Surely in my classes, I may come across armed students. Now to be clear, the law maintains that the weapons must remain concealed. But I find that danger becomes more alive when concealment comes to play. For example, institutional racism is often concealed too, but it is there, powerfully altering Black/Brown lives because it can and it will. Do I change the radical nature of my pedagogy because of the possibility that I can get harmed for doing so? Or, do I walk by faith and not by sight, as my Christian upbringing whispers in my ear? I honestly don’t know the answer to these questions. I am a revolutionary with a cause but one that I am not willing to put myself in blatant danger for. I can say that honestly and fully. Yet still, I do not compromise on what I believe is right either. I know that teaching my students about the intersections among literacies, race and education is work that must get done. I also know that I love the sound of my daughter’s laughter in the morning. I love the way my son looks at me when he is tired. I love my husband’s faith in my ability to change the world. How do I balance spaces of violent institutional oppression and love simultaneously? At this moment, I do not have any answers.

Today is the first day of my second year as an Assistant Professor and I am armed with love and language. I am armed with nontraditional knowledge systems. I am armed with motherhood and false notions of meritocracy. I am armed with the faith that my fear will have to fester in in the face of freedom.

If You Think You’re Giving Students of Color a Voice, Get Over Yourself

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Source: PBS Rikers Island Documentary

 

Miss, miss! What the C.O. toldju about us? They already gettin’ in y’all heads right?

Miss, we human! I’m a human! We have families….

-Rikers Island Youth Workshop Participant

The walls on Rikers Island are the same as the walls in my high school. In a facility six security check-points deep, where it takes myself and my team of social justice educators over 1.5 hours to get from the first screening to the classroom where we run a workshop with a small group of incarcerated adolescent boys, the walls are the same style of brick as every inner-city school I have ever attended or visited. While I am struck by the visceral effects of this very concrete reality for these young men who have attended public schools across the five boroughs, I am not at all surprised. Still, within the physical, psychological, and emotional confines of this space that they navigate daily, I am the one who often feels the deep constraints of internalized social attitudes and perspectives about young Black and Brown men, who they are, what they need, and how they should be engaged within the context of the classroom. The possibilities of our time together are tethered to my internal work—The shedding of any savior complexes and constant collective reflection with the team to live in the tensions and questions of our work as critical educators.

So imagine my horror when on a recent phone call, a white educator who expressed interest in my youth development work, squealed with congratulations and awe for the way that we “give so many young people voice.” Her words were deeply disturbing, but hardly surprising. Grateful that in our last email I chose the ‘phone call’ over the ‘in-person’ or ‘facetime’ option for our meeting, I rolled my eyes, and promptly ended the call.

I should not have ended this call. I should have said to this woman, “if you think you’re giving students of color a voice, get over yourself”… then hung up the phone.

So what’s the big deal? Why get caught up on words when you know that kind well-meaning woman only meant to celebrate the work that you are doing?

Some of the most deeply problematic issues of inequity within the field of education are sustained by well-meaning people embracing progressive politics without intentional frameworks of self-reflection to guide their praxis in a healthy direction.

Here’s the problem:

The idea of “giving” students voice, especially when it refers to students of color, only serves to reify the dynamic of paternalism that renders Black and Brown students voiceless until some salvific external force gifts them with the privilege to speak. Rather than acknowledge the systemic violences that attempt to silence the rich voices, cultures, and histories that students bring into classrooms, this orientation positions students, and by extension, the communities of students, as eternally in need of institutional sanctioning. I do the work I do for these very reasons.

When the young men at Rikers share their work, I am fully intimidated by their uses of extended metaphors, similes, and other literary devices. But all we did was lend them an ear. They woke up like that. We did not give them a voice. We gave them space to be heard. We need educators who are down to create space for the rich identities of their students to thrive, and who are down to be schooled by their students as authorities of their own voices and narratives in the classroom

We need educators who have the courage to do the internal work of critical honesty around their attitudes toward students. Is there space in your classroom for the realities, perspectives, and identities of your students? What is your attitude toward your perception of their cultures and how does this affect the interpersonal dynamics of your pedagogy? So much of the rhetoric around colonialism, imperialism, and American chattel slavery had to do with giving civilization and Christianity to people who were “less fortunate.” Do not align your pedagogy with the same narratives that perpetuated so much evil in our world.

If you think you are giving students of color a voice in the work that you do, get over yourself. They woke up like that.

If you think you are giving students of color a voice in the work that you do, get over yourself. They woke up like that.

jamilialyiscott

Jamila Lyiscott is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME) of Teachers College, Columbia University. She also serves as an educator, community organizer, consultant and motivational speaker locally and internationally. Jamila’s work focuses on contexts where the cultures, literacies, and literatures of young people of color are critically engaged and humanized for social change. Her scholarship is situated in Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy, Literacy Studies, and Black Literature. Jamila is the founder and co-director of the Cyphers For Justice (CFJ) youth, research, and advocacy program, apprenticing inner-city youth as critical researchers through hip-hop, spoken word, and digital literacy. She was recently featured on Ted.com where her video was viewed over 3 million times. Along with several publications, she has lectured and directed educational justice projects widely. Through her community, scholastic, and artistic efforts, Jamila hopes to play a key role in forging better connections between the world of academia and communities of color outside. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#BlackMenGreeting – Recognizing Each Other’s Presence and Humanity

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DeVaughn Ward and Pastor Al Johnson greeting local kids on their first day of school in Hartford, Connecticut.

