November 16, 2018 Brian Allain

Writing and Publishing While Black

 

Dr. Valerie R. Landfair

Founder and President of Firstfruit Ministries, Inc.

 

One cannot escape the ever-increasing articles, videos, and Twitter posts that highlight the racism faced by people of color. These daily experiences of striving to survive and thrive in a world that is openly hostile to groups of people because of the pigmentation of their skins are exhausting. There are entrenched and systemic structures in the United States that exists to specifically maintain white privilege at all costs. Policies and laws are established to maintain the status quo that ‘white’ is ‘right.’

 

Thankfully, due to advancements in technology, the plethora of video clips of European American harassment of African American, Latinx, Asian American, and Native American people are coming to light. The documented harassment videos document the dangers of walking, talking, sleeping, waiting, eating, writing, driving, playing, and merely living while black, educational attainment, socio-economic status, or even place of residence. The stories of European-Americans calling 911 to keep black bodies “in line” and to “teach them a lesson” are all too familiar now. For years similar stories have been passed down by family legacy as the warning to keep our loved ones safe; now they are placed across social media and mainstream, media on an almost daily basis.

 

Racism is woven into the fiber of the core of what it is to be an American. Given this reality, I wonder why I was surprised when I encountered these injustices in writing and publishing while black. My graduate program was funded by my staggering student loan debt. I actively pursued grants and scholarships but received the standard rejection form letters over and over again. In the accumulation of this debt, I was determined to have a finished dissertation that captured my voice and that of my community.  I wanted others to hear the stories of my family, ancestors, churches, and loved ones. I wanted to share the joys and sorrows of a community of people who often feel powerless and invisible. I was committed and determined to write from an African-American female perspective and that I would be intentional to engage African and African American scholars.

 

Let’s be clear, I had plenty of dialogue partners that were of European descents who left their contribution in each of my chapters; however, my bibliography was a roll call for scholars of color. I wanted to pen some of the voiceless laments from the injustices of black, brown, red, and yellow bodies in the United States–the marginalized communities that often are subjected to racial profiling and discrimination.

 

So, what might writing and publishing while black look like in America? Well, it starts with the expectation that authors of color must have a high representation of European authors as their sources. Scholarly publications for the sable race must engage the European gatekeepers of their various disciplines in order to be seen as legitimate. I was instructed to include, and was given the names of, several European authors pending final approval of my dissertation publication. I was open to the fact that pending the approval of each chapter I needed to make revisions and to include a body of work to flush out my argument, to confirm my thesis or a critical piece of research. However, I was instructed that in order for my dissertation to have credence—legitimacy, I needed specific names in my bibliography. I had African, African American, Asian American, and Latina/o scholars from the various disciplines within the academy that the list of European scholars represented, but the approval of my dissertation was predicated on my engagement of the gatekeepers – European males and females.

 

The policing of my intellectual life, the censuring of choice of dialogue partners, and restrictions placed on my construction of a meaningful bibliography highlights the reproduction of whiteness embedded in the processes of the academy.  This is racism disguised as “being scholarly.”  This is what I face within the academy.

 

I own countless books written and published by European and European-American authors and I would hazard that the majority of names listed in their bibliography are not from a diverse and inclusive body of work. I own a nice sampling of books written and published by European authors who are ‘woke’ enough to include scholars from the margin; however, on close readings of these articles and books, the reader will discover that their work “lists” but does not seriously engaged these scholars of color in their research. The engagement of their lived experiences, cultural location, scholarly knowledge, and expertise is absent.

 

I find myself looking for the ‘writers while black’ in the footnote and endnote sections. However, I do acknowledge the European feminists who have African American feminist and womanist scholars included among there sources cited. I celebrate European females and males who are allies with the voices from the margin, however, my spirit is grieved that, in the final analysis their preferred dialogue partners are dead European males.  They leave sisters and brothers of color out of the real constructive conversations.

 

In a recent discussion with one of my favorite European professors, I encouraged him to intentionally engage voices from the margin in his upcoming book. He said, “Valerie, I do not look at race during my research, my focus is on finding good scholarship.” That reply is the foundation of European privilege within writing and publishing in America. The gatekeepers in the academy are not brown, black, red, and yellow bodies. It is so ironic to me that even regarding African scholarship, the gatekeepers are European males!

 

It’s time we fully interrogate these practices that reinforce racist standards and that continue to push scholars of color to the margins. I wonder

 

  • How many dissertations were approved pending the inclusion of voices from the margin?
  • How many European feminists were told by their publishers that they must have a robust engagement of African American feminist and womanist writers?
  • What would happen if the editors of the various academic journals would mandate that at a minimum 25% of their authors must be a person of color?
  • Can I write a “scholarly” piece using ONLY African, African American, Asian

American, Native American, Middle Eastern American, and Latina/o scholars?

 

So as social media rallies to call out the “Barbeque Beckys” and “Permit Pattys” of the world, let us not forget our more highly educated colleagues who police scholars of color with arcane standards and racists assumptions about what is and is not considered to be respectable sources. Writing and publishing while black is a thing and it is just as exhausting!