Monday, October 12, 2009

The Classroom is a Political Space


Over the last few weeks, one of the hardest things, for me
to navigate has been deciding when to talk and when to shut
This has been an issue in all of my classes.

Yet, it has manifest
itself differently because of my familiarity
with the material
, my willingness to be vulnerable and ask
questions and my willingness
to be passively rather than
actively engaged.

In life and in the classroom it is much easier to complain about how
the class
is ran rather than to do something about how it is ran.

It's much easier to complain about health care, rather than going
down to your local senators office, with a few of your friends

and getting in their faces about how they are voting.

Its much easier to complain than to
elect that new.

Today, I rode for that new.

The classroom is political because whose voice is or isn't heard,
who does or doesn't speak and whether a space is made for historically
marginalized voices all impacts the way that we learn in the classroom.

Today, I entered the classroom with the expressed intent of not
participating but moving the conversation towards one on focused

on providing a systemic critique, not simply focusing on the individual.

Because we read Killing the Black Body, which is about the Black
body throughout history, from slavery to forced sterilization,
modern reproductive rights arguments, moms addicted
to crack, adoption and surrogate parents, I knew that it was going

to be a class ripe with emotional landmines.

At one point we were discussing the coercive element involved with the
government forcing low income Black women to be sterilized if they
received public assistance.

The notion that reproductive autonomy as a human right simply wasn't
on the table.

Because of my Twitter interaction with Phonte last week about the ways
in which both men and women are socialized to hate women, I have been
emboldened. What I took from that interaction was, to the extent that I can
ask folks questions, I know that I can take them somewhere else.

A classmate, a Black male classmate who self identified as conservative,
mentioned that if a woman is on welfare with several children, then the government
can tell her what to get sterilized. He rested his case on the individual and personal

He went on to say that we are all here, in this classroom, we are given equal

This is material given the fact that the number one predictor of poverty,
in this country, is childbirth.

That rugged individualism runs so thick both in our academic and
mainstream media discourse that not only am no longer surprised
when I hear it, in fact, I anticipate it.

So, in order to get him to think about the system in which these women
lived in I asked him where he was from, and whether he felt that the ways
in which Black men are disproportionally sentenced for crack cocaine
rests on Black men or the system that they were in.

He was consistent, he answered that it was up to the individual, who got
caught up in the system.

I then said, if you are riding for individual responsibility answer me this.

Our country no longer produces products, we live in a service economy.
Walmart is the second largest employer behind the government.
We are a nation of people, where the majority of us, earn minimum wage
or work in service jobs.
Minimum wage guarantees that you will live in poverty.

How do you reconcile the need for individual responsibility with this economic

I didn't tell him was wrong, because doing that is not helpful.

I asked him questions to get him, and other students to think about other

It makes me wonder what it will take, and what will happen when we stop thinking
the individual, and start thinking about the group?

It felt good because I realized what Zora meant by "Speak,
so that you can speak again." I always thought that that statement was
over the top and corny, but today, it has real life meaning in my

What will it take to think about the group, rather than the individual?
Has the classroom been a political space for you?
Why is it so hard to claim my voice?
Is it possible that there is a connection between the writing voice and
the speaking voice?


Unknown said...

I've missed ur psots gurl! glad to see ur back! Keep rockin the boat while not losing passengers!

M.Dot. said...


Thank you. I miss posting. Every since my land lord reneged things have been unstable, but todo bueno now.

You read that piece yet? Will change your mind on race.

Nexgrl said...

I can recall two instances where the classroom became a political space for me.
1. As the only black student in a Graduate Reference Class the day OJ was acuitted. All eyes(including the teacher) turned on my when we heard the news.
2. I was the only student from the Bay Area in a Graduate classroom in Atl when they began discussing the ebonics debate in the Bay. In that situation, only the professor knew where I was from, so she asked what was really going on.

Model Minority said...

Girl, I remember when Ebonics popped off. I was @ Mills. I didn't quite understand the significance of what was happening.

In many ways, that era has fueled my play w/ language, over the years.

the prisoner's wife said...

on claiming your voice. it's difficult because it forces you to lay yourself bare to critique, which isn't always kind. it's easier if someone rejects you on some frivolious shit, but not your thoughts. that cuts deep.

you're getting there tho. and it's beautiful.


Anonymous said...

reading this post made me realize just how much I miss the academic enviroment, my brain has slowly been deteriorating since I graduated....i think it will take a shift in our societal values before we value the group over the individual..too many people are struggling trying to keep themselves afloat and there's just no room to think about a collective effort or they've just been conditioned to mind their own business. The classroom was a political space for me in my philosophy classes especially African American and Mind&Body, It was in those classes that I learned I do indeed have a voice and it matters. My philosophy courses helped me to claim my voice with a vengeance..for me there is an undeniable connection between my speaking voice and my writing voice,in fact I think my writing voice is more of my speaking voice than my actual speaking voice...dope posts homegirl..PEACE

Anonymous said...

So happy that you are posting again. My first question for you is have you read tribes? It speaks to the question of how to impact a group.

My second thought is that while people have their own opinions your stregnth is in the reframing of the issue. By continuing to ask critical questions that get to the heart of the issue regardless of what said issue is, we can start to look at the systems of inequalities that surround us versus continually blaming individuals for losing in a race that were already 500 paces behind in.

Unknown said...

dope post btw

1. for many of us, the college classroom was the first time we were able to discuss political and social issues (to a certain extent).

2. the religion of social mobility needs to be called out for what it is, myth making... for every immigrant who becomes a millionaire, you have 1,000 who stays below the poverty line.

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