Shout Out to the Black Latinas Know Collective

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On April 30, the Black Latinas Know Collective emerged publically into the world through a tweet:

Proclaiming that Latinx Studies is nothing without Black Latina experiences, their website offers an inspiring and challenging manifesto, a collective of impressive scholars in a range of fields, and a blog. When they burst into the world on twitter, they invited people to retweet their favorite lines from the manifesto, and wow, did people respond!

We’re both delighted to be able to signal boost the BLKC and the amazing work they’re doing.

And a couple more places to learn more about AfroLatinidad:

Standing with and Understanding Standing Rock

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Image credit

Decolonizing Thanksgiving

The last time we wrote about what’s happening at Standing Rock and the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline, the unarmed water protectors (the term the Indigenous folks there use for themselves) had been attacked by dogs and pepper spray. We are writing about what’s happening there again after more violent attacks on the water protectors this past week with water cannons and concussion grenades. What’s happening there has been getting more mainstream coverage, assuming The View is relatively mainstream. We wanted today to highlight two resources to learn more about what’s happening in Standing Rock currently and to understand the historical, social, and cultural context of the protests:

  1. Dr. Adrienne Keene visits our favorite podcast to speak about her visit to Standing Rock (before the water cannons and concussion grenades) and describes what’s happening there and provides a larger context for the protests, explaining terms such as settler colonialism. Dr. Keene writes the blog, Native Appropriations, which you should all check out. (Anita was lucky enough to attend her convocation talk earlier this month at Carleton.) (Adriana is jealous, but plans to watch the video soon.)
  2. Check out the #NoDAPL syllabus created by a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars and activists to understand the current resistance against the pipeline in the long history of colonialism and racism.

Education matters, but action should follow. Here are concrete ways for you to take action to support the water protectors:

  1. Call North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple at 701-328-2200. See phone scripts here.
  1. Donate items from the Sacred Stone Camp Supply List: http://sacredstonecamp.org/supply-list/
  1. Call the White House at (202) 456-1111 or (202) 456-1414.
  1. Contribute to the Sacred Stone Camp Legal Defense Fund: https://fundrazr.com/d19fAf
  1. Call the Army Corps of Engineers and demand that they reverse the permit: (202) 761-5903
  1. Sign petitions asking President Obama to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Here’s the latest – https://act.credoaction.com/sign/NoDAPL
  1. Write to the 17 banks funding the pipeline and consider moving your accounts if you have any at these banks:

http://www.commondreams.org/…/how-contact-17-banks-funding-…

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The Day After

El Silencio Mata. Silence kills. Oaxaca mural.

(Image credit)

(Anita)

I went to bed early Tuesday night, not knowing the results of the presidential election. The first thing I saw Wednesday morning was a text from my brother: “Are you okay?” I knew then that Donald Trump had won. I logged onto Facebook: friends expressing surprise, sorrow, concern, anger, solidarity, love, and resolve. I appreciated white, straight friends promising to stand up for and with friends who are immigrants, queer, trans, POC–thank you and I’ll hold you to those promises. I appreciated the helpful reminders that the struggles against patriarchy, settler colonialism, racism, and xenophobia have been going for a long time; they have continued during the Obama presidency, would have continued during a Clinton presidency, and will continue during the Trump presidency.

(Adriana)

I had planned to go to an Election eve party on Tuesday, but a descending migraine kept me at home. In retrospect, that headache was an augur and a gift. At home, I sipped whiskey, ate Halloween candy, listened to the NPR stream, and read the 538 and NYT coverage. Slowly but surely I felt the world slip out from under me. At 10 p.m., heavy with a throbbing head and a growing sense of dread, I went to sleep, after texting with my son. “…” he first wrote. I knew exactly what that meant.

I woke up throughout the night. I would roll over, check my phone, fight to contain my fear and my sadness, then try to sleep again. Waking up to the day felt wrong. Mourning is like this. You look towards this possible future, the one you thought you were headed for, and you have to recognize it’s gone. Then somehow you have to keep on moving forward into the future you now realize you don’t understand or know or want. But this mourning is different, right? I’m grieving for the United States that I thought we could be, might be, and most importantly, should be.

How do we teach in sadness? I spent the morning running. Literally. I headed out to the woods and grounded myself in the feeling–ephemeral though it may be–that I have some strength, some power, and a world that makes sense to me. I wear a t-shirt for the day with the words, “El silencio mata” and make plans to hold space for my students. bell hooks prepares me for that: “I believe whole-heartedly that the only way out of domination is love, and the only way into really being able to connect with others, and to know how to be, is to be participating in every aspect of your life as a sacrament of love, and that includes teaching.” Love is not just a feeling. Love is a set of actions. Let us love deeply and radically; let us act wildly and meaningfully.

