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Towards Day 11 (Tues, 10/7): On How We Talk and Listen To One Another

Anne Dalke's picture

I. coursekeeping:
@ 4:30 today in Carpenter 21: a screening and talk about mass incarceration

on Thursday, we will meet on the first floor of Canaday, 1-3:30, for a writing workshop with
Niq Mhlongo and Chika Unigwe, "masters and transformers
of the role of literary storyteller for a rising generation.
Together they will lead participants into writing -- inspired by theirs --
that is at once expressive and critical, intimate and distanced."
Niq Mhlongo, Novelist, author of Dog Eat Dog
Chika Unigwe, Novelist, author of On Black Sisters Street

--all part of a week-long event, called Ir/reverence, in celebration of the work of Chinua Achebe.
There is also a panel  @ 4:30 on Thursday afternoon, called "Pedagogical Encounters,"
in which Mhlongo and Unigwe will be talking with Pim Higginson (French) and Linda-Susan Beard (English)
"about how the history of African literary production and reception
mediates identities and interpretations inside and outside of classrooms."
All very good warm-up for your fall break reading, 
Chimamanda Adichie's novel, Americanah.
Try to read the whole novel over break. It's 496 pp.

I finished reading your “intersectional” web events this weekend;
you’ll now find my long letters back to you on-line.
The nice thing about Serendip is that we can keep on talking;
this is not a one-way, or a one-time deal:
I invite you to write me back on-line,
to respond to my questions with others of your own
(or w/ further “mantrafestos”!)
Rhett did so already, answering my questions,
though not asking further ones (so I won't respond...)

I also encourage you to respond to
(or @ least to read) one another’s papers;
many of them intersect w/ one another:
Abby wrote about the dilemma of the slave mother (in Toni Morrison’s Beloved),
and Gabby about the feminism of Nikki Minaj;

Bridget wrote about the inaccessibility of the BMC health center,
and Natalie about the college’s obesity campaign,

Niki wrote about the intersections of disability, class, and abuse,
Sula about the analogy between disabled and trans* bodies,
Rhett about the intersections of transgenderismxrace;

Rebecca wrote about sustaining an intersectional perspective abroad;
and Kate about not having the answers in an intersectional world;

Amelia wrote about the exclusions of poor women @ women’s colleges
and in midwifery practices; and Sophia wrote about the non-transferability
of progressive politics (being oppressed in one realm, oppressing in another…);

I’ve just tried to pair these—inviting you @ least to read those related to your own—
but I’ve done none of them justice in these brief descriptions,
so go read them for yourselves, and go on talking…

II. I thought we should start talking today with Sophia’s posting
about how we are talking together here: I heard you pose the
passion of last week's discussion against space,
energy against openness, interruption against silence--
and I think you’ve put (back) on the table some significant questions
about competing desires, as well as different
individual and cultural norms of respect and engagement.
So let's talk about this...did folks read this posting?

we spent the rest of the class on this...

III. last Thursday, we used Minnie Bruce Pratt's memoir to discuss
"how to get people to change"--through education?
through centering on themselves?
through classes, linked to each other?
through knowledge-based courses on the history of Bryn Mawr...?

I was particularly struck by Amelia's questioning whether everything needs to "loop through us/
through our own experience," and remembered attending Anne Balay's talk @ SDS last June,
"Sexual behavior with Non-Human Partners in Popular Fantasy:
Disability Studies, Queer Studies, and Genre" (!)
when she said that the word “resonate” bothered her—
"powerful because many people need to be able to see ourselves in other texts...
but this is just free association..."

anyhow.... I asked you to use the power of association to "take a stand,"
to write “mantrafestos” about inclusive community @ Bryn Mawr:
how to build it? how is it bounded? who is included/excluded?
how to bring together folks who see the world differently?
This form invites another way of speaking--
not exchange, but stepping out, making a claim,
rather than (the more usual) endless deferral of questions.
Let's listen to these…

Changing forces us to confront challenges.
Challenges invite us to create a platform for space.
Space gives opportunity for productive and active discussion.
Discussion leads to the opportunity of learning.
Learning is the transition from an old school of thought to new ideas. 
New ideas lead to new understanding.
Understanding makes us recognize and accept our uncertainty.
Recognizing and accepting our uncertainty gives us motivation for changing.

