Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Towards Day 13 (T, 10/21): Education, Class, Race...and T.V.

Anne Dalke's picture

I. upcoming assignments/commitments:
too much to read all of Americanah over break…
expecting to cover about 125 pp/ each class, for two week period…
today we'll just look @ the first 1/4 (which takes us up through Ifemelu's "summer of waiting");
for Thursday, keep on reading (through Ch 23, p. 237)

reminder: tomorrow
Kristin's class will meet 
in Chase Auditorium @ HC to hear Anne Balay, "Steel Closets:
Voices of Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Steelworkers"

second reminder: this Friday @ 7 in Thomas Great Hall
Monsoon Bissell and Benaifer Bhadha's performance, "Two Woman Talking.”

this Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. in Dalton 1 and 2:

workshop with them on the "narrativ" method.
We've have several planning meetings, and talked again y'day:
their goal is to give us a lot of different tools to hold a conversation
--to help us learn how to share: to listen to one another and tell each other stories.
They ask that we start thinking about stories around our identities:
not just our cultural identity--say, that I am Latina--but our personal stories:
what does that look like? not intellectual or theoretical, but experiential.
They say that using this methodology allows people to" park their stereotyped judgments" @ the door,
to encounter others in their personhood, rather than as some representative of a category.
We had a lot of experience of this @ Camphill, and I'm hoping that this workshop will build on that,
that we can each experience both power and wholeness, in coming into/excavating our personal stories,
and in learning to catch those others have to share. I'm hoping that this will help us not only to
intervene in campus politics, but also help us along in this classroom conversation..

II. SO MUCH to catch/pick up onand some will just not happen
just to note/ask if there’s something pressing here for any of you:
* your mantrafestos
Ruth Gilmore's talk about Slavery by Another Name
* the writing workshop with Niq and Chika
(Barthelme's story, "The School," to me worth the price of the ticket...)
* panel afterwards on "pedagogical encounters"
which devolved into a debate about the "anthropological/historical" background
needed (or not....) to understand African fiction [get back to this w/ Americanah]
* the information/orientation of critical race studies,
postmodernism, deconstruction, deracination
[which I'll draw on in our conversations about Americanah]

III. where I would like to pause/talk further:
* forever ago, Tuesday before break, 
we had a conversation
about how we talk with one another, and some of us continued that on-line;
I also got some feedback from Hayley that one-or-some of you
thought I should have intervened to keep people from
getting cut off/ and/or directed the discussion more.

I know we disagree on this, and also prefer different pacings;
so my proposal is that we try to share this labor
(I saw Amelia doing that Monday night @ CampHill,
asking for some other voices in the conversation);
Sula also spoke about being more aware of what’s going on,
not so caught up in what we want to say that we don’t
look around, pay attention to others’ body language,
making sure—especially if we’ve already spoken—
that others aren't wanting to speak before we speak again;
try a breath inbetween—>
Rhett’s idea of “moving it forward”:
push yourself to speak if you haven’t;
push yourself to be still if you have talked.
As I said, I'm hoping the workshop on "listening" will help us all here also.

Certainly one of the things CampHill got us all thinking (more) about
was what one experienced co-worker called the tension between
"community-centered" and "people-centered" philosophy,
the pull between what works for the group and what individuals need.
I'm going to ask us to keep thinking about what the group needs--
as well as what each of us needs for ourselves.

I also picked up from Hayley's mid-semester report
the suggestion that we bifurcate (feelings in person; ideas on-line,
because tonality’s harder to read there--and so misunderstandings more likely);
that’s actually not a distinction that actually makes any sense to me,
since my thinking and feeling are so imbricated in one another--
and I think yours are too!