(Us)

We go to a rally on campus organized by our students. There are at least 300 students, staff, faculty, and community members in attendance. Students share their thoughts. They share their worries about feeling targeted in their women/queer/Black/Brown/immigrant bodies. They remind their peers that they had been so organized and involved in Get Out The Vote efforts, in supporting local progressive candidates, and in going out and voting. They talk about the practical steps moving forward to support those who might be affected most by policies and practices in the next four years–-getting trained as an escort for women going into reproductive health clinics, for example. They remind us to support and care for ourselves and each other. They make us feel hopeful and inspired.

To our students who organized the rally and who have been organizing and have been building bridges and coalitions across differences before the election and will continue to do so now: we see you, we support you, and we thank you.

To our former students who are now teachers themselves, working with children and young adults whom they are supporting and holding space for right now: we see you, we support you, and we thank you.

Teaching, learning, listening, and organizing trumps hate. Let’s get (back) to it!

Some suggestions for next steps:

Let us know if you have any other suggestions that we should add to this list.

Gender Inclusivity in the Classroom, part II

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(Image credit: GSC Presentation at the Carleton LTC, “Making Class Welcoming for Trans* and Gender Variant Students,” Oct 29 2015)

See part one for a discussion of gender inclusivity as we think through gender pronouns and their relationship to gender expression and identity. We left off talking about what might make folx uncomfortable with pronoun discussions; here we continue our conversation with Tegra Straight thinking about how these interactions might play out in the classroom.

Tegra: One of your questions for me was whether asking for pronouns allows people to be gender fluid in their identities. I think it does as long as you allow people to change their pronouns during the term.

AC: And how do you do that? Do you say it every class–everyone say your gender pronouns?

T: Most of the students I’ve met who are comfortable in their fluidity and talk about it say, “I use she/her/they/them” or “I use different gender pronouns depending on how I’m feeling. Today I’m using…and I’ll let you know if that changes.”

AC: Do I check in again sometime during the term or say something at the beginning of the term?

T: I think that you might, when doing the introductions, just say something like, “I understand this is what it is today. If we need to check in again, shoot me an email, and we can do another round of intros in case something has changed for someone.” I think that is completely appropriate.

AC: The first time I did it in my classes, I was really uncomfortable just because I had never done it before. But I think the students were totally cool with it and they did not bat an eye. I think these were all students who had gone through the orientation where they had talked about gender pronouns. They seemed perfectly fine sharing their pronouns.

T: I think proportionally at this point, more faculty and staff are uncomfortable sharing than are students. But even I can feel uncomfortable with faculty and staff because it can feel uncomfortable if I say my pronouns and no one else does. I’ve been doing this for a while and I can still feel uncomfortable doing it, which doesn’t mean that I don’t think it shouldn’t done. If someone introduces themselves in a way that I think is problematic, I don’t know that I’d correct them.

AE: Your discomfort seems like it’s about the power dynamics of the moment.

T: I think that’s an issue that the faculty talk about when they talk about it being an invasion of privacy. Do you have power in this moment to force students to come out in ways they are not ready for? I would probably argue no, because a student can share whatever pronoun they want and, again, if that changes for them, you can just remind them to let you know. I think students will say whatever pronouns they are comfortable saying as long as we stop attaching a gender identity to the pronouns.

AC: And that’s really hard.

T: I still do it. I have to consciously un-do it as I get to know people.

AC: Part of what the students want when they’re asking us to ask about pronouns is to talk about the non-obviousness of gender identity. The idea is that we think that gender is obvious: we see you wearing a dress and we think that you are a “she”, but that’s not necessarily true.

T: We have a student who dresses fem all the time, in a skirt, and use ‘they/them” pronouns. If they weren’t comfortable introducing their pronouns and even when they do, they probably get misgendered a lot on campus.

AC: The other question that came up…there’s a worry that as faculty that we’re going to do it wrong and our students are going to hate us because we did it wrong. So we might as well not do it. For example, when I was at the Rainbow Retreat last winter, a student talked about how a professor asked students to introduce their pronouns but said, “Tell us your pronouns like he or she” and the student was critical that the professor ended up sticking with the gender binary. And my perspective was like, “Well, they’re trying.” But I also understand the student’s perspective: “You’re basically ruining the whole point.”

T: It really depends on the student and on the day. Sometimes a student will be talking about a class and say, “You know they really messed up on this but at least they tried.” And Rainbow Retreat tends to be a time when people come to vent and just let go.

AC: Sure. That’s fair enough.

T: So that’s some of what it is. And sometimes people do get upset. I think that, ideally, faculty sometimes need to admit that they can learn from students.

