On Disavowal as an Act of Love

In an interview on decolonial love in the Boston Review, Junot Diaz reflects about the sites of critique saying, “if a critique … doesn’t first flow through you, doesn’t first implicate you, then you have missed the mark; you have, in fact, almost guaranteed its survival and reproduction.” What does that mean? For those of us doing work about/with colonized and otherwise marginalized peoples, it is imperative that we consider seriously the ways in which our own theoretical, critical, and interpretive choices implicate and challenge the structures of domination that interest us so much. In other words, critique needs to start where we’re at and where we’ve been — it needs to start with a look inward at the ways in which we have shut down or failed to open up the channels of response-ability.

So how does this take me to disavowal?

When I re-started working on my book, about four or five years ago, I approached the project from a different set of perspectives compared to my dissertation research. Back when I was a grad student (and a lot less gray), I was moved by the intellectual currents of the time and my place … which basically meant that I was enamored with postmodernism, poststructuralism, post-Marxism, and probably any other “post” I could get my hands on. I started my project on the New York Young Lords by taking the critical and theoretical heuristics I had been using with my prior project (on ballots as “sublime object” of democracy) and basically started reading the Young Lords through their optics.

That move was a mistake. It may have allowed me to make some “interesting” arguments (yes, the scare-quotes are purposeful) about how the Young Lords enacted certain radical democratic sensibilities and imagined new forms of citizenship, but those arguments were misguided. Perhaps worse, those earlier arguments — which structured my dissertation, my first Quarterly Journal of Speech essay on the Young Lords garbage offensive, and some other writings — enacted a form of violence by forcing the Young Lords into a Western/Northern theoretical apparatus that occluded what they were up to. My actions reproduced coloniality and I disavow those arguments.

Some other aspects of my earlier scholarship were probably fine, I think. In that same garbage offensive essay, for example, I advanced a set of arguments about social movements and the importance of doing work that examines the intersections of verbal, visual, and embodied discourses — and I stand by (most of) that stuff today, partly because I think the “hegemony of textualism” (Conquergood) is rooted in a modern/Western/colonial bias. But the other stuff — the Eurocentric paradigms about discourse and democracy that motivated my research — I disavow. Decolonial love requires that we generate response-ability and listen to the cries of the dispossessed, in all of their fugitive communications, so that we might bear witness to their challenges to the logics and rhetorics of modernity. Even better if we can seize the opportunity to speak with them in challenging those structures of domination. You can’t do that if your only way of seeing and hearing and feeling and speaking is located squarely within the colonial matrix of power / knowledge / being.

 


 

This post was motivated by the reflexive turns I took when re-approaching my project on the New York Young Lords. I’m indebted to the students and faculty in the Communication Studies department at the University of Denver for giving me the opportunity to discuss these thoughts in October 2014. I’m also motivated to post *at this moment* given the many conversations I keep having at the National Communication Association’s 100th Annual Convention about the aforementioned garbage offensive essay (and my disavowal of key parts of it). Finally, some of my observations in this post appear (and are expanded upon) in my forthcoming book, The New York Young Lords and the Struggle for Liberation (Temple University Press, 2015). 

Book Status Update

I made it “official” to my friends on Facebook sometime last month, but I never posted about it here: my book is officially under contract at Temple University Press and should come out sometime in 2015!!! The book, currently titled Delinking: The New York Young Lords and the Struggle for Liberation, is over a decade in the making. It began as seminar paper, turned into a dissertation, and has been been the subject of some of my journal articles and book chapters since then.

This book almost didn’t happen. In fact, after doing The Young Lords: A Reader (NYU Press, 2010), I’d pretty much given up on turning my research into a full book monograph. Why? Well, I had a serious case of topic fatigue … and that was combined with a difficult time thinking about what angle I wanted to approach it from. I had grown bored with the radical democratic focus of the dissertation and my early journal articles (a theoretical focus I now repudiate); and the next frame I started thinking through (one focused on nationalism) ended abruptly when I encountered a new published article that did much of what I had been thinking about. It took a stern talking-to from my former adviser (something like, “Come on … just publish the damn thing”) and a reminder about decoloniality from some college debaters to kick me into gear. So here I am, now, finishing the edits and reflecting a bit about the process. Continue on for a brief summary of the book and what I’ll be blogging about next…. Continue reading “Book Status Update”

Lysistrata Sex Strikes in Ukraine? The Young Lords Did It, Too….

Popping up on my Facebook page today was this story about Ukrainian women launching a sex strike against Russian men. The article on The Atlantic recounts that the Ukrainian women are certainly not the first to do it:

Of course, the women of “Don’t Give It to a Russian” are hardly the first to have this idea. Just last month, a group of women in Tokyo threatened not to sleep with any man who voted for a gubernatorial candidate who was seen to have outdated views on gender. In 2003, a group called the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace led a sex strike for an end to the Liberian civil war. And just a few years ago in Ukraine, the feminist group Femen called on the wives and girlfriends of the members of the prime minister’s cabinet to boycott sex in opposition to what they called the prime minister’s “caddish and humiliating attitude towards Ukrainian women.”

