Academic journal article English Journal

#WOKE: Employing Black Textualities to Create Critically Conscious Classrooms

Academic journal article English Journal

#WOKE: Employing Black Textualities to Create Critically Conscious Classrooms

Article excerpt

It is difficult work for teachers to position ourselves as true allies with members of our society who are under attack from all fronts. To do so requires that we overcome our lived experiences, and education, as well as pressure from a society that views teachers as guardians of our national culture and identity. However, being an ally or even a socially just educator is not enough at a time in our national and global landscape when it seems that we are quickly spiraling down a path of social deterioration that will take major intervention to recover from. As I write this, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are the newest in a never-ending list of US citizens who have been murdered by police officers, and "Black Twitter" is abuzz exposing the hypocrisy of the #alllivesmatter farce. It is perilous times, but it is also promising times. Marginalized youth and their allies are, in some ways, well-positioned to speak to and act against injustices in our communities and savvier than their predecessors in challenging and shifting narratives. They are using their own literacies to intellectually fund a movement, but they could still use some help. Like all organizing for social change, public intellectuals must offer themselves and the spaces they occupy as resources for defining and reshaping the intellectual and philosophical underpinnings of a revolution. English teachers are public intellectuals, and our classrooms are the spaces we occupy to offer such help, but only if we are willing to do the work of rethinking ourselves and rethinking our classrooms. For English teachers to be an influence in this sociohistorical moment, we must organize ourselves not as keepers of grand narratives and oppressive ideologies, but as facilitators of imagining new ways of being in the world and working toward those machinations. We must interrogate our identities in a system steeped in institutional racism and colonialism, and we must take up the social justice banner. We must leverage our classrooms not only as academic spaces but also as training grounds for critical consciousness and youth engagement. We must not be afraid to take up new ways of teaching and embrace new textualities that speak to the lived experiences of the marginalized yet powerful textualities that embrace new ways of reading the world and yet represent potential for reifying and giving new voice to the oft-ignored counternarratives of old that still ring true in this moment. Black textualities are such and must be embraced.

Black textualities are bold, nuanced, and complicated and echo the voices of the ancestors. Black textualities is Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me bringing Baldwin back to life and reminding black youth of the dignity and necessity of self-determination and subjectivity. Black textualities is the spoken word piece titled "Sandra Bland" performed by Kai Davis, Nayo Jones, and Jasmine Combs that is the black woman's answer to Claude McKay's "If We Must Die." Black textualities is Issa Rae's award-winning Web series Awkward Black Girl that chronicles the life of "J" who must navigate life and identity in a white world, and comically grapples with the same issues Gwendolyn Brooks wrote about in Maud Martha. Black textualities is wearing "natural" hair and kente prints to remind ourselves and the world that black is indeed beautiful. Black textualities is the black blogosphere and even "Black Twitter" replete with memes and hashtags that bring attention to modern-day lynchings in the same way Ida B. Wells did, and also remind the world that the youth are watching and recording the atrocities of the day.

Black youth and their allies are embracing a rich cache of black textualities, from literature, to music, to fashion, to film, to digital media, and are creating multiple avenues for critical engagement. Consider the use of hashtags to memorialize those executed in the streets by police or to give voice to collective hurt. While some view the use of hashtags as lazy activism, it is actually a savvy and effective way of organizing ideas and people. …

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