AC: I learned about the term “cis-gender” from one of my students about five years ago. I teach about gender and education, and they were, like, “Hey, do you know this term?” and I’m like, “No!” [laughter] They pointed me to Julia Serano’s work, which is awesome.

AE: I had a student who came to me about three or four years ago and told me about a club she was starting for asexual students on campus and that was the first time I had heard the term.

AC: Really?

AE: I think I had heard of it, but I didn’t understand it. So she told me about her experience and why she was gathering a group.

AC: You’d never heard the term “asexual” before then?

AE: Not in the way she was using it, I should say. I thought about it as someone who doesn’t want to have sex. And the way it’s coming up now is that it’s a sexual identity. You’re straight, you’re queer, you’re asexual. Which means that maybe you’ll have sex but it’s not the primary way you want to have relationships.

T: That community includes folx who identify as asexual and as aromantic so it complicates it even further for people who might be sexual but don’t hold romantic attractions. So there’s a ton of identities within that community.

AC: Right. The term that students want to use on campus is LGBTQA+ with the A standing for asexual and aromantic and the + standing for other marginalized gender and sexual identities. That seems like a really broad term.

T: Speaking particularly of the Carleton context, we use that acronym and don’t include intersex, for example, because we don’t have any resources and we don’t do any programming around intersex identities. If students wanted us to do more, we’d look into it. If you look at Carleton’s campus, I don’t think it’s difficult in general to be lesbian or gay or queer. I think it can be more difficult if you are bisexual or poly or more fluid in who you are attracted to.  There’s a lot of lack of knowledge and discomfort around ACE identities trans and non-binary identities. Particularly, I think QTPOC as an intersectional

AE: …which is the best acronym ever!

T: They call themselves “QTs.” [Laughter]  So that’s been the focus of our office.  All of our programming is inclusive of all of the acronym but we have tried to decenter White gay and lesbian experiences.

AC: I’m trying to figure out, we have this very specific term we use at Carleton and I understand that’s the one that students want to use, but does that reflect larger realities, realities outside of Carleton?

T: I think it reflects the movement right now. Our acronym is shorter than the movement. A lot of people include intersex, two spirit, same gender loving…if you’re looking a place that’s just using LGBT, they’re probably not focusing on issues that are important to students at this time.

AC: If we think about history, politics and law and legislation, there have been particular ways in which gay, lesbian, and bisexual folks and trans and gender non-binary folks have been particularly targeted and not supported by our society. Are there similar histories of oppression for the other marginalized sexual and gender identities? For example, there are Christian students on campus who feel marginalized on campus. But in broader American society, Christianity is the dominant religion of the United States and there isn’t a similar marginalization there. I’m trying to keep in mind structures of power in society…but by making it such a large inclusive group, are we doing the students a disservice in not teaching them how power and privilege will play out when they get out of Carleton? And/or are we giving them a false sense of safety and inclusiveness that may not exist when they get out into the work world?

T:  I struggle with the notion that by creating a safe space on campus, we’re not preparing students for “the real world.” Our students work in the real world. They have summer jobs, some of them need to have jobs during breaks. Usually these are marginalized students, queer and low-income;  these are students who are already very familiar with the “real world.” I think that, particularly if we are focused on trans, non-binary, QTPOC and ACE identities, the role of a four year college is to provide time to be fully supported, time to question, to figure some stuff out, so that when you graduate, you have an even higher level of resiliency to work with. So when you go out and are in the “real world,” you’re going to be able to deal with all the shit you’re gonna encounter. Just because the real world sucks doesn’t mean that we should treat them any worse on campus! They are already used to that, particularly these days. A lot of older folks have this narrative of not understanding your sexuality or gender identity till later on in life. A lot of students have figured out their identities in high school before coming to Carleton and they’ve already dealt with a lot of shit from family, friends, systems. I think our ability to create community and a safe space allows them to process through some of that pain or to get to understand other people’s intersections of oppression. Me as a middle-class, White gay person can learn something from interacting with a lower-income QTPOC person and recognize that I still have a lot of privilege and there are things I can do to make sure that others in my community experience less oppression than they currently do.

AC: That makes sense.

T: It hurts our office because we have to be over-programmed all the time. Laura and I have to work lots of weekends and evenings but I think our office is seen as one of the more progressive spaces on campus so students will come to us if they want to do something more progressive.

AC: I think that’s a shift. When I got here, it seemed like the GSC was a space that was mostly White.

T: Yeah, when I got here, it was White. Particularly white queer women. Within the last three years, we’ve really seen change. It’s partly willingness of my part and Laura’s part to constantly take on criticism and we have a really good working relationship with QTPOC and trying to listen to their needs and what they need from our office. Also, just being really intentional about hiring a staff that’s representative of the Carleton community and of the queer community in particular. Campus is a pretty supportive space. I think a lot of students have a lot that they’re involved in. They feel welcomed but the GSC might not be their primary source of support. For others, it is.

