Tracing the Past to (Re)imagine the Future: A Black Queer Pedagogy of Becoming
Author(s): Sarah Keeton
Sarah Keeton is an interdisciplinary PhD student, studying Communication at Arizona State University. Their research explores critical performances of blackness, queerness and femininity in relation to how our identities intersect with our experiences and responses to trauma and liberation. Further, they utilize critical pedagogy to interrogate and challenge social, cultural and political norms to create authentic spaces of inquiry and reflection.
Abstract: In honor of the 10th anniversary of Peitho: Journal of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition, the author seeks to (re)view, (re)trace, and (re)story archival publications to honor the past while mobilizing towards the future. This writing engages Black feminist thought, queer communication pedagogy, and other complementary critical modes of inquiry to explore the role of the critical pedagogue in imperial systems, secured by markers of difference. Grounded in an onto-epistemology of becoming, the author understands markers of difference to be contrived distinctions between human and nonhuman (such as race, class, and gender). Like the feminist scholars who came before me (in this journal and elsewhere) this writing seeks to disrupt, resist, and (re)situate hegemonic man-made knowledge projects such as White-washed versions of history and science, which function to erase, contort, and dispossess Other marked bodies. I, the author, Sarah Elizabeth Keeton, commit to an active, emergent, co-constructed relationship with myself, with community and with reality. Turning to embodied, interactive ways of being, this praxis-oriented autoethnography offers critical onto-epistemology as a mode of relating, (knowing), (being), differently, resistantly, and energetically toward Black, Queer and Other liberation.Tags: autoethnography, Black feminism, College Teaching, Communication Pedagogy, Intersectionality, Liberation, pedagogy, queer
My brother called me the other day to marvel and wonder about his two-year-old daughter. He told me about how he was putting her to bed. She was in a new place, fighting sleep, easily distracted. He laid on the couch next to her, quietly, observing, reassuring her with his presence. He recounted with marvel and wonder about how she took her little fingers and her little hand and felt his face. And then she took her little fingers and her little hand and felt her own face. She touched his ear and then she touched her own ear. She touched his beard and then she touched her chin. She stuck her fingers up his nose and then she stuck her fingers in her own nose. My little, sweet smoosh. She was exploring, she was learning, she was emerging into new knowledge, apprehending a new reality, coming to know herself in relation to her father. I cannot tell you what exactly she learned. But she learned something about differences I would have to guess. And she learned something about similarity. I would be willing to wager she did not apply her knowledge to gender or race or any other construction that has yet to internally contort her body and mind. And yet, even still, she came to a new understanding, a new explanation, a new theory perhaps, one beyond the limits of a world which seeks to confine her.
And at two years old, she is emerging, she is ever-changing, she is coming to understand how she exists in this world. My little Aria, my little world-maker, she has her own language, her own way of being and existing in the world. She communicates with sounds and gestures and one-word sentences. And the people who constitute her reality come to understand her meaning. In my brother’s household, you open your mouth and say “ah” when you want a bite of food. One day over the break, my brother, my sister-in-law, and I were watching a movie. Aria was at daycare, and I was doing my sister-in-law’s nails. She asked my brother to feed her pretzels. She goes “ah, ah” and my brother quietly, without looking away from the TV puts a pretzel in her mouth. The moment didn’t register at first. A mundane interaction, commonplace in my brother and sister-in-law’s eccentric relationship. And then it hit me, how comical the scene was, how strange the scene would be in another context, say in public or in a different household, but it made perfect sense here, an intimate and different way of relating with one another.
I share these stories for two reasons. First, we do not initially come to learning, to being, to knowing, as passive recipients, absorbing the gift of the expertise or “teachers” around us (Freire), but rather we come to knowledge, active, emergent, in relation, co-constructing our reality (LeMaster “Fostering,” Sprague “Expanding,” Toyosaki “Praxis-Oriented”), like my niece, my sister-in-law, and my brother, finding ways to communicate within our respective realities. Second, if my two-year-old niece can be an active and an emergent knowledge-producer, then I’d say these are our beginnings; our embodied, interactive ways of being in the world, our onto-epistemological becomings. And along our journey on this earth, institutions, schools, colleges, universities, day cares, churches, media, and idealized family structures (to name a few), engage language and the invention of man to effectively distance us from our childlike, emergent relation with reality.
