black feminisms in rhet-comp: position statement

What type of writing, reading, composition, or literacy practices do racialized individuals need to navigate social structures? Inversely, how have social structures written, read, and composed racialized individuals, particularly women/femmes/butch of color? To me, Black feminisms in composition engage with these questions in committed, ethical, and intellectual ways. I'm pretty loose with the "composing" process--visuals, audio, video, markings on wall. However, I am about acknowledging and engaging the human vis-à-vis (white) Man in every iteration of composing and compositions. Aimee Meredith Cox’s Shapeshifters exemplifies this particular stance:

​I ask that instead of approaching their stories as narrative puzzles to be solved by superficially affixing them to the theoretical perspectives developed through Black feminism, queer theory, youth cultural, and girlhood studies, for example, we explore their potential to inform and transform theory and thereby, its ripple effect on policy and material realities.

While I hope that scholars of color do not “superficially” affix lived realities to theoretical perspectives, I appreciate the imperative to see black girls' experiences for what they are rather than imposing constructs, beliefs, values, and practices on them. Prolonged interaction with individuals creates a new lens to view scholarship, so this reason may have incited Cox's statement--or the historically colonial gaze of ethnography. In any instance, I agree with Cox in her request to place academic theories secondary to lived experience. Simultaneously, I place lived experience (as theory) at the forefront. In this regard, I'm all right with intuition, gut-feeling, or straight up unexplainable rejection to historically academic forms of knowing/being/existing.

​Wynter and Weheliye writings really speak to me as well. Particularly, I take to their efforts in challenging current notions of the Human and by extension Humanity. In her reading of The Temptest, Wynter identifies an “ontological absence” through Caliban’s non-existent partner. This ontological absence has pretty serious consequences because, as Wynter demonstrates, “socio-systemic hierarchies” emerge. Weheliye contributes to this discussion in his efforts to “disentangle Man from the human." In other words, the Humanities, as they exist now, historically and currently exclude people and “spaces deemed void of full human life." What this means is that the Humanities must include Black ontologies and epistemologies to actualize the very idea, ideal, and practice of Humanity. Through these different efforts, Black feminisms in composition inscribe themselves—through writing or through their body—into Humanity.

At an instructional level, Black feminisms in composition seem to interrogate pedagogy because of the adultification of girls. It’s a problem because this adultification criminalizes black girls, which sets them up for more reprimands, harsher punishments, and ultimately, higher incarceration rates. Consequently, this adultification leads me to a belief that black girl andragogies may apply more faithfully to an instructional situation in K-12 settings than a pedagogy. A pedagogy implies a child learning in a safe setting, but andragogy carries particular connotations. From an andragogical position, the “traditional” student is displaced for a non-traditional one. And realistically, black girls, or any ethnic/racial minority, don't typically constitute a traditional student. Therefore, I advance the concept of andragogy to situation black girls learning in school because of the adultification currently in process. Nevertheless, pedagogy should be the goal.

tcu protest for atatiana jefferson
protest at tcu for police killing of atatiana jefferson (photo by jlc)

illegible bodies

Their reflections on why their lives unfold in ways they do, as well as the decisions they make and the actions they do and do not take because of this, are the basis of my theoretical framework.
- Aimee Meredith Cox

Black bodies form the locus of Black Feminist Thought. Yet, black bodies--and even wider, bodies of color--still require more presence in post-secondary institutions. As of May 2019, Black females account for 2% of full-time professors. (Black males and Latino males each account for 2% of full-time professors. Latina females, American Indian/Alaskan native, and individuals of two (or more) races each comprise less than 1% of full-time professors.) Therefore, I consider black female bodies as currently illegible to most post-secondary institutions. In a literal sense, the demographics barely make a mark in the composition of the post-secondary landscape. In another sense, scholarship that considers and inscribes the experiences of black bodies still require more committed attention and dedicated resources. Legibility implies readability. Black bodies can read their situations, yet institutions often fail in their ways of reading black bodies, so I'll consider these institutions as illiterate in this regard. Aimee Meredith Cox's Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship and Mel Michelle Lewis's "A genuine article: Intersectionality, Black lesbian gender expression, and the feminist pedagogical project" contribute inscribing these experiences in ways institutions can read them. They do so carefully, methodically, and boldly.

Cox builds a theoretical framework that focuses the choreography--circumstances, decision-making, and maneuvering--of her participants. Many of the individuals in Shapeshifters ​navigate through a "struggly" situation, which "requires strength to get through but does not offer strategies to get out." In essence, a struggly situation overloads many methodological approaches. The impact of racial, economic, social, structural, gendered, and sexualized forces present circumstances that few theoretical frameworks can account for comprehensively. Consequently, Cox employs a theoretical framework that understands her participants' experiences in the materiality and decision-making itself. In Lewis's "A genuine article," Professor Deborah encounters a loaded situation: [T]his is my point, there's race....Then, there's gender, there's sexuality, and so I don't know, but I know it was a loaded moment." These intersecting identities (over)load moments and ensuing interactions. Making these nuanced moments legible requires encapsulating intangible characteristics, which may or may not transpire again. Therefore, Lewis's feminist qualitative inquiry methodology doesn't subject experiences to verifiability or replicability. Through this approach, Lewis makes legible the experiences of black bodies. In essence, these scholars center experiences, reflections, decision-making, and intuitions as "theoretical frameworks" to understand and make legible lived realities commonly misunderstood or excluded from institutions and scholarship.

monumented bodies in a white post-secondary setting

monumented bodies at tcu

josé luis cano jr.