AC: Just to wrap up, what might be three things students want faculty to know to make classrooms a more inclusive space?

T: Obviously, we’ve said pronouns are a pretty big deal. Also, we still have students who say faculty call out the wrong names.

AC: Hopefully that’s been fixed. [Note: currently at Carleton, once on campus, students can enter the name they want to be called into the database so that when a faculty prints out a class roster, they should have those names.]

T: I’ve heard of faculty expecting the students to represent their identity. What happens if you only have one student with a particular identity and it’s the focus of discussion in class? There needs to be better understanding of how to navigate that, making space for that student to share but not making their experience the focal point of the lesson. The last thing would be being aware of mental health issues, and that depression and anxiety are real things that make it impossible to function at a Carleton level/pace. I don’t think it’s just faculty who need to be aware, but something the whole campus has to tackle.

 

Inspirations/Resources

Adrienne Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality,” 1986.

Julia Serano, Whipping girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, 2007

Resources at Carleton

GSC: Resources for Transgender and Gender Non-binary Students

GSC: Inclusive Classroom

Vanderbilt Center for Teaching resource: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/teaching-beyond-the-gender-binary-in-the-university-classroom/

The Origin Story

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A visual of our collaboration. (Citation)

As we come back to this space after taking some time away from it, we wanted to write a post explaining why we have this blog. Why a blog? Why a shared blog? And what’s up with the blog name?

WHY A BLOG? Since we’ve met, we’ve been having conversations that have blown both of our minds. We push each other to think more deeply and fully, and that has been a sustaining element in our lives in Minnesota. Not to toot our own horns (not that either of us are good at tooting horns), but we thought that some of our thinking and the way that we work through and within uncertainty might be helpful for others. So we decided to create a space where we could do this work in a public way. We felt that a blog would allow us to attempt to be thoughtful and smart, but also highlight our humor, our personalities, and our mistakes. We’ve both often felt like the rules of academic writing hampered us, and we wanted to be able to set our own rules for how we present our voices to the world.

We also wanted a space to amplify the work of scholars, thinkers, and activists of color. A friend of Adriana’s has written about the “politics of citation.” Following María Elena Cepeda’s call to cite each other [i.e. scholars of color], this blog is a place where we try to signal boost voices that might not always get heard in academia.

The truth is that we would love to do a podcast like Heben & Tracy–we think our conversations are much more fun when you can hear them–but we both suck at audio editing and have no clue how to produce a podcast. We are in need of the kind of podsquad that they have! If any readers are qualified and want to be part of our podsquad, hit us on the buzz!**

WHY A SHARED BLOG? You might imagine that when we are writing these posts together, we spend tortured hours worrying about word choices and perfect sentences. We don’t.  Instead, our conversations about how to language our ideas are probably some of the most joyful moments of our week. We made a commitment to write together most of the posts because writing together means that we are thinking together. Sharing a blog means that we collaborate, we co-create knowledge, we share experiences and emotions… in other words, we aim to do “transformative scholarship.” As Jigna Desai (one of our sheroes) writes:

What is still missing in our conversations about critical ethnic studies, feminist scholarship, and transformative humanistic projects? Let us talk about how we do our work. Why is it that we talk about decolonization of knowledge and yet perpetuate a cult of celebrity academics and/or fetishize the monograph? Why is it difficult to see collaborations across small and large structures of power as transformative? We must learn to recognize how the subject and the form contribute to decolonizing scholarship. Intentional dialogue, mentoring, and collaborations should not be understood in mathematical formulae that fracture essays into percentages, that divide attributions like pie. We must work to recognize scholars for their larger body of work as the sum greater than its parts. At the end of the day, such a calculus of acknowledgement should not replicate a celebrity or capitalist system that sees knowledge as stemming from the cult of the persona or diminished through collaboration. Instead it must work, to name not only transformative scholarship, but the new forms in which it appears.” (Facebook post, August 25, 2013)

WHY DOWN WITH BROWN? We struggled to come up with a name that was as revolutionary as we feel. We knew that we wanted to center the bodies and experiences of women of color while taking into account the limits of our own bodies and experiences. In her earlier, younger blog, Adriana uses the metaphor of coffee to gesture at experiences of Latinx brownness in the U.S. (Important interjection from Anita: BUT, BUT you love our blog, right??) Of course, the expression “down with” is used to signify alliance and solidarity, as in “down with that.”

(Important interjection from Adriana: OMG, OMG we just found out that we are not down with the phrase “down with the brown,” as defined by urban dictionary!! P.S. On a more serious note, maybe we’ll write a future blog post about what it means to love and live across racial identities.)