The Discursive Struggle
Our institutions function to maintain the invention of man, otherwise understood as the mythical norm constituted by dominant identity logics (Chávez, LeMaster, “Fostering”). This discursive reality is secured and manifests itself through language (Chatterjee). Burbules asserts, “We do not just use language; language uses us … the language we encounter already has a history … what we speak always means more than we mean to say; the language that we use carries with it implications, connotations, and consequences that we can only partly intend” (263). Language, a social invention, is not neutral; it constitutes reality (Sprague, “Expanding”). This critical epis-ontological grounding disrupts dominant notions of cultural hegemony and thus language hegemony. This hegemony is codified through man-made knowledge projects which propel a fragmented, ahistorical, yet seemingly objective universal authority (Sprague, “Ontology,” Sprague, “Expanding,” Yep, “Pedagogy”). Dominant knowledge-projects seek to separate us from knower and known (Sprague, “Ontology”), seek to separate us from our critical consciousness, our capacity to transform (Freire, LeMaster “Fostering”), and thus seek to separate us from Black liberation (Wilderson). Critical consciousness, Black liberation, and transformation is predicated on our ability to engage difference on difference’s respective terms. Rather than ignore or reject difference, as dominant logics have conditioned us to do. The difference for Black people is, “the difference between Humans who suffer through an ‘economy of disposability’ and Blacks who suffer by way of ‘social death’” (Wilderson 16). Social death nuances the legacy of enslavement which (re)situates antiblackness as the social condition which structures racial inequality. Relegating blackness as nonhuman, enslavement effectively established the permanent subjugation of Africans and their descendants (Roskelly, Ray et al.). This (re)conceptualization of Black people’s non-humanity requires a (re)situating of the past, so that we may (re)conceptualize the present and (re)imagine the future.
One of the purposes of this special issue of Peitho was to narrate the past as an opportunity to mobilize toward the future. What a seemingly simple, yet demanding and complex request. When tracing history, I often struggle with where to begin. In general, I often struggle with where to begin. I understand the past, present and future to be intimately connected and interwoven; my brain swirls, my body shakes, my breath (re)cycles. Beginnings, endings, linear paths, trying to draw a straight line through the cyclical, fluid, nebulous being that is me, and you, and this, and that, and writing, and story-telling –
my heart races, my chest fills, I can feel the blood rush through my body, my skin crawls, resistant to twist and contort, resistant to translate my consciousness onto this blank page.
As the academy demands definition, I tend to locate myself somewhere between Black feminist thought, Critical/Cultural studies, and queer pedagogy as they provide heuristics to navigate the paradox, the tension, the complicated and abundant entry points to any moment in space and time (Grossberg, Hall “Cultural Studies,” Ivie, Roskelly, Ono, Toyosaki “Praxis-Oriented”). Like Hendricks, I do not subscribe to static definition of feminist rhetoric or any other mode of critique for that matter. Instead, I begin with myself, my body, my breath, I begin with struggle.
Conditioned by colonial notions of time, I am often called to begin with my birth. I understand that my onto-epistemology, my theoretical and philosophical grounding, my ways of knowing and being, my breath, began long before my birth and will continue long after my mortal body ceases to pump blood through my veins. Even still, this story needs a point of departure.
I came out of the womb screaming, defiant, gasping for air. Or so I assume, as I have no memory of my birth, but it is the way most births are depicted and so it is how I imagine mine to be. Either way, I began free. Or so I would have liked to think. But the truth is the moment I was born I was marked by the human condition, or as Wynter identifies as the coloniality of being/power/truth/freedom:
… the ongoing imperative of securing the well-being of our present ethnoclass (i.e., Western bourgeois) conception of the human, Man, which overrepresents [sic] itself as if it were the human itself, and that of securing the well-being, and therefore the full cognitive and behavioral autonomy of the human species itself/ourselves. (260)
Screaming and covered in amniotic fluid, I had yet to become aware of this struggle, unbeholden to the weight of expectations, taking breath, theorizing, and demanding attention (hooks, “Theory”). This struggle, this tension, this coloniality of being, represents an ideological system of domination. An imperial system, discursively constructed, secured by markers of difference, such as race, class and gender, contrived distinctions between human and nonhuman. My first few hours in my material body were historicized. I was given a name, author’s name. I was given a sex, female. I was given a gender, girl. My birth was marked by certificate. A citizen of the United States of America, or so they say, was given a social security card, eight numbers, that represent the legality, the legitimacy, of my being. I was numbered and ordered, placed in the system of domination, a ward of the state, meant to be looked after by my parents, mother and father.
