Academic journal article JCT (Online)

Using Fiction to Research Silenced or Counter Narratives of Lives In-Between Contested Race, Gender, Class and Power in the South

Academic journal article JCT (Online)

Using Fiction to Research Silenced or Counter Narratives of Lives In-Between Contested Race, Gender, Class and Power in the South

Article excerpt

DRAWING UPON the works of Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize-winning African American woman, novelist, and master storyteller, Toni Morrison (1970, 1973, 1976, 1987, 1988, 1992, 1993, 1999, 2000, 2003, & 2008); activist and Black feminist protest thinker and writer, bell hooks (1981, 1984, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2009, & 2010); Pulitzer Prize- winning novelist, activist, and womanist, Alice Walker (1983, 1989, 1997, & 2006); Black feminist thinker and writer, Patricia Hills Collins (1998, 2000), and the critical race theorist and the first tenured African-American professor of Law at Harvard University, Derrick Bell (1987, 1992, & 1995), I have been engaged in an inquiry (Mikell, 2011) into Southern cultures, Black traditions, and Black women with a focus on the life journey of one Black woman educator through racial, sexual, class, and cultural oppression to womanhood.

I was raised in a segregated rural community that valued education, schooled in a system which subverted or downplayed the Black accomplishments to the U. S. history, have been working in an urban school which was forced to split into two schools and to change its name due to its failure to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress set up by the state and federal mandates with the intent to forgo reorganization under the direction of the state. I live in-between two worlds: one as a Black teacher who understands the struggles of my ancestors and has witnessed or experienced suppressions, repressions, and oppressions; and one who teaches younger generations of Black children who know little about Black struggles, history, and heritages.

Ingrained in dogma of secrecy, writing about my life and publically talking about my issues is a constant struggle. Putting my experience in print for posterity is sacrosanct in my family, race, and culture. The South, for me, is a complex simple place to live. The allure of a relaxed hospitable environment pulls one in to how beautiful and soothing most communities can be. This façade hides the seedier other - "Dirty South." Whoever coined that phrase - poet, rapper, novelist, or who - depicts a more accurate description of what lies beneath this "whitewashed" society.

I choose to use fiction rather than narrative inquiry in my research since I feel that fiction protects people in my life and in history. Although I fictionalize most of the characters in my stories, I still feel vulnerable for myself and others. Most of my life has been shrouded in denial and secrecy - an ingrained Southern trait that I still find difficult to change or shake off. My children do not know much about me. I have tried to shield them as much as possible from the unjust world while giving them necessary tools to survive. I, however, feel that I have given my beloved children little of my inner self. Using fiction allows me to feel having more freedom and protection to tell some of the horrible experiences I have witnessed. I hope that one day I will be brave enough to share with my children more of my inner self.

Although I have been working diligently to ensure that the fictionalized stories parallel real life events, using fiction in my research is still not seen as valid, authentic, and scholarly except for my own professors. In spite of the controversy over using fiction in educational research, I advocate for fiction since it does not make my experiences less valid, rather, more palatable.

Autobiographical Roots of My Research

My research did not begin with my interest in telling my life stories. It never occurred to me that my experiences played a role in education or benefited others. That came later as I began to question my beliefs and my interactions with my students. I was raised in a time and place that Blacks, especially Black women, did not complain about their situation(s). We were too busy with making a living to take time to sit around and commiserate about our misery. Plus everybody seemed to live the same life. …

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