It is, in fact, a strategy as old as time. In the Greek comedy Lysistrata, the eponymous character rallies her fellow women to withhold sex from their husbands until they agree to end the Peloponnesian War. For what it’s worth, it worked for the women in the play.

I find it interesting that the article, in a U.S. American magazine, declines to make any connections to similar kinds of resistance within the U.S. Could it be that only folks outside our national borders could make such devious (non-)use of sex? Of course not! Although I’m sure there are many more examples of Lysistrata-style sexual strikes, the one with which I’m most familiar comes from the New York Young Lords.

In 1970, women in the Young Lords began meeting as part of a women’s caucus to discuss issues of racist-sexism (machismo) in society at large and within the structures of their organization. Facing pressure to stop the meetings — they were charged with “talking some of that crazy feminist bullshit” and with being “a bunch of white women” — they considered separating from the males in the organization and, according to one former Young Lord, “rejected that as being counterrevolutionary. We examined it; we talked about it; we critiqued it.” Also considered was the option of joining the Third World Women’s Alliance, a U.S.-women of color feminist organization challenging racism, imperialism, and sexism.

Rather than either disband the women’s caucus or split from the Young Lords, the women instead sought ways to resist. For example, women who were in intimate relationships with Young Lords men held a special meeting to discuss Aristophanes’ LysistrataIn that meeting, they decided that they would no longer have sexual relations with their male partners until the central committee and organization were reformed. Denise Oliver recalls, “We knew we couldn’t go on strike because that would mean all of the programs for the people would collapse. That would be counterrevolutionary—we were not going to not do our work. And we were certainly going to not have anything to do with them that we were related to at all. ‘Hello. The revolution stops right here at the bedside.'”

While the sexual strikes, which lasted several weeks, weren’t a total success on their own, they played a clear role in heightening tensions within the organization and generating some of the conditions for substantive change.  Lysistrata-style strikes aren’t just things that happen somewhere “out there”; they’ve taken place right here along with countless other forms of resistance to racist sexism in our colonial antiblack world. Such stories need to become more commonplace so that young people today have more inventional resources, what some of us rhetorical scholars call touchstones, to stylize modes of resistive engagement in our present(s) and future(s).

Do readers know of any other examples of Lysistrata-style strikes in the U.S.? Feel free to reply on Twitter or Facebook and/or leave them in the comments, here.

Coca-Cola Colonialism

I’m sure, by now, everyone is aware of the Coca-Cola “It’s Beautiful” Super Bowl ad and the batsh*t crazy, racist, xenophobic responses it has garnered. If you haven’t seen the commercial, here you go:

Being the kind of person I am with the friends I have, my Twitter and Facebook feeds have started to fill with the various news stories unmasking the hateful and vitriolic responses to the ad. And I’m glad people are doing that. We should be offended at people spouting hate on the internet and anywhere else. We should act on that feeling of offense and take stands against it in online … but also in our homes, classrooms, and other daily interactions.

From Vagabond Beaumont’s blog post “Occupying Wall Street 1492 – 2011.” Click image to be taken to the post.

But we should also be careful not to jump to Coca-Cola’s defense. Responding to racism, xenophobia, and other craziness is a good thing, but we should not respond in ways that force us into defending a massive corporation and it’s colonization and homogenization of “American” culture. I remain sickened by the the hateful rhetoric spewed by folks who think that “America” is/ought to be white, English-only, etc. … and I am also sickened by mythologizing of “America” and Americanity by corporations, and through media and US policy. I worry that a commercial like this, absent critical discourses questioning it, reinforces a problematic vision of inclusion that leaves untouched the modern/colonial assumptions upon which it is based.

Only by questioning and challenging those assumptions can we begin to eradicate those values, beliefs, epistemologies, and ontologies that authorize the racist vitriol in the first place.

Happy Birthday, Angela Davis

I decided to dig through my archive a little bit to pull out a couple of pieces from the Young Lords’ newspaper, Palante, on Angela Davis. The Young Lords worked in coalition with the Black Panthers, Young Patriots, and other radicals — individuals and groups — committed to liberation across the Global South.