Locating the Self
I, like you, was thrust into an ideological circuit, predicated on settler assumptions, including but not limited to anti-blackness, anti-Indigeneity, and U.S. English hegemony (LeMaster et al. “Against”). And by you, I mean the reader, I mean the author, I mean anyone, I mean everyone. All the energy on this planet, as we know it to be. And so, dear reader, interact with this text as it makes sense for you. My experience with Settler institutions and more specifically the U.S. education system have all at once been the site of my epistemic oppression and epistemic resistance. I locate myself alongside those who labor toward emancipatory ends, a call for a paradigmatic shift, to (un)learn personal and disciplinary complicities in mine and other’s oppression.
Struggling to Become
Tracing the past, critical pedagogy began with urgency. In 1992, Sprague introduced a critique of instructional communication, the analysis and creation of how to teach, how to be in the classroom and how to learn. Constituted by the same social and political conditions which derived the sub-discipline, instructional communication lacks a critical analysis of power (Browdy, Sprague, “Expanding,” Sprague, “Ontology”). An uncritical approach perpetuates an objective, ahistorical, value-free approach to inquiry, knowledge, learning and thus consciousness. Uncritically, we are stuck in the same loop; the same ideological circuit, completing itself over and over again. It is here that I feel the urgency. It is in my childhood that I felt the urgency. A desperate need to disrupt, to interrupt, to stop the loop. It’s hard to say when I developed this sense of urgency, as there isn’t a singular, specific, temporal memory. And it’s not hard at all. It’s simple in so many ways. As my body told me. My body knew, a fluid, emergent unveiling. My body calls me back and propels me forward; made and unmade, straddling the in-between space, an interruption, a closure, and a juncture, refusing completion and endorsing completion, urgently struggling to become.
As a child, I longed to understand the world around me. I asked questions, longing for explanations of all that I did not know. I was an avid reader. I persistently asked my grandpa, how and why and what. And my grandpa instilled in me a desire to learn, an urgency to observe, to be aware of my surroundings, a persistent awareness that I am not the only person in the world. I still to this day have a visceral reaction to leaving lights on in an empty room. I still to this day can feel and remember that I MUST close the basement door. My grandpa taught me to think beyond the present moment. He taught me that I had an impact on the world, on my surroundings, on the people and places around me. My childhood was a site of struggle, much like so many Black women before me (Browdy, Jones, hooks, “Theory”). I asked questions; I challenged the status quo, and I imagined (im)/possible futures. I existed in the contradiction. Taught to question, taught that there was more than myself, and in tandem taught to listen, taught to obey, taught to respect authority. Like hooks, I was often punished, admonished, and scolded for being “too aware” or in “grown folks business.” Confused and betrayed by the back and forth, by the contradiction, by the tension of “too grown” for childhood, but “not grown enough” for adulthood, I too found solace in my imagination. Seeking healing, seeking a home place, seeking a sense of belonging, desperate to make sense of a nonsensical world, I began my onto-epistemological journey of becoming.
Liberatory pedagogy, critical pedagogy, is a commitment to an onto-epistemological journey of becoming (Toyosaki “Praxis-Oriented”). Inquiry, knowledge, states of being, can never be truly known or captured, for to claim to know it would be to reduce it (Hall “Cultural Studies”). And yet, we are asked to claim it all the time. To name it, to know it, to recite it. Critical pedagogy emerged from this conditioned ask. Schools, teachers, students, and the education system function to maintain the status quo, function to propel the neoliberal agenda, function to establish the managerial class (Freire, Sprague, “Expanding”). And critical pedagogy strives to disrupt this prevailing, imperial loop. Marked at birth by a coloniality of being, distanced, disconnected, and disembodied by social death, critical pedagogy and its complementary counterparts offer a how, a means, a toolbox, a way towards an (im)possible liberatory future-present-past.
