Through the transformative work of Black queer feminist writers and pedagogues like Jordan and Lorde, I know that regardless of what scarcity, careerism, opportunism, and other forms of fear say to me, another way is always possible. This is a story about a choice I made. A choice I am still making as I write to you. A choice to honor the intellectual and emotional labor of myself and others. A story about a response I received, and a story about my sense of how we move forward collectively in miracle work toward creating the world we all deserve.
As always, I trust that the story I am telling and the specificity of experience will make my meaning clear. Your scholarship represents the kind of intellectual commitments we would like to see in the pages of our journal, and we trust your judgment to take the journal in exciting directions in the future. Unfortunately, the context for my receiving this email was different.
Johnnie M. Stover. Rhetoric and Resistance in Black Women's Autobiography.
While I began to read the call with great excitement and interest, it was not long before my reading the CFP, for many reasons, turned to an all too familiar experience of disappointment and exhaustion as a Black queer femme and Black queer feminist studies scholar in rhetoric and composition. Indeed, the very same week another rhetoric and composition journal had published a queer theory special issue with its own forms of erasure and exclusion of work by queer people of color in the field.
So, I did the only thing I know how to do, I wrote the aforementioned email, which I link for you to read in its entirety. I noted that in a special issue focusing on queer and trans embodiment, the CFP did not demonstrate an understanding of race and embodiment, and excluded research by women of color feminists — many of them queer and trans women of color — who had contributed so much to understandings of embodiment long before the existence of sexuality studies, queer studies, trans studies, or critical race theory.
Indeed, in the whole original CFP not one queer of color or feminist of color scholar was cited. Note that I do not mention my own work. Finally, and most egregiously, I had to note that if I were to accept their invitation I would be the only Black person on the board, and thus also be replacing the previous only Black person on their board. One editor, Holly Middleton, wrote:.
And then on February 25, , Zarah C. Moeggenberg, the other guest editor of the original special issue proposal, wrote to me:. Moeggenberg, one of the two original guest editors of the special issue. I, for one, am excited about the publication of the issue and the possibilities for how it will prompt prospective contributors to author work that could make interventions that take queer and trans research in literacies, rhetoric, and composition in meaningful and long overdue directions.
One concern about the new CFP, which dovetails back to the larger overlooking of the intellectual and emotional labor of scholars of color, is the lack of a direct link between queer and trans literacies and women of color feminisms. As queer literacy practices and histories and rhetorics are bound to privilege, to which working class queer literacies may our field more readily attend?
While the work of Karma Chavez and Sarah Ahmed are cited, no Black women or women of color in the field who have published work on queer literacies and composition, are cited. Given that intersectionality and work at the intersections of sexuality and race owes much to the contributions of women of color feminists in literacy studies, this oversight is especially egregious.
In addition, queer of color and decolonial feminists outside the field who make intersectional work possible within all fields, including literacy, composition, and rhetoric, such as Barbara Smith, Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, Cathy Cohen, Sharon Patricia Holland, Eve Tuck, E. Patrick Johnson, Mae G. Henderson, C. Soto, among others are also omitted. Importantly, and consequently, the activist roots of the queer and trans literacies the special issue seeks to embrace and illuminate are completely untethered from the critical genealogy in the citation practices of the CFP.
For example, the many publications of KJ Rawson on the topic of transgender and queer literacies, rhetoric, and composition is not mentioned. There are a few other scholars in rhetoric and composition who have published transgender literacy, rhetoric, and composition research, especially those working on literacy pedagogy, and those too are not included for some reason. For instance, when people talk about addressing the politics of citation, sometimes the response to that is to insert a name where you can. We are more than a hamster on the wheel. The function of a CFP is to engage deeply with the work and say where does it take us now.
Even if the citation is parenthetical or signposted in notes as for further reading, this is a practice that can maneuver well with the conventions of citation in a genre that leave us time to do little more than cite a name and work.
I confess that, as with citational erasure, I am especially sensitive to rhetorical tokenism because of personal experiences. In recent years, and also in the reissued CFP from LiCS , I have seen my own work uncredited or not properly recognized for the totality of its contributions. The takeaway, to an uninformed reader, would be that the only work cited on the topic of Black queer literacy, rhetoric, and composition is all that has been published, which would not be true given my work and the work of others beyond the scholar cited.
As I say multiple times in my book, while my work is an example of Black LGBTQ literacies, I never intended nor could it say all the things about Black queer literacies that we still need to have said. I also say my work would not exist if not for the important interventions made by my intellectual ancestors, elders, and peers. To signpost this for my readers, I write amply about the people and scholarship who made my path clear, and in the conclusion, I note where folks in the future could go and should go for future projects because there is still so much left to do.