Now that you’ve learned about the blog’s origin story, we hope that it helps you understand a bit better where we’re coming from and why we write what and how we write.

** If you don’t know what “podsquad” or “hit us on the buzz” means, you clearly haven’t been listening to enough episodes of Another Round with Heben and Tracy. And you need to remedy that fast!

We speak of (our) glorious brownness

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“Soldaderas,” Yasmin Hernandez (2011)

(Note: Our blog posts are based on conversations that we have, conversations that we sometimes record. The format of this post is an attempt to demonstrate the dialogic nature of those conversations, and the spirit of collaboration and friendship that informs them. We would love for you to share with us the histories and experiences of your glorious brownness/blackness!)

AC: I was thinking, well, you know what I was thinking initially, that we write about whiteness all the time and we have to because that’s what we’re surrounded by. But we forget that there are these parts to ourselves that are not about Whiteness.

AE [laughing]: It cracks me up because it reminds me of this piece about what if authors wrote about white people the same way they write about brown people. Because when you read fiction, if there’s a brown person in the book, there’s always some discussion of their caramel colored skin or their chocolate tone [laughter].

AC: What do you think I am? [sticks out arm]

AE: I don’t know! I don’t think in food metaphors…You are like toasted almond.

AC: Oooh. That’s kind of yummy.

AE: I on the other hand…

AC: I feel like you’re like one of those vanilla flavors but with flecks.

AE: I feel I’m like French Silk Pie.

AC: Because we just got some ice cream and you got French Silk Pie.

[laughter]

This post is about exploring our brownness–what it means to us now, how we’ve come to understand it, and the people and contexts that have shaped our brownness. The exchange above captures some of what we associate with our brownness–joy, community, sisterhood, laughter, silliness, politics.

Skin color is a part of our brownness. Both within our families and in our Latinx and (South) Indian communities, there’s a range of skin colors and there are politics about which skin colors are desired and valued. Anita’s mom has told her the story many times about how the first thing an aunt said when she saw the newborn Anita was that her skin was so dark. There are many messages about lighter skin being better (skin lightening cream ads, for example. The one linked is an especially fascinating pseudo-feminist one where lightening her skin gives the daughter the courage and strength to tell her dad that she wants to wait to get married till she has a job and can be on equal terms with her husband!). Adriana grew up in a family that called her “güerita” and other cousins “morenita”–both endearments, but with different societal values attached.

Of course, though, our brownness is more than skin color.

AC: I did mean brownness in a larger sense, not just skin color [laughter]. We can always talk, though, about the gloriousness of caramel skin, and toasted almond complexion.

AE: We could talk about the glorious brownness of certain spaces; I’ve been thinking a lot about white space. When I was New York City recently, it meant being in spaces where, yeah, there’s a lot of whiteness, but there are other variations too. It feels so different to move through that city.

AC: It’s the relaxing part…when I think of brown spaces, I always think of community. I grew up in India so there’s that more obvious kind of brown community but even since moving to the U.S., that’s been important. For example, having the critical mass of black and brown folks at Swarthmore [Anita’s undergraduate alma mater] was really important. Not every brown person I’ve met is super supportive but all my supportive spaces are full of black and brown people.

AE: You’ve built them deliberately, especially in a place like Minnesota, to be full of black and brown people.

AC: I just feel like there’s a sense of not having to worry about what I say in those spaces that I feel like has never been true for me at Carleton or other white spaces.

AE: In white spaces, there’s a series of second-guessing that I do. I might still be brave at some point like with these blog posts. But then, for example, I wonder if I say this, (a) are you going to listen (b) are you going to think I’m crazy, or (c) are you going to menospreciar what I’m saying? Are you going to actually care about what I’m saying?

AC: We don’t have to be brave in brown spaces. It’s exhausting being brave and there we can just be. And still be challenged in different kinds of ways. It’s not that we always agree on everything. But I never feel minimized. I always feel heard.

These brown spaces aren’t always physical ones or permanent ones. These spaces can sometimes be created online, temporarily, as in a Facebook post that Adriana wrote once about her annoyance about how a NPR story about Cuba centered Hemingway, a White American author. Her Latinx and other friends of color chimed in with funny, sarcastic pointed comments about the whiteness of NPR. A White friend wrote to Adriana saying that the tone of these comments made them uncomfortable.

AE: And we all had this understanding of why and what was useful about that move. I think the one thing that was so alienating for him was exactly that. It was not a white space.

AC: And that it’s brown snark.

AE: It’s the fear that brown spaces are anti-White. Which…

AC: Sometimes it is

AE: Sometimes it has to be.

AC: Maybe it’s more anti-Whiteness, not so much anti-White people.