A corporeal and temporal turn towards our bodies offers a point of departure, a place to begin, a text to trace, our respective contextualized histories. Considering our bodies as a site of knowing, a text to be read, understood, analyzed, or situated in relation to, Brouwer et al. articulates what a corporeal or performative approach to bodies offers for critical pedagogy:
Our turn towards bodies here returns us to the thematic of temporality when we recognize that any [sic] given socio-political moment, different bodies absorb and express different meanings, for they are plotted into dynamic, variegated, and unequal locations by discursive formations. Indeed, at any given time, our relations with our bodies, our phenomenological experiences of them, and their material consequentialities are variegated. More, bodies return us to temporality when we recognize that across time discursive scripts about the same bodies can change. (125)
This embodied theoretical grounding offers a site to locate our differences, to (re)consider how we relate to others, to (re)consider how others relate to us, to (re)consider the temporal and corporeal differences which constitute the space between human and nonhuman. And this (re)consideration is an active, iterative process which brings us [back to our becoming], [to our becoming], and [toward our becoming] (Craig).
I had my first kiss in middle school. I don’t quite remember how it happened. But I’m positive it was under the guise of curiosity or practice or whatever other lies girls tell themselves when they are 12 years old and want to kiss other girls. My first kiss was with a neighbor girl. I really liked kissing her. We took turns making out and, well, touching each other. We never talked about it after that night. It didn’t get brought up again. It didn’t happen again. But I found myself wanting it to. I found myself wanting it to, a lot. I didn’t tell anyone about that kiss, about the secret heavy petting, until about 10 years later. The story emerged after I “came out.” It worked its way through the shameful recesses of my being, surfacing anytime someone asked me “how long I knew.” I only ever looked to that moment as proof, proof that I had always been gay. Because the narrative of being gay is that you always knew. And so, that moment served as my entry point, securing my sexuality and in turn my body, as fixed, as static, as compulsively and rightfully gay. LeMaster asserts, “the critically conscious person understands themselves as a subject actively constituting, maintaining, and transforming culture. This empowerment through consciousness marks a process of healing” (“Fostering” 171). Each time I trace the moment of my first kiss, I learn something different, I become something different, I emerge something different. A historically buried moment, a denied corporeal reality, discursively and materially constructed by shame, my initial (re)tracings reveal a disembodied self, a soul murder, an internalized injury of normativity (LeMaster, “Fostering,” Yep “Violence”).
I remember wanting to kiss her. I remember being confused as to why. I remember enjoying the feel of her lips against mine. her hand against my panties. her panties against my hand. And I remember the shame, the fear, the grief, before, during, and after. My whole body flush, my breath caught in my throat, I texted her not too long after that fateful night. My stomach dropped, my heart raced, ashamed, disappointed, angry, yet not surprised I left that wondering, that pleasure, that girl on the overpass near Thomas Park.
I look back with sad, loving eyes for that 12-year-old girl. If only I could take her in my arms, hold her tight and assure her that her feelings are valid, her intentions are pure, that she is allowed to feel good, that she deserves to feel good, and that denying what you want, denying yourself, is violent, is self-mutilation, is removing your very essence from yourself, from your body. And yet, I can look back. I do look back. I reassure my 12-year-old self, and I practice critical self-reflexivity, engaging (re)storying as a pedagogy of hope, toward an embodied future-past-present (Brouwer et al., Toyosaki, “Communication,” Warren). Subsequent (re)tracings reveal a disembodied self, rendered invisible by pervasive heteronormative hegemony which foreclosed the future and erased the past, fragmented, struggling to access a mode of being, a mode of transformation, which honored the in-between, queer, fluid potentiality of my identity (Muñoz, Ward, Yep “Violence”).
Relating to Become
My sophomore year of college, I am sitting in the basement of my residence hall on one of those wooden pallet chairs, you know the ones, with the scratchy fabric and pale coloring, the seat is wide, wide enough for me to sit cross legged: my body contorted, my legs crossed, my back hunched, my arms hugging my midsection. I am a resident advisor, sitting across from my supervisor for one of our weekly one on ones. I wiggle, my body holding the tension of excitement and nerves. My supervisor, Brittany, is a plump, young, White woman. She’s keen, caring, and fierce. At 19 years old, our weekly one-on-ones become one of my first experiences with consistent, adult connection. Specifically, one of my first experiences with having time and space and care to process, to question, to express, one of my first experiences building trust, as I came to know a different way of relating to others. I can distinctly remember sitting in that chair. I am wiggling beneath Brittany’s kind yet knowing gaze. She says to me, “Sarah, it’s okay to not be okay.” My eyes tear up, I avert her gaze, overwhelmed, and filled with panic, I remember fleeing, running up eight flights of stairs, my bedroom on the fourth floor. I didn’t know it at the time, but Brittany was teaching me about critical love (Calafell and Gutierrez-Perez). She introduced me to a pedagogy of vulnerability, challenging me to turn inward, challenging me to express my feelings, my hurt, my insecurities and meeting me with compassion, care, and intentionality. I believe in critical love. Every person I meet, every person I exchange energy with, every person I come in relation to, they are all teaching me how to love myself, and in turn, how to love them. I engage a critical pedagogical approach to love, inspired by hooks (All about Love), love as an intentional action that embraces care, commitment, trust, knowledge, responsibility and respect, love as a means for self-recovery and critical consciousness.
