Thursday, January 31, 2013

GW's Affirmative Action Bake Sale

As a native Washingtonian, I've witnessed my fair share of racist and discriminatory foolery, but GW's campus has hands down presented the most ignorant students pushing for "equality" that I think I have ever come across in my years in the district. I can recall about two years ago, in March of 2011, when GW College Republicans and GWYAF began advertising for an Affirmative Action bake sale they'd be hosting.  They planned to sale the classics of baked goods-- cookies, brownies, and cupcakes, however the prices were specialized and presented as "minority specials."  For example, a single cupcake would go for about four different prices; the White price, was the most expensive at about a dollar or two, and the prices deflated from that point, Asian prices were the second most expensive, following was a Female priced cake and lastly was the African American at the cheapest.  Not surprisingly, this caused an uproar among much of the student body, primarily the Black students, including myself.  

My initial reaction was anger, as with the Black Student Union, who decided to react against the bake sale but knowing how dangerous a racially charged mob of angry Black folk might appear on the campus of a PWI (Primarily White Institution) concerns were turned to responding and reacting not out of anger or ignorance, but to learn the arguments of the student organizations and then educate them on something they obviously knew little about and were hardly affected and effected by.  Their arguments were along the lines of minority students being admitted into the University at discounted tuition prices (scholarship) to fill a quota, lessening the chances of acceptance of qualified White students.  This implied, to me, that the minority students were somehow un- or under qualified and I knew this to be a false statement when I, myself had graduated as the Valedictorian of my class just two years prior.  Apparently affirmative action, according to these groups, promoted reverse-discriminatory practices. Considering that family legacy plays a large role in admittance, I just couldn't believe the bullshit.   

Long story short, the Bake Sale was postponed when the Orgs got wind of the protest that the Black Student Union planned.  The Bake Sale took place days later, as with the protest.  The Black Student Union hosted a Town Hall meeting with several African American, Africana Studies, and Sociology professors providing history on Affirmative Action, especially at GW.  The groups refused to attend the meeting.   

Affirmative action policies and programs were one of the things that came to mind after reading and discussing the Bell piece.  You all should be happy to scroll through this timeline of Black History at GW.  

The Voice of Margaret Walker

After discussing the repetitive theme of violence in Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, it is interesting to look back to Margaret Walker’s “For My People” for comparison. Written in 1939, this poem followed the emerging talent of the Harlem Renaissance, a time when black culture and art truly intertwined. Researching Walker has led me to find a theme of a non-violent call to action amongst her work. In a biography from the Poetry Foundation her writing is described as, “the first work by a black writer to speak out for the liberation of the black woman. The cornerstones of a literature that affirms the African folk roots of black American life… looking toward a new cultural unity for black Americans that will be built on that foundation.” “For My People” looked to the future with hope, aspiration, and, what seemed relatively new at that time, from a woman’s perspective. 

            I wanted to return to this poem after learning more about Walker in an attempt to better understand its meaning and purpose. Looking towards literary device as a foundation for any poem, “For My People” combines free verse narrative style with lyrical sonnet. As mentioned in her biography, Walker’s father was a minister and her mother was a musician. The inspiration for her poetic style in this poem can be tied to her upbringing. Each verse begins with “For my/the” except for the last stanza (“Let”), reminiscent of a song’s structure. In each of these verses she is calling on people, “my playmates” or “the boys and girls,” which all leads to her final call to action for these separate entities to unite. It is also important to recognize her syntax, especially her decision to exclude commas in certain sentences. When I read this poem for the second time I felt as if I could understand her voice and the power that came with these lack of commas.

            The final stanza, which begins with “Let a new earth rise,” is composed of separate sentences all beginning with “Let.” As a class, we discussed the importance of such a word- and I believe that Walker is speaking to the future by using it repetitively. She is not demanding violence or claiming that violence will bring forth unity, but rather, she is asserting that “courage,” “loving freedom,” and “strength,” more importantly, will “Let a race of men now rise and take control.” Each verse of “For My People” describes the life of the African American community within a span of time, from year to year and from struggle to struggle. Her last stanza makes a statement about the current, but more powerfully about the unforeseen future. Reflecting on a past of inaction, she declares that the young generations must set forth to make a difference. 


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Maintaining the Tension: Fanon and Malcolm X

“I can’t turn around without hearing about some ‘civil rights advance’! White people seem to think the black man ought to be shouting ‘hallelujah’! Four hundred years the white man has had his foot-long knife in the black man’s back—and now the white man starts to wiggle the knife out, maybe six inches! The black man’s supposed to be grateful? Why, if the white man jerked the knife out, it’s still going to leave a scar!” (The Autobiography of Malcolm X, 275, original emphasis)

“The muscles of the colonized are always tensed. It is not that he is anxious or terrorized, but he is always ready to change his role in the game for that of the hunter…This impulse to take the colonist’s place maintains a constant muscular tonus. It is a known fact that under certain emotional circumstances an obstacle actually escalates action” (Fanon, 16-17)

“In the colonial world, the colonized’s affectivity is kept on edge like a running sore flinching from a caustic agent. And the psyche retracts, is obliterated, and finds an outlet through muscular spasms that have caused many an expert to classify the colonial as hysterical. This overexcited affectivity, spied on by invisible guardians who constantly communicate with the core of the personality, takes an erotic delight in the muscular deflation of the crisis” (Fanon, 19).