I like Serendip a lot as a spillover space,
because the web doesn't have the time limits that we have in class
(it’s one of my attempts to incorporate queer time in the academic schedule),
but I’m happy to agree that each of us uses the site as it seems most useful:
for your weekly required postings, of course, but also--
if you want to get something out there,
during that long time between Thurs and Tues, do it!;
if you’d prefer to hold it til class time, also great.
Hayley met w/ Kristin, Sara and me @ CampHill to go over the
midsemester feedback she got in conversation w/ you all.
I want to talk through one piece of this--
my public comments on your papers--
with a focus on the gap between intention and uptake
(I already talked to you about this, re:
the flag and my having taught one of the flag-wavers
about representation and interpretation,
about the gap between what is represented and how it is interpreted--
and seeing a gap between what I thought I taught/what she learned).

I aso talked about this last April, again in Sept,
but get it that you didn’t get it ‘til it happened.
I have been putting comments on-line for 10 years now,
at the suggestion of Ann Dixon: to model public conversation.
I think it has very much changed the way I comment--
I don’t think about judgment; “good paper/bad paper” is really not on my radar;
I think about your papers as offering windows into a topic,
and I focus on what I see looking there—
what seems engaging/where else you might go/what you might read/
where I’m confused, where I’d like you to clarify.

I also get it that your uptake/experience
might be quite different from my intention,
for a number of sociological and psychological reasons:
most importantly: you have been socialized to be graded,
you are not getting graded now, and so you are likely to
read my comments through that lens, looking for a grade.

I do recognize that what I am doing is counter institutional/counter conventional;
one of you said that my public comments 'violated the honor code’ (?--
meaning: made the teacher’s evaluation of your work publicly available,
when the convention is not to share any of this?).
This is NOT in the honor code.

But: there is also the shock of the new—
you haven’t had this experience before,
don’t know how to take it in.

And finally there was also the vulnerability of the weekend
when I posted my responses—that was when we were in
the thick of talking/ not talking/posting/not posting
about how we talk together--and folks were feeling judged.

Your next paper is a report on the “listening” conversation that you will host,
modeled on what Monsoon and Benaifer will teach us this weekend.
I would like to repeat this format then—
maybe less difficult, because less academic,
also less new, also more aware of the intentions/goals…
and then check in you about it after, and if its still not working,
then change it up for the final work. Okay?

Does putting up your postings/starting class w/ them also
trouble you? Do you look for judgment in who gets quoted?
Do this now...

III. (by 3:00): your initial reactions to Americanah:
Bridget called our attention to how Ifemelu “recognizes the ties between education and class.…In analyzing this dichotomy, much is revealed about her identity, but much is still quite vague. I'm finding difficulty in trying to understand her attitude; she…seems to be sending mixed signals about how she wants to be perceived--as Americanized or still Nigerian, as being discredited for being too much of either, as being respected for education or alienated by class.

Hummingbird picked up on this: Like bridgetmartha, I was interested in the way American culture and "being" or "acting" American was linked to higher class status by many in Americanah. And I was interested by the in-between role Ifemelu played in America as an observer and distanced perspective on American culture and race relations, as well as someone who seemed to understand America deeply while holding on to her own Nigerian culture….I couldn't help but think back to Eli Clare's memoir -- where does Ifemelu find home?; where does she feel exile?

Sunshine made this less personal, more cultural: It would be interesting to talk about how we view black Americans and black Africans differently. And how black Americans and black Africans view each other. I think the term "black American" instead of "African-American" itself is indicative of a lot. It is a term my mother uses, and to me places "African-Americans" as completely American, without any association to their roots elsewhere …. how must it feel for African-Americans to try to reconnect to their African heritage, which was stolen from them generations ago, while having Africans looking down on them for being American. Because to me, "black American" isn't an insult, but it's not a compliment. My experience is that it's neutral at best and judgy at worst. 

smalina focused on the education into being American that is offered by the media: Ifemelu is first exposed to American advertisements when she arrives in the U.S… "She ached for the lives they showed…and in her mind they became the real America "… [but] her aunt scoffs at the dramatized portrayal that American newsstations offer: "If you keep watching television, you will think these things happen all the time”….I wonder how much of this… is inherently American….to stress so strongly the need for the "right" kind of happiness, created through materialism and wealth?