Born defiant, emergent, and full of hope, I come to know differently, and I come to relate differently as I come to the language and tools which describe the truth of my being (Chatterjee). Emboldened by critical love, I commit, I labor, and I practice an onto-epistemology of becoming (Calafell and Gutierrez-Perez). Relationally constituted, made and unmade, seen and unseen, influencing and influenced by a lifetime of relational bonds, committed to healing, to truth-telling, to affirming difference, I look toward a queer communication pedagogy:
[a]s epistemic grounds, queer consciousness highlights an analytic means by which we understand cisheterosexism, cisheteronormativity, and homonormativity as intersectionally derived and co-constitutive structures that award and deny privilege and disadvantage to all people in different ways. As ontological grounds, queer consciousness is derived of lived experience navigating intersectionally derived privileges and disadvantages; in turn, queer consciousness is ontological in the sense that it informs our critical orientation to the world and a desire to intervene in the mundane reification of cisheterosxism, cisheteronormativity, and homonormativity (LeMaster, “Fostering” 186).
Two weeks ago, I am driving home. Lewis Capaldi sings “don’t you know too much already?” my mouth traces the words with my lips. “I’ll only hurt you if you let me.” I am transported. My body in the car, driving to my apartment. My mind, my spirit, traversing distance and time, I am on my brother’s couch, over 1,300 miles away. My 2-year-old niece is running around, her hands, her little fingers, grasping anything within reach. A movie plays in the background. Laughter escapes my lips. Joy and sweetness fill the air. And time comes to a stop. And I wonder, how can anything else in the world matter? Why do I do anything else? I come back to. The infinity of the moment, fleeting, already passing me by. Fast forward, I return to my body. Still driving towards home, or the present, material iteration of what I designate as home. The song ends and I start it over. I turn the corner turning into my apartment complex parking lot. I am struck with melancholy, sad this time-traveling drive is coming to an end. Lewis Capaldi laments “I’ve learned to lose you, can’t afford to.” My voice cracks as I yell the words: “tore my shirt to stop you bleeding” a thousand heartbreaks, I feel them in my chest, in my arms, in my legs. I pull into a parking spot. Grief palpitates the air. I sigh. I consider sitting in the parking lot, finishing the song. But I’m not in the moment anymore. I no longer want to slow down enough. The temporality, the knowledge that it will soon come to an end shifts my hand to the keys, turning off the ignition, consciously, yet unconsciously choosing to move on.
Mobilizing towards a Future
And yet I can never truly move on. At least not for long. As we are co-constituted beings (Brouwer, et al., Fasset and Ruddick, Pineau, Toyosaki “Communication,” Warren). I am made up of me and you and them and us. As we are interdependent. We are made up of the past, present and future. Our bodies, our memories carrying the memories, carrying the stories of all the people we interact with and all the people who interact with them, and back again. adrienne maree brown asserts, “how we are at the small scale is how we are at the large scale. The patterns of the universe repeat at scale” (52). I tend to start at the small scale. I tend to start with myself. But/and, I believe the small is indicative of the large. Like paperson, my sense of self is always a we, an assemblage, interdependent, connected within, connected beyond an individual sense of self. An interdependent sense of self, a scyborg, “a queer turn of word” that serves to signify the “structural agency of persons” (paperson xiv). And one might resist, on might feel tension, one might be hailed by a colonial or liberal inclination to turn away from our interdependent reality. The inclination I refer to here is the impulse to hold onto independence, from a colonial ontology, as in separate, as in self-sustaining, as in codified (paperson, Sprague, “Ontology”). An inclination that whispers that you are the only one. The large scale, our institutions, they function to keep us here, keep us independent, holding onto this illusion of ownership, of pulling ourselves up from our bootstraps, of the wonderous, idealistic invention of man (Gaztambide and Angod, Hall, “Cultural Studies,” paperson, LeMaster and Mapes, Love, Nicolazzo, Prendergast and Jones, Wilderson, Wynter, Yep “Pedagogy”).