I juxtapose these quotations from Malcolm X and Fanon not merely to illustrate the similarities in bodily metaphor and embodied racial injury. Rather, I want to pause, as Darieck Scott suggests, within the muscular tension that Fanon seeks to transcend (Scott, 93). Fanon utilizes the image of tensed muscles to corporealize the temporal proximity of revolution. The tensed muscles of the colonized are trained in the quiet resistance to the colonizer in everyday existence. This tension is productive for Fanon inasmuch as it precedes radical action, so the loss of accumulated tension in non-liberatory actions is detrimental to the momentum of revolution. The muscle tension, for Fanon, is effectively deployed when the colonized inverts his position of abjection.

However, Fanon’s description and proscription for revolutionary action goes beyond the actual counterviolence of the colonized people. Throughout The Wretched of the Earth he is deeply invested in that which comes after the creation nationhood and nominal independence. Fanon cautions against over-working the newly liberated people in world-building as they cannot possibly attain all the promises of beginning again in the shadow of colonial rule (Fanon, 135). This imperative to continue the struggle for self-determination even after nominal independence necessitates muscle tension be maintained rather than ultimately overcome as Fanon would suggest.

Malcolm X’s image of the knife in the back of the black man corporealizes racial injury and is particularly enlightening in its relationship to continued struggle in the face of supposed civil rights success. Malcolm X describes the white man as “wiggling” the foot-long knife out “maybe six inches,” or even jerking the knife out, calling attention to the muscular reaction: constant tension in the former and muscular spasm in the latter. In both cases, Malcolm X portrays the black body in a lived experience of muscle memory and trauma that prevent an acquittal of white supremacy that, after all, leaves a scar. The muscular reaction to white racism holds promises of equality in tension with racial hierarchies four centuries in the making, suggesting that black bodies will not relax until they have really begun to build their own world. 

Derrick Bell

Legal scholar and Critical Race theorist, Derrick Bell, was the first tenured law professor at Harvard Law School. Bell passed away in October of 2011. His impact within and outside of the academy is immeasurable as a scholar, attorney, and mentor, according to many of those students and young scholars he encountered throughout his career.

The New York Times published an obituary praising his integrity throughout a long career as an advocate for African Americans and a critic of systemic racism--rampant even at the highest tiers of academe.

You can also read a blog post the scholar Alondra Nelson wrote in his memory here.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Bell Reading

When I tried to access the Bell Interest Convergence piece on Google Books, I couldn't view all of the pages. I found a link to the material through JSTOR if anyone had the same problem: Bell. Looking forward to our discussions this week!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Reading Update

Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement is available through Google books here. The Derrick Bell essay is available for you to read.


Welcome to the course blog for the undergraduate seminar at George Washington University, "Righting/Writing: Contextualizing 20th Century U.S. Black Freedom Movements." 

Here is the course description:

“Poems are bullshit unless they are
teeth or trees or lemons piled
on a step.” Amiri Baraka From, “Black Art”

“I call upon you to be maladjusted.” Martin Luther King, Jr. From,  “On the Power of Peaceful Persuasion”

This course has several ambitious aims, but its cornerstone is an interdisciplinary approach to the study of twentieth century U.S. Black Freedom Movements and Liberation struggles in order to provide multiple contexts and pluralize the narratives generally referred to under as the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power. Though, we will primarily study the period of 1955 to 1980, our initial reading of Nikhil Pal Singh's Black Is a Country will allow us to disrupt the dominant periodization of struggles for civil rights and freedom in America. Again this periodic framework will be troubled, through a variety of texts and perspectives. Recent emphasis in scholarship of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements is on the local—grass roots organization and community activism—as well as the international and global connections of Black Americans to Africans and to the African Diaspora. Thus, we will be exploring the meaning of the local and community in specific contexts as well as thinking about the transnational and the meaning of black politics as always global but particularly in the period of rapid decolonization and anti-Imperialism of the mid- to late-twentieth century. In this course we will examine the philosophical underpinnings of black liberation as well as the artistic responses to these philosophies. We will examine the ways that literature and art can in fact produce theory, particularly in relation to the Black Arts Movement and the Black Aesthetic. We will also think in depth about questions of radicalism, activism, community engagement, and social change, particularly in the context of post-WWII American exceptionalism. The class readings sit at the nexus of radical philosophic, religious and intellectual traditions as well as popular and sub-cultures.

This course concludes with an examination of current and ongoing struggles for equality in the U.S. justice system, a movement rooted in 1970s Black radicalism and philosophies of social equality.

You can also follow additional thoughts, links, commentary from the class on Twitter by using the hashtag, #GWEngl3810.