This led us to a discussion of our White friends who are politically liberal and demonstrate that stance through articles they post on social media, for example. However, there is still the question of whether these intellectual discussions and stances make them cognizant of the raced influences on their daily lives and interactions.

AC: With some White friends, maybe it’s that I’m not the one who’s always bringing it up.

AE: You know, that is super big. It would be such a lovely thing if more White people in our lives said, “Bring me into your brownness.” And weren’t scared. What is that white people are scared of? White people have been trained to be scared of talking about race because often just talking about race feels to them like it’s racist. And of course for us, if you’re not talking about race…

AC: That’s racist.

AE: That’s racist, because we are living raced lives.

AC: Maybe that’s one of the things about being brown. We’re not so afraid to have these uncomfortable conversations.

AE: If we were afraid, we’d be passing. Like I would be White. And I’d be a f*&*ing different person.

AC: And I feel like the same would go for me. I couldn’t pass in the same way. But there’s lots of ways in which as a person of color, you can assimilate and accommodate….but also, I don’t know if my closest White friends say, “Bring me into your brownness.” [laughter]

AE: We will bring you into our brownness!

AC: Because we are magnificent and..what’s that word for being…magnanimous!

AE: We are magnificent and magnanimous in our brownness [laughter]! One of the things I love about my brownness is having a rich sense of what it means to be anchored in a particular history (related to the U.S.) and about valuing that past of my people and the strength that it takes my community to be here in the way that it is.

AC: I feel like I don’t have that same relationship to the U.S. but for me, reading Black feminist authors like bell hooks and Audre Lorde has been a big part of my intellectual history.

AE: That raises the question for me about when is the moment that you came into your brownness; can you remember what that felt or looked like?

AC: I think unconsciously, I don’t know if I would have named it as such at the time, but moving to the U.S., moving to Fort Collins, Colorado, where my cousins, my brother and I were the only brown people in the school. Or at least that’s what I remember. It was the first time I didn’t look like everyone else around me. I could feel it on my skin in this weird way but I couldn’t talk about it and it wasn’t until college really where I first self-identified as a person of color. I don’t think I had that language before then.

AE: Likewise. I definitely knew I was Mexican and American for the longest time and went back and forth. Had both of those homes. It wasn’t until college and late in college that taking Chicano literature with María Herrera-Sobek changed my life. Senior year, I read Lorna Dee Cervantes and she talks about being Chicana as this movement in between Mexico and the U.S., where you’re not home in either. It named me so deeply. I was floored.Then there’s Cherrie Moraga, Sandra Cisneros, Denise Chavez. Not every text mirrored me exactly. That wouldn’t have even been useful. But every text contained fragments of mirrors that I could use to understand better how to map myself into brownness.

AC: For me, it was much more about my classmates. My class was about 40% students of color. I had classmates who already had the vocabulary

AE: And they saw you.

AC:  Yes.

AE: I was never really seen.

AC: I’ve never thought about that…

AE: I wrote a maudlin poem in college about how I’m so brown and blue. [laughter]

AC: We need to find it and publish it!

AE: It’s such a bad poem. Our embodiment is so different in the way we were seen and recognized as belonging by other members of our community.

AC: For me, there was definitely a sense of being a part of this students of color community in college. Not that there weren’t tensions because we were different kinds of students of color and we had to work through that. At least among the students who were politically active, we embraced that. It’s been interesting because I know that some of our students of color now don’t always like that language. I respect that, of course, but for me, it was so much a part of my own racialization and my own coming into consciousness. It makes a little sad sometimes. I’ve always had South Asian friends, for sure, but in undergrad and grad school, it’s always been a community of color. It’s never been just South Asian. So my own community feels like it’s full of people of color and multiracial. It’s been really important for me to think through my own privileges and what it means to be Indian American within that community.

I remember in grad school, there were two of us who were South Asian in my cohort. The head of the African American student group came up to us and invited us to be part of the group because at the time, there wasn’t really a student of color group. I felt very grateful that they took us in! We supported and were supported in ways that would have made my graduate school experience very different if I hadn’t had that.

AE: Yeah. Getting to grad school, it was fraught in a couple of ways. But I came into a community of Chicanas. We were all…marooned at Cornell. I felt like I didn’t know how to do it the right way and others did. It was still super important to have this community that was mainly Chicanas and South Asians as well, which is fascinating historically. There were not many Black students in the program.

AC: There is that whole history of Mexican-Punjabi families in California.

AE: It’s so true!

AC: Not that I’m Punjabi but I’ll claim it anyway. Close enough!

AE: Our connection was predestined is what we’re saying. [laughter]

AC: Our together brownness.