Thus, together, interdependently, we can do something differently. We can do everything differently. And by we, I do mean we. I mean you and I, them and us. And anyone in between. We can consider our bodies, our stories, our communities, as sites of knowing, or as a text to be read or understood or analyzed or situated in relation to (Brouwer et al., LeMaster and Terminel Iberri). Let’s start small. Let’s start every day. Our present moments are indicative of our past moments. Our we is an assemblage, an interdependent sense of self, connected within and connected beyond the individual (paperson). From this vantage point, mundane interactions function as cultural performances or “reiterations of multiple, intersecting cultural ideologies” (LeMaster, “Embracing” 10). Subsequently, mundane performances create possibilities, both, all at once – opportunity to secure the status quo and opportunity to disrupt. The mundane is often characterized by mindlessness, an everyday utterance we don’t think twice about. Critical self-reflexivity functions to disrupt this mindlessness, through purposeful conscious reflection, we can examine our own complicity in hegemony and normativity, in our mundane performances. Writing offers a space for reflection, a pause in the present moment in time. On this page, we deploy our counter-stories as tools of epistemic resistance (Baszile, Smith, Lorde, “Age, Race, Class, and Sex”). We write to love ourselves (Anzaldúa). We write to talk back (hooks). We write to research back (Smith). We seek to wrestle with angels (Hall, “Cultural Studies”). Moving with reflexivity we seek to explore the temporal, corporeal, and spatial realities of our bodies, made and unmade by cultural sites of power, the classroom, the academy, and institutions writ large, we seek to survive, and we long to become. And we become through love.
Love, self-love, communal love, critical radical love, is the fourth university (paperson); is an impulse; is a revolutionary praxis (Dalmiya, Robinson-Morris); is a pedagogy (Calafell and Gutierrez-Perez, Morley, Robinson), and is a source of healing (hooks, All about Love, Robinson-Morris, Ward). As we inherit legacies of hegemonic notions of love, the revolutionary praxis of love demands recovery. We must recover what we have lost, and what we have lost is an embodied understanding of what true love is and how true love does. hooks affirms this,
When I was a child, it was clear to me that life was not worth living if we did not know love. I wish I could testify that I came to this awareness because of the love I felt in my life. But it was love’s absence that let me know how much love mattered. . . . I cannot remember when that feeling of being loved left me. I just know that one day I was no longer precious. Those who initially loved me well turned away. The absence of their recognition and regard pierced my heart and left me with a feeling of broken heartedness so profound I was spellbound. Grief and sadness overwhelmed me. I did not know what I had done wrong. And nothing I tried made it right. No other connection healed the hurt of that first abandonment, the first banishment from love’s paradise. For years I lived suspended, trapped by the past, unable to move into the future. . . . We can find the love our hearts long for, but not until we let go grief about the love we lost long ago… (All about Love ix-x)
Here, hooks beautifully describes the legacy of grief and pain we inherit, as a result of abandonment, lovelessness, attachment wounds, or however else identified, has on our psyches. First, hooks argues, we must confront the lack of love in our lives. She adopts M. Scott Peck’s words to define love and explain that love is not a feeling, but rather “the will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth” (4). This (re)definition is grounded in six key concepts: care, commitment, trust, knowledge, responsibility, and respect. This (re)definition functions to disrupt hegemonic notions in three ways:
- (re)situate love as an intentional action,
- (re)situate love as an interdependent, communal practice,
- and (re)situate love as pathway for healing.
This revolutionary love, an embodied, radical love, leaves no room for abuse, no room for neglect, no room for domination, oppression, or colonization. Put simply, “love and abuse cannot coexist” (6). This understanding is crucial. This recovery is crucial (Browdy).