Why is this important? Because labor — emotional and intellectual — must be honored. I wish also to return to the last correspondence I received from LiCS, as a way to highlight a concluding important way we must be attentive to the intellectual and emotional labor others perform and the responsibility we all have to acknowledge that work. Recall that in the message from Glascott, on behalf of the LiCS editorial management team, I was told that LiCS planned to come back to me about their plans to move forward.
As I said, they have not. In the tweet Moeggenberg assigns the reason for the CFP being retracted and revised to the mentorship she and the other two coeditors received from the LiCS editorial team. But, what is clear from the email record is that the only reason any effort was made to even consider, and ultimately retract the CFP, and revise it, was because of my initial letter and feedback.
This tweet erases my intellectual and emotional labor, and also the goodwill I demonstrated for which Middleton, Glascott, and Moeggenberg thanked me when I chose to go to them directly as a courtesy to offer a shared opportunity to do better. Even though I find there are problems with the second CFP, despite the improvements, I never believed that my feedback had to be acknowledged.
But, when Moeggenberg chose to give all credit to the editorial team, and once they chose to do so and thank someone publicly which is their right ethically they should also acknowledge all the sources of feedback received. As such, given their decision to go semi-public, I do have an expectation that I be acknowledged and I think it would be fair for anyone else to have the same expectation.
The nature of my comments did not have to be noted given the substance of my contribution, but it would have been appropriate to acknowledge all sources of feedback. It was also forwarded to me by colleagues who were asked by the special issue editors to submit their work and circulate the CFP to others. I would have shared this directly with the LiCS editorial team or the special issue editors if LiCS came back as they said they would.
Finally, in addition, note that the reissued CFP mentions that the initial CFP was retracted, however no explanation was provided. In the absence of this key information, the fullness of what we could all stand to learn from LiCS choosing to do better is lost. The reissued CFP seeks to claim space for doing the work of addressing their initial error, but does not say what was wrong in the first place.
Practices of benefiting from, yet not acknowledging, the intellectual and emotional labor of people happens with far too much ubiquity, and especially happens consistently to scholars of color, women, and queer and trans scholars who do so much mentoring and emotional labor behind the scenes that is either not acknowledged or ignored, and it has to stop. I speak the truth of the graduate students of color in seminars across the country, who do the emotional and intellectual labor in their classrooms to teach their peers and their teachers, and then have to make do with the little energy left to put a balm to heal the spiritual, physical, and psychological wounds they have to face just to obtain a graduate school education.
I speak the truth of those people who, like I, have the undeniable receipts in hand that when it comes to scholars of color the field has engaged in this practice of not acknowledging our intellectual and emotional labor for decades, and rather than tell the truth and do the work, what we see are them ushering graduate students and junior faculty of color onto the same red carpet of tokenism that they used to exhaust their mentors, elders, and ancestors in the field on endless committees, task forces, and performances of doing the work that are nothing more than a cloaking device so that they can remain unaccountable and leave you with no energy to serve your actual purpose.
I speak the truth of the women and femme colleagues who get asked to do the administrative work that makes the wheels turn at our institutions and in the field every single day, and not only are they never recognized, but their work is in fact also used against them in the processes of tenure, promotion, and award. I speak the truth of those who speak truth to power and have people say they appreciate your feedback and are listening, only to show through their actions they resent that you told the truth while simultaneously benefiting from your labor.
I speak the truth of the queer of color scholars in the field who have seen their white queer scholar peers either ignore queer of color and two-spirit critique altogether or nominally cite the work of queer of color scholars outside the field so as to check the citational politics box, as they simultaneously offer no recognition of the intellectual and emotional labor of the very scholars who work alongside them in rhetoric and composition. I speak the truth of disability studies scholars and people with disabilities, who have witnessed professional organizations and institutions use their work and activism to pat themselves on the back to claim they are doing the work to address ableism, while simultaneously holding inaccessible conferences and offering no challenge to the ableist policies and practices all around them.
I speak the truth of the activist scholar-teachers — faculty and graduate students alike — who have devoted countless hours to national service for professional organizations, with the enticement that their labor will change things, and yet somehow the intractable status quo preserves itself and their labor is exploited. Less anyone believe that my comments here are exclusive to my experience with LiCS or its editors, I want to be unequivocal in saying that my point here is an indictment of and call for all to do better.
Also, let me state unequivocally that I have no interest in gatekeeping.