AE: It’s interesting that though we both came into our brownness in different ways, they’re both still mediated by texts. Moraga, hooks, and Lorde are amazingly important to me, too. I feel that the way I think about my brownness and why it was important for me to say Chicana, rather than Mexican-American, was to claim this political identity. My brownness is about this political attitude and inclination.

AC: YES! My brownness was never just about a social or cultural identity; it was always a political identity. I feel like especially as an Asian American, that’s very important to claim because a progressive political Asian American identity isn’t always visible to us as Asian Americans or to the larger society. Ways of being brown and yellow in a political way are often made invisible by how Asian Americans are portrayed in mainstream media and academia. That history is there but it’s so minimized.

AE: I think Latino brown and African American black bodies are seen as political a priori. They’re trouble for the nation. You’re right that with Asian bodies, this whole model minority myth becomes a way of seeing those bodies as apolitical and as accommodating to Whiteness.

AC: At the same time, there’s a whole history of Asian Americans being seen as perpetual foreigners. The Chinese Exclusion Act. A whole history of being excluded from the nation at the same time, once we were included, we were used as a wedge. I loved the “we are not your wedge” movement, a critique of how Asian Americans are often invoked in debates about affirmative action. I love that the younger generation is thinking about our positionality critically and taking that on. I did come to my Asian American political identity but for me, that came after I thought of myself more nebulous as being “of color.”

AE: And I think it was the opposite for me.

AC: Luckily, having 40% students of color meant that there was a good number of Asian American students who were political and it was awesome to grow up with them. Grow up politically.

AE: Talking about brownness in this way, in the sense of our glorious brownness, what does it mean to have brown people but not brown in our kind of way?

AC: Politically? For me, brownness isn’t just cultural, but it is also cultural. To me, there isn’t necessarily a dichotomy but I do understand how sometimes the kinds of cultural practices we engage in as a community reifies certain ideas about tradition and community that can hold back contemporary and more critical forms of cultural practices. When I’m with a group of queer, South Asian folks, sometimes it’s political, sometimes we’re just making fun of our reactions to Indian sweets. I appreciate that kind of brown space too.

AE: There’s something deeply political about these moments of self-care in a world that does not care of  you. But I wasn’t thinking of moments like that. I was thinking of the difficulties of living in a larger community where I expect alliances simply because we inhabit a similar kind of brownness. Then you realize that it’s not a given that my brownness is going to align with their brownness and that our interests can be divided.

AC: And I think this is also where critical mass matters. I learned that lesson at Swarthmore.

AE: You learned a lot at Swarthmore.

AC: Not because of the institution. Because of my classmates. Even if half the Asian American community wasn’t involved, didn’t want anything to do with us, it was okay…

AC: So…are we done talking about brownness?

AE: Yeah, I think we’re done. For now!

Unstickiness and Emotions in the Classroom

 

Classical and Quantum Optics, Fall 2014
Photo Credit

(We will occasionally feature posts written by just one of us or by a guest. This post is by Adriana.)

In 2003, I, a white-appearing Latina/Mexicana/Chicana, arrived at Carleton after leaving the University of New Mexico, a HSI (Hispanic-Serving Institution). If I were to say that sentence at the Latinx Studies conference in July, I would not need to follow it up with anything. There would be nods of understanding and sighs. But following it up is important, because while my story is like many others’, it’s also mine, and full of rich detail that could easily be forgotten but that shouldn’t be. (Sometimes I think my poor memory is a survival mechanism, but that’s another story.)

I was and continue to be very glad to have landed at Carleton. I have grown a great deal as a teacher and a scholar, and I am blessed with wonderful colleagues across all disciplines. But even though the institution was generally welcoming, it was and still continues to be an HWCU, historically white college/university (or PWI- predominantly white institution). In those early years, I couldn’t have put my finger on what that meant for me, exactly. There were moments of minor “oh hey there” moments that mostly had to do with being reminded that I was not in New Mexico anymore. And then there was the day–about four years in–that, having become accustomed to teaching Latinx studies to mostly white students, I entered a classroom and found it to be 40% students of color… and my whole body relaxed.

Fast forward to last year (my thirteenth year of teaching here). After many years spent being jealous of my American Studies colleagues at Macalester, who do an amazing job of bringing students of color into their program year after year, I entered the American Studies Methods and Theory classroom and, out of eight students, seven were of color. And my whole body relaxed. What does this relaxation mean?