Unsettling the Romance of Love
We are taught to believe in a neutral, unassuming, objective discursive reality (Burbules, Chen and Lawless, Sprague, “Expanding”). Accordingly, we are taught to believe that hurt and love can coexist. We are taught to accept, no more than that, we are taught to desire, romance, a romantic notion of love, a romantic notion of relating to one another and our institutions. Here I turn to Meyerhoff’s conceptualization of mode of study to explain this romantic notion of relating. Meyerhoff engages mode of study as an analytical tool to identify the means and relations of study, otherwise understood as education. Subsequently, education or other modes of study, can be broken down into the who (is studying), the what (is being studied), and the how (the tools, objects, and techniques with which they study) (13). Here, theory and metaphor come together, functioning as an interruption, as a discursive tool, to explain, and to understand current, hegemonic epistemologies (Hall, “Cultural Studies,” Meyerhoff). Through breaking down, interrupting, and demystifying dominant knowledge projects we can move toward relating beyond, “we can broaden our imaginative horizons” (Meyerhoff 11). Meyerhoff delineates two affective strategies which function to secure a fragmented and individuated relationship with love, in turn with self, and with community. The first affective strategy is “normalizing an emotional economy of happiness, safety, and fear” (11). The second affective strategy is characterized by appropriating an individual’s pain “through claims of shame, generosity, and reconciliation” (11). These two strategies render the individual as broken and produce the individual as a failure. Accordingly, a romantic relationship with love, with self, and thus with education (and other institutions) secures itself by focusing on the individual, by blaming the individual, and it accomplishes this by distancing and obscuring the structural conditions which were created by man, established through conquest, and maintained by a hegemonic system of violence (Chen and Lawless, Leonardo and Porter). As we participate in our own self-recovery, as we practice radically loving ourselves, we can transform our relationships, in turn our communities, and in turn our society.
Toward a Transformative Future
Learning to love is a nebulous, fluid process, with no real beginning, middle or end. To love is to heal. Like love, like life, like the seasons, healing is a never ending, recurrent process. When we honor our trauma, when we listen to our pain, when we acknowledge abuse, when we recognize systems of domination, the site of acknowledgement, our bodies, is where healing occurs. It is through love that we will have healing, that we will have deep relationality, that we coalesce, brown reassures, “when we are engaged in acts of love, we humans are at our best and most resilient. . . . [with love] we [will] understand that the strength of our movement is in the strength of our relationships” (9-10). And this I proclaim. I am manifesting. I commit to (re)vise this writing. I commit to (re)visit this process. I will choose to honor the pain, the grief, the celebration, the uncertainty, and the innocence of (re)birth. Birth is painful. This process is painful. Yet, I am so grateful to be born again and again.
Audre Lorde lovingly reminds us, “the true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations that we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor planted deep within each of us” (“Age, Race, Class, and Sex”123). This is how we dissipate the fog. This is how we lower the veil. This is how we return to ourselves. And this is how we love. This is how we cherish our Blackness. This is how we celebrate our embodied authenticity. This is how we pursue liberation. Alongside hooks, Afrikan, Afrikan descendants, Black AFAB folx, Black witches, Black women, Black activists, Black scholars, however we choose to arbitrarily close, have a long history of resisting colonial oppression with a spirit of love (Atta, Baszile, Beal, Collins, Griffin, Harris, Harris-Perry, Lorde, “The Uses of Anger,” Petermon and Spencer). In collaboration, in coalition, I lovingly resist with them. And this is my call to arms. This is my expression of loving rage. This is the world I want. This is the world I am. This is queer, radical love. I strive towards an onto-epistemological becoming. An interdependent mode of relating, a radical self-love that demands more, that demands that we honor the beautiful, complex, multitudes of all of us, of the Other of us, of our beautiful, rubbing bodies, towards and beyond an emancipatory future (LeMaster, et al., paperson, Ward).
Honoring a Decade
And so, here’s to ten years past, and here is to ten years to come. Manifesting or a manifesto, “a wild-eyed calls to arms”, an expression of rage, an ever-changing process (Fahs 34). And so here is to love, to inspiration, to peace and joy. Here is to vulnerability, to anger, to demanding more. Here is to connection, to deep committed relation, to coalition (Calafell and Gutierrez-Perez, LeMaster, et al., Pough and Jones). That is the world I want. That is the world I am. That is the communal healing I am driving towards, I strive towards. And so once again, I perform on the page. With my body on these pages, I honor the intrinsic energy of the earth, of my ancestors, and of my spirit. I choose to honor the pain, the grief, the celebration, the uncertainty. I choose to respond to the call; I am manifesting. What I want to proclaim is open-ended; I am perpetually becoming. Accordingly, I am open to this arbitrary closure, for it allows me to stake out a claim, to make a political commitment, to love and to lose and to learn again (Hall, “Cultural Studies”).
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