Man, that’s a weak week

I suffer dreams/of a world gone mad/I like it like that/and I know it…
-R.E.M.

So I’m one step from declaring my life a temporary emergency zone.

I am going to make seven posts in rapid succession to catch myself back up here (I hope). But here’s the deal. My laptop died. I had some major family issues. My girlfriend got sick. *I* got sick (