When I first read Sara Ahmed’s On Being Included several years ago, it rocked my world. Describing the common experiences of faculty of color at PWIs in England and Australia, Ahmed uses the concept of stickiness to describe the way it feels, for example, to walk into a meeting and be one of the few people of color: “When you stick out, the gaze sticks to you. Sticking out from whiteness can thus reconfirm the whiteness of the space.” Ahmed’s language and descriptions helped to name my experience, giving me language for what I had inhabited. Let me note that this stickiness is not simply a Carleton experience for me, but a Minnesota one. Whenever I make my way home to the Bay Area (California) or to somewhere like New York City, Philadelphia, or Chicago, I feel myself rocked into health by the voices around me speaking so many different languages and the bodies around me that are all so very different. In contrast, in one Carleton meeting room, paintings of past presidents all look so much alike that, as we sit there discussing campus issues, I can’t help but feel unalike and sticky in the face of this “reproduction of likeness” that Ahmed argues tends to be assumed as an “institutional given” (38). Teaching in classroom after classroom of white faces, I try to use this stickiness of my racialized body to ground conversations about our raced identities and our raced practices. I don’t know how to say this gently: being brown in this way is exhausting.

Given this usual feeling of stickiness and exhaustion, walking into a room filled with students of color felt freeing. My racial identity was no longer something hypervisible or invisible, it simply was. When talking about discourses and histories of race, class, gender, and sexuality–key topics in American Studies–I didn’t have to explain, justify, or manage my racialized relationship to my field of study. Unpacking the relationship between whiteness and citizenship could be done without steeling myself for defensiveness.

And, after years of moving towards a pedagogy that attempts to guide students in learning that is affective, I finally felt comfortable enough to take some risks. I remember seeing 12 Years a Slave in the theater with a white friend. Afterwards, we tried to have a conversation where I asked him (spoiler alert) what he thought of the scene where we, the viewers, are not allowed to not see Solomon Northup, left hanging from a tree, in media res of the lynching. The camera cannot not look. The looking lasts. We wait an impossibly long time for the master to return and cut him down. How did it make you feel, I asked him. My friend got upset, in essence asking me how I could even talk about the film at an abstracted level. But, the thing was, I asked him how it made him feel. But this was all too much.

12 Years a Slave in the classroom is also all too much. But with my group of students of color, after we watched it, how we felt became a route into cognition instead of feelings getting cordoned off at the door. What I mean is that, historically, the U.S. classroom privileges rationality over emotion and, as we bring students into our courses, we implicitly and sometimes explicitly ask them to learn how to “gain distance” in order to learn. But this move –one I’d taken for granted for years– means that students who feel particularly affected by a topic like the physical and epistemic violence against people of color in the U.S. must do much more work to manage their emotions while other students skate easily into “rationality.” Or as Dian Million puts it, speaking of indigenous feminist scholarship, “academia repetitively produces gatekeepers to our entry into important social discourses because we feel our histories as well as think them” (her emphasis). Million makes the vital case that, to decolonize our knowledge production, we cannot divorce understanding from feeling.

To think about these emotional reactions as part of our learning meant that we recognized that there is, as Lauren Berlant puts it, a “pedagogy of emotions” that has been unequally engaged and reproduced depending on our social identities. She says, “by the time you’ve been in primary school for awhile, or whatever, you have feelings about citizenship, you have feelings about race, you have feelings about gender and sexuality. You’ve been trained to take on those objects as world-sustaining perspectives.” In working through 12 Years a Slave, thinking and feeling about Northup and his absolute powerlessness opened the door for us to consider the empirical and emotional weight of current judicial and law enforcement systems. It allowed us to make historical connections without collapsing the differences in structure, raced lives, and workings of power in these eras.  And while eight out of nine bodies in that classroom were not white, we were not all the same “not white.” This made for various moments of cross-racial recognition but also times of productive dissonance, where someone or another’s voice would emerge to remind us of multiple silences. We held each other accountable to all of our frames of knowing and feeling.

Watching 12 Years a Slave, we claimed our entry into knowledge and history, through feeling. But it also mattered that, in these moments of strong feeling, we could all feel deeply without the worries that have accompanied me in other moments of racially-charged emotional revelation: will I be seen as irrational? can you handle seeing all of me?

Note: Some of the ideas in this post are being developed into a longer essay for the forthcoming collection Difficult Subjects: Radical Teaching in the Neoliberal University, edited by Badia Ahad and OiYan Poon.

Sources/Inspirations:

My students, who are also my teachers.

Ahmed, Sara. (2012) On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Durham, NC: Duke UP.

Berlant, Lauren. (2013)  https://societyandspace.com/material/interviews/interview-with-lauren-berlant/. March 22.

Million, Dian. (2009) “Felt Theory: An Indigenous Feminist Approach to Affect and History.” Wicazo Sa Review 24.2: 53-76.

Yancy, George and Maria del Guadalupe Davidson, ed. (2014) Exploring Race in Predominantly White Classrooms: Scholars of Color Reflect. New York: Routledge.

And always and forever, Audre Lorde and Gloria Anzaldúa, who opened doors for me into what it means to feel my way into knowing.