Kate and Amelia:
We have a problem with identity politics on campus
Campus Life as it is currently structured means that not everyone is safe
Safety is essential for personal growth & academic success
Success can not be attained by only an individual
Individual experience can not be used for change
     unless we reprioritize how we function as a community
Community is a farce if some of us are unsafe or unvalued
Undervalued and unheard experiences perpetuate ignorance
Ignorance can be stamped out through
     contact zone experiences and comprehensive education
Education is our only hope to stop the repeating cycles of oppression
Oppression can be unpacked and eliminated at Bryn Mawr
     if we make it a priority to educate first-years
First-years come to Bryn Mawr with many powerful and diverse experiences,
     but we have the opportunity to shape their expanding minds and priorities at Bryn Mawr.
Bryn Mawr can be a place of safety and hope if we work together to change our mission to true inclusivity

Rhett, Strength of a Community?
This was spurred on by an idea I had…I have many times head the phrase “strong Bryn Mawr woman”,
implying independence and ability (being weak and vulnerable is also associated with disabled folks,
whether or not by choice) . Does this not inherently go against the idea of a Bryn Mawr Community/Bubble?

Strength is not the opposite of vulnerability. Neither are inherently good, neither are inherently bad.
Vulnerability, when revealed via consent or need, allows for the creation of a Safe Space.
Safe spaces foster and require community.


is based on likeness.
Chosen community is based on common socio-political opinions.
Socio-political alikeness creates a perceived good.
What is good (such rules, whether social or documented) is determined by the community.


means the sharing of responsibility.
Shared responsibility means to have only necessary hierarchies.
Having few hierarchies necessitates varied roles, specialties, and
histories of community members – in summary, difference
in order to be a functioning community.


means interdependence of its members.
Interdependence allows for solidarity.
Solidarity is an agent of social justice.
Social justice fosters and requires access.
Access means to acknowledge that people are vulnerable.

Giving space for vulnerability is strength.

Natalie and Nkechi:
Safe Space is a façade
façade lacks deeper understanding
understanding is education
education is not punishment
punishment identifies accountability
accountability dismisses ignorance
ignorance is not evil
evil is insensitivity
insensitivity is weakness
weakness is not sensitivity
sensitivity brings community
community can only then become a Safe Space

Sula and Rebecca: White People.
"We have to work on our own racism"
Racism does not belong to me
I am doing good in saying this

"After all, white people are responsible"
Responbility is not easily or evenly divided
Division demonstrates what's "yours" and what's "mine"
What's "mine" and what's "yours" defines racism


"So we shouldn’t expect women of color to help us"

We must help ourselves to understand what doesn’t affect us

This must affect our limited perception of a post-racism world of colorblindness

"Or to show us where we are wrong"

We are wrong in having this expectation

Expectation is an active process, while what we do is inherently passive

"Or tell us what to do"

Doing is what makes all the difference

Difference does not happen overnight, nor is it the product of one person

Abby and Sophia: We wrote this by pulling on direct quotations from Pratt and Clare.
We wanted to examine the ways Bryn Mawr has both shifted and remained the same
regarding its community and exclusivity. The lines in which words are bracketed
may be read both with and without the bracketed word. This is predominantly a found poem. 

Past: we were women
women who were in a position of material advantage
advantage at the expense of others
other women --
women who did not have a degree
a degree of safety, comfort, community.

Community at odds with skin, blood, heart: identity
dentities complex
complexified now, as always, by gender
gender reaching into disability;
disability wrapping around class;
lass straining against abuse;
buse snarling into sexuality;
sexuality folding on top of race.

Racing to prove
prove we embody diversity
diversity is not [always] acceptance
cceptance is not [always] present.

Present: we are [no longer] passing
passing by hiding parts of ourselves
selves who are searching
searching for a place of mutuality, companionship, curiosity,
curiosity in what new things might be making in the world.

Gabby and Niki ?
What emerged as you created these mantrafestos?
What did you learn?

IV. for today, I asked you to read a related range of texts, which
may have seemed somewhat random, but there was/is a logic--
a range of methodologies/tools for your tool boxes, to think about
the intersection of gender and race (@ Bryn Mawr and in the world).