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I suffered the wounds of that practice so much in my experiences as a graduate student and junior-scholar in the field, and what I know that the people who tried to silence me and my work chose not to know, is that there is nothing to gain from gatekeeping other people and it also will always be unsuccessful.
The work — the miracle — will always be born, gatekeeping be damned. It will profit the gatekeeper nothing but the bad karma they clearly are choosing. We need more people to do that work. And I am grateful to LiCS and to the special issue editors for the reality that they will be giving someone an opportunity to publish in those areas who I and my students will learn from. Still, what I know is that it is possible for that work to be done without doing harm to one another, and my spirit cannot accept less. As people read this, I hope that we will individually at first and collectively finally get down to the business of assessing and evaluating how we have contributed to this toxic and harmful dynamic, regardless of intention.
An un-organization of scholars in RHM
Practices like this sow the seeds of resentment, fear, anger, and in its most extreme form, despair. Whether conscious or not doing these things are a way of saying to people that they do not matter, and that is by definition a toxic and harmful practice. I trust that deep down the vast majority of people do want to honor the humanity and labor of those around them but we must also contend with the reality that we are rarely taught to do just that, and in some cases, we are encouraged through norms, institutional structures, and ego to do the opposite.
Still, we can learn and choose to better. It is my hope that something I have written here will find your heart, and find also my own, and that we will at last do and be better, together, infinitely shifting from fear to love as we create the world and field we all deserve. Please note that all comments at this site are closely moderated and vetted by Carmen Kynard. I see you. That seems like such a small, trite acknowledgment in the face of the institutional oppression that you must confront. Nevertheless, I needed to say that today.
After spending the last week reading almost applications from candidates hoping to pursue a Ph. My indignation has always been there but this week, it got newly recharged. Know this deep in your core and never doubt it, no matter how many white folk and white-passers act as if you are paranoid. Trust what you feel. I got to see it all firsthand this week. Of our applications, 34 applicants qualified for this special review. Our committee read the 34 applications and scored them in order to whittle down these 34 apps to a smaller list of nine. When the scores got tallied up to determine the Divine Nine, I got mad.
This white-passingness did not represent the entirety or quality of the 34 applicants. All in all, only one Black-Mixed-With-Black person was allowed entry into the final pool; only one Aztlan Latinx candidate was allowed passage; and Queer male AfroLatinidad was allowed expression only once. However, none of that changes the ideologies that produced these white-passers as the highest scorers. This is who reads your application. Historically, English and the rest of the Humanities though not to the same extent have sustained the imperial gaze on English as a language system.
All you need is white discourse, white skin, and the ability to quote Lacan or Derrida and you will be rendered as someone who is intelligent and, oddly, as someone who possesses the keys to understanding oppression in all forms of life. You see this person in almost every class.
In the zeal to distance themselves from the Brown and Black young people who are the majority in my urban context, whiteness gets performed and embraced in more extreme ways so as to ward off any association with the Black and Brown youth masses that surround us.
This white classical core can barely fill its classes, offer its students viable employment opportunities, or sustain itself in the academy and yet it is the site of Brownness and Blackness that is scapegoated as the location of low standards and problems. There are some things to learn from this mess. Just like I had a list of grievances, I have a list of actions to take. This looks good for everyone except us. You are being counted and represented as progress.
Stop making them look good while they do you bad. In a similar vein, colleges will be given diversity credits for interviewing you as a Black or Brown faculty candidate down the line even though they have no intention of hiring the likes of you. Do the due diligence and find out what is going on behind the scenes with folk of color. Some schools do not even deserve to count our bodies in their application tally. Be vocal about that. Choose a different school. Stop helping them by applying to them.
The second action is gon require that white graduate students get called out on their racism. The fact of the matter is that there were equally qualified Brown and Black candidates who never got chosen simply because they did not perform whiteness in the way that white applicants do. They only had whiteness.
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The only crisis in the pipeline is that white folk clog the drains: as the folk who get chosen and as the folk who do the choosing. There is always a pool of qualified folk of color in the cohort who are rejected for white benefit. The white folk who resist and fight back can expect backlash.
It is nuthin in comparison to what folk of color go through everyday. White gate-keepers will make life difficult for resistant white faculty and graduate students too and even some folk of color will respond in ignorant, coonish ways. We need to re-imagine resistance, especially as faculty of color, which you will someday become. Not a single one of the Black and Latinx candidates who I liked best in the scored high or even made it through the admissions committee. The dinner had already been served; the entrees had already been overcooked.
In my context, I am an appointed member of this graduate program, not a central member so I receive my salary from elsewhere. This means that I have the luxury of happily never returning to this program and facing no consequence for my decision. Even without that luxury, I would be done though.
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