This first piece was published in the September 11, 1970 issue of Palante, which was shortly after Davis was initially charged with kidnapping and murder (charges, as everyone knows or should know, that were proven false after a lengthy trial and imprisonment):

palante_v2n11-Sept11-1970(click on the image to enlarge)

This second piece was published in the March 31-April 14 issue of Palante, shortly after Davis’s trial finally began:

palante_v4n07-April14-1972

(click on the image to enlarge)

Revisiting Writing: Delinking Rhetoric (Take One)

Last April, I gave a presentation at the Southern States Communication Association convention in San Antonio. I was part of a double-panel that had been arranged by Mary Stuckey on the topic of rhetorical circulation. The piece was a a labor of love and ended up making it into a special forum on circulation in Rhetoric and Public Affairs, edited by Mary. The published essay is entitled, “Delinking Rhetoric, Or Revisiting McGee’s Fragmentation Thesis Through Decoloniality” (click the title for a link to it).

As a writing process geek, I’m writing this post to draw attention to how much essays change from the initial shot across the bow (in this case, my conference presentation) and the final/published version. Anyone in academia knows this happens, right? Rarely does the piece that makes it into print look exactly like what you submit or initially write. Sometimes the changes are small — a sentence here, a citation there — but other times (most of the time!) they’re more substantial.

The problems I got myself into with the circulation piece were twofold. First, I had issues with voice. Despite being the thing I harp on my own students about, sometimes I have a hard time finding my own voice in an essay. In this piece, that was partially purposeful (the fragmented form being a bit of an illustration of the issue about which I was writing). But my  voice problems were also related to my fresh take on the topic — that is, I was too new to the argument, which was getting in the way of my own voice coming though clearly enough. This latter voice problem is common … and why folks should probably never submit essays to journals for review until they’ve had some time to sit and go through a proper, long-term revision.

The second problem I had was that the piece was just too damn long. I think Mary had asked us to prepare 8-page papers and mine was somewhere around 13. As a result, things just had to get cut. In this situation, unfortunately, that meant I had to cut some of my favorite parts in which I had situated my argument through an engagement of Jesús Colón, de Certeau, and Latin@ communication studies. Sometimes it’s hard to make calls like that, but they’re the calls you have to make.

Not wishing my brief engagement of Colón to simply go away, though, I wanted to share the original piece (with all of its flaws) here. Read it, don’t read it — it’s up to you. But if you’re starting out with scholarly writing, know that you’re not alone in your struggles to find voice and make the hard choices about what stays in and what gets left out of your essays.

The original essay is below the jump….

Continue reading “Revisiting Writing: Delinking Rhetoric (Take One)”

New(ish) Essay on the Young Lords and Decoloniality

I’ve been slacking off on this blog for a while now, but in an effort to start posting a little more regularly, I want to announce a new(ish) essay that just came out. Called “Decolonizing Imaginaries: Rethinking ‘the People’ in the Young Lords’ Church Offensive,” this essay explores the ways in which the New York Young Lords craft a decolonial version of “the people” in their verbal, visual, and embodied discourse surrounding the Church Offensive (1969). In addition to the specific arguments about the Young Lords, this essay is the first in the journal (the Quarterly Journal of Speech) to make use of decolonial theory (a la Quijano, Mignolo, and Maldonado-Torres) and hopefully serves as a good introduction of the ideas to this new audience in rhetoric within communication studies. The title of the article (above) is a hyperlink, but if your institution doesn’t subscribe or you’re not at an institution in the first place, I’d be happy to pass on a PDF. Just shoot me an email.

Now let’s see if I can’t start using this and Twitter a little more regularly….

Beginning the Semester Reminder: Backups

Well … I guess I took a summer hiatus. Didn’t really mean to; but everything got kind of blurry with the loss of my friend, Nacho, in July. It’s taken the semester’s start to give me a swift kick in the butt and start feeling like myself again. As such, I wanted to take advantage of the relatively calm Friday to get back into posting. This one (as the title indicates) is about backing up your stuff (which most of you do, I’m sure). More posts will be coming, however, as this is a big writing year for me as I try to finish off the book. So without further adieu, here are my thoughts on backing up your important crap.  Continue reading “Beginning the Semester Reminder: Backups”

More On the New Edition of Palante

A couple of days ago, I posted with glee that my copy of Palante had shipped. Having just arrived home from doing some work, I was delighted to see the box containing the book sitting on my front porch. What follows are some initial thoughts on the text, which underscore my prior belief that everyone needs a copy of this historic and affordable book.  Continue reading “More On the New Edition of Palante”

The New Palante Is Out (and Why You Should Care)

Perhaps I order too many books, which Is probably an occupational hazard for folks in my line of work. As such, I often don’t pay close attention to emails with the subject line “Your Amazon.com order has shipped.” Today, I’m glad that I looked because my copy of Palante: Voices and Photographs of the Young Lords, 1969-1971 is on its way. This re-release and re-naming of the 1971 Palante: Young Lords Party, which has been out of print for a long time, adds an introduction by Iris Morales, filmmaker and Young Lord, and promises to be a great addition to the resources available on the organization. So why should you care? Here are a couple of reasons.  Continue reading “The New Palante Is Out (and Why You Should Care)”