A couple of weeks ago the #blackmengreeting hashtag made its rounds on social media. I was reminded of when I was doing interviews for my dissertation. I asked my participants to reflect on an incident in the past year and a half that spoke to the significance of their presence as Black male teachers in their schools. There is this silence that I allow to stretch for moments as they sit there in their reverie. Garreth tells an anecdote where a parent who had the reputation of being aggressive approached him at the beginning of the school year and asked him how he was going to ensure that her son was not going to end up a part of the school to prison pipeline. He says that he was completely taken aback by the question, as it was literally his second week of teaching. He explains her demeanor changes as he introduces himself and she learns more about him:

I think that a big part of it was she trusted me on a deeper level because I was a Black male and some of the experiences I had because of being Black and male; and throughout the year we were able to foster a good relationship and ultimately she trusted me a lot more than I think she would have had I not been a Black man. 

As he talks there are nods of assent from the other three participants and it becomes apparent that this is an understanding of experience that the others can speak to, too.

Alex adds that the way he interacts with the kids at his school makes him feel like his presence is a little different than just being their teacher; that there is something familial about the interactions; where he could easily be an uncle or big brother. He says:

It’s that family relationship where you can be mad at one another and still have respect for one another outside the context of the classroom. It’s a tough thing for me because I’m trying to be the teacher and they don’t always want me to be that and they want me to be something else and if they feel like I’m being too “teachery” they let me know.

Jay reiterates that being Black is enough sometimes – that being the only Black male on the teaching staff is enough and that kids sprint out of their lines to greet him or to hug him, and that he knows that it’s an acknowledgement of self.

When Ricky starts talking I am struck so deeply by his passionate stance. He literally vibrates with it as he talks. He informs us that he works at a school where 98% of the population is Black boys and that he is one of 3 Black men on the teaching staff. He says that he wants to be able to create a perfect balance between keeping a strong relationship with students and meeting academic excellence. His voice breaks a bit when he says that he tries to grow as much as he can as a professional but “without taking out the edge and rawness (he) came in with”. He goes on to say:

It’s tough because my colleagues in higher positions don’t like it, because it isn’t what the norm is. But I’ve come to realize that I really don’t care because they won’t mess with you when you are getting the results -they won’t mess with you -and that is something that I’m trying to push myself to do right now is to become the best teacher I can possibly be in this system in any system and don’t keep…don’t lose that realness and edge that I have.

BlackMaleTeacher
Source: yourblackworld.net

I am so profoundly struck and I see his anxiety and his worry that he will lose his edge; that he will get caught up in a system that doesn’t love him.

“Talk more,” I say to him; to them, “I see you shaking your head…and there is a lot of shaking of heads and head nodding as he (Ricky) is talking; because I think you are talking about the same thing. Talk more about what that edge is.”

He looks to them as he starts to answer…they nod to him. An affirmation. A dap. They see him. They see themselves. He says:

The edge is an unspoken respect or unspoken vibe almost, that we have. The kids know, it’s like when I see another Black man in a setting where we are not the majority and we are the minority – we always connect. If I see you walk past, I’m going to say ‘what’s up’- I give you a head nod. I give you the dap. We know what it is. It’s the same with the kids. It’s like a special power and it’s a gift – at first I thought it was both a gift and a curse, but it can’t be a curse because it can only help you push the students to where they need to be academically – it works hand in hand. Other people are great teachers and I can’t take that away from them and others are great at this and that subject but I’m great at what I do. It flows professionally and into the professional realm of our career.

When he is done talking we are silent; all of us are caught in reverence. Ricky has articulated beautifully this connection we feel as Black educators, as Black people and I know I am not the only one in the room encouraged to hear it described as a ‘gift’ and a ‘special power’.

Alex explains the dap in the school setting:

It was equally as shocking for me in retrospect to realize how much the Black nod is really, like a real thing. I think it happens in school as well. The kids are looking for us to affirm their existence and their reality, and you realize that you look to them for it, too: What’s up, how you doing? That’s the reality… yeah, that’s how we roll you know- it’s not like us to ignore each other’s existence.

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Marcelle Mentor is South African & a Ph.D. candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University. She is a former high school English Teacher. Her academic interest focuses on Critical Race Theory, with an emphasis on Black Masculinity. She is an activist, a mother of two teenaged sons; a scholar and teller of stories.

President Obama as Teacher

Sometimes I remind myself that President Obama was a teacher before he was president. What if we had more teacher turned presidents? What would that look like? Feel like? Granted he was a law professor. Folks like to make clear distinctions between teachers and professors for obvious elitist and classist purposes. But to teach is to profess and to profess is to teach. Right?

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