The first of these was Critical Race Theory:

*have you heard of/what do you know it?
["critical feminist studies" is my spin-off...]
a field of study, initiated by a group of legal scholars in the mid-80s,
that focused on institutional, rather than individual racism,
on what they called "structural determinism," or the structural perpetuation of racism,
rather than focusing on what they dismissed as the "empathetic fallacy"
(empathy not enough to change racism, sincewe don't seek out/get to know others);
they questioned the focus on intentional (rather than unconscious) discrimination,
and questioned the pursuit of colorblindness.
Critical race theory is a radical orientation: it critiques liberalism as too cautious,
uses an intersectional lens, and employs a lot of
storytelling/counterstorytelling/naming one's own reality, asking always,
"What would the legal landscape look like today if people of color were the decision-makers?"
Critical race theorists are lawyers who are engaged in a radical critique of the law--
and believe nonetheless in radical emancipation by the law:
they assume that the law has preserved white supremacy and racial power over time;
and they seek to use the law for racial emancipation and anti-subordination,
by critically examining the intersection of race, law and power.
They both work with and critique civil rights law (for ex: they say that
Brown vs. Bd of Education coincided with the self-interest of white elites,
was used to improve the image of the US to Third World allies during the Cold War).
There are lots of scholars working in this field--Richard Delgado, Derrick Bell,
Kimberle Crenshaw, and Patricia Williams, who wrote The Alchemy of Race and Rights,
and this wonderful little book called Seeing a Color-Blind Future,
where you can see the storytelling methodology @ play in "The Emperor's New Clothes."

The second text is a chapter on "race critical thought," from Riki Wilchins' 2004 book,
Queer Theory/Gender Theory: An Instant Primer, which I often use in intro gender studies courses.
Wilchins gives a summary of critical race theory, but her own orientation is deconstructive;
her argument is that postmodernism provides the set of tools that enables her to navigate the world:
because it is full of common sense and practical suggestions about the "impossibility of identity."
What do you know about postmodernism? 
A reaction to the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality;
a recognition that reality is not simply mirrored in human understanding of it, but rather,
is constructed as the mind tries to understand its own particular and personal reality.
Postmodernism is highly skeptical of explanations which claim to be valid for all,
instead focuses on truths that are contingent and relative to context.
Postmodernism is "post" because it is denies the existence of any ultimate principles,
and it lacks the optimism of a scientific, philosophical, or religious truth which will
explain everything for everybody.
And what about deconstruction?
Deconstructive analyses look for what is deemphasized, overlooked, or suppressed
in a particular way of thinking or in a particular set of legal doctrines. Sometimes deconstructionists
explore how suppressed or marginalized principles return in new guises. It's a method for
literary analysis that looks for loose threads, which might @ first appear peripheral,
yet often turn out to undermine or confuse the argument. In law, the deconstructor
might look for exceptional or marginal counterprinciples that have an unacknowledged
significance, and which, if taken seriously, might displace the dominant principle.
Behind these techniques is a more general probing and questioning of familiar oppositions between
the literal and the figural, in which the form or the metaphors in a text might be seen to powerfully
undermine its reasoning. Deconstruction doesn't look for coherence; it looks for what doesn't fit.

Finally, I gave you two blog postings from The New Inquiry
(wanting, in part, to model what it means to write for the web):
Keguro Macharia. On Quitting and Sabrina Alli, Carceral Educations.
Macharia describes the complex process of "deracination," and Alli the suspect
process of re-entry (which I selected because of the talk later today about
mass incarceration).

So--take a minute to look through this material, to gather your thoughts--
and then let's go around and say how each of us takes up some piece of it:
what did you find useful here?
Reading Notes
Patricia Williams, The Emperor's New Clothes (1998):
4: position pulled between the clarity of their experiencea ndhte often alienating termsin which they must seek social acceptance
5: the collective aversion to confronting the social tensions he faced resulte din their being pathologized as his individual physical limitation
the failure to deal straightforwardly with the pervasive practices of exclusion...allow..the false luxury of a prematurely imagined community
tension between material conditions and what one is culture to see or not see
Our must be a world in which we know each other better.
6: a dilemma--being a world of normative whiteness
Creating community...involves...pondering our differences before we can ever agree on the terms of our sameness.
7: Three was the age when I learned that i was black...
the majoritarian privilege of never noticing themselves was the
beginning of an imbalance from which so much, so much else flowed.
8: Race thus tends to be treated as though it were an especially delicate category
of social infirmity--so-called--like extreme obesity or disfigurement.
we are coached..not to see a thing..."Stop asking such silly questions."
10: convey an urgency of limited resources.
12: The "O.J. divide"...a convenient metaphor for everything else we disagree about.
13: it is less consider too explictly the kinds of costs that slavery and colonialism exacted
14: the conceptual prehistory...expalinst he toll of racism and its lingering effects
the diasporic omplexity of today's social problems...
the hybridizing of racial stereotypes with the fundamentalisms of gender, class, ethnicity, religion.
unparalleled migrations...
global economics...threatend to displace...the nation-state itself.
16: we dream our worlds into being...nonexclusive entitlement that grants...
investment...that envisions each of us in each other.

Riki Wilchins, "Race Critical Thought and Postmodernism's 'Second Wave'" (2004).
107: "the target is to refuse what we are"--Foucault
critique of the universal voice, to highlight silences, erasures
108: (while the voice of critique itself sounds suspiciously universal...)
109: If the first truth of the body is its sex, the second is surely its race. And perhaps even vice versa:
race is the first thing we know for sure about bodies, and probably the very first thing we can see.
Yet gender and sexuality are understood as much more unstable and contestable than race.
And deconstructing gender is accepted in a way that deconstructing race is not.
110: racial distinctions have no firm basis in science
every human being is descended from the same (black)forbears in Africa
112: the primary marker of being white becomes the absenc eof race...
experienced through a freedom from having to recognize one's self as raced
race is culturally specific times, in specific ways, in response to very specific needs
114: racial ideals are selcomd gender-neutral
115: "we are all borrowers and thus not pure...All identificaitons are inevitably failed identifications."
any racial intimately bound up with ideas of class, masculinity and femninity, straightness and gayness.
116: one must learn to be one's pass as one's race...anchored in the process of imitation and performance
Is all identity a kind of passing?
117: It's easy to see discrimination...But it's harder to see privilege...because
privilege is basically defined by...the absence of discernable discrimination.
118: a race-sensitive but color-blind meritocracy...has begun to feel frayed...
racism remains indelible: 119: racist behavior important cultural norm
120: the law assumes equal actors of equal privilege: but minority actors are almost never
CRT theorists try to "race the law," to make explicit the norms and narratives behind it, and promote alternative perspectives
they want to shift "the controlling image," to deconstruct the transparency of the law
121: they seek to establish as political the very terms of emergence of racial identities
Racial oppressio the how and why people emerge as raced.

Keguro Macharia. On Quitting. The New Inquiry. May 3, 2013:
deracination to describe the complex process through which intimate contact,
with foreign locations and bodies, ostensibly compromised political loyalties
Roots are unreliable. Once we go back far enough, identity rarely consolidates. As simple an act as stepping out
of a privileged circle may compromise belonging. . . . to become political entails deracination.
I worry about any life that can so readily be “imagined.”
Where is the space for fantasy, for play, for the unexpected, for the surprising?
a fetish on productivity that is self-serving
But the real story…is about slavery’s long shadow and racism’s insistent pressing.
If [the black child]… goes to Europe he will have to rethink his life, for…he is made to feel inferior.

Alli, "Carceral Educations":
we became what Foucault called “technicians of behavior: engineers of conduct,
orthopedists of individuality. [Our] task was to produce bodies that were both docile and capable.”
Even restorative-­justice models of discipline, adopted in some public schools as a more
humane alternative to school suspensions and student arrests, signal a system fixated on
behavior and control versus learning and exploration.
Re-entry is simply the continuation of this system of education that fails students who are condemned to an underclass.
These students…are forced to take personal responsibility precisely for
their conformity to an American working-class ethic that is based on their exclusion.
Re-entry exists with the abundant funding it has today because of the racist carceral state.
Though it does ensure placement for one sort of job­seeker: well-intentioned (white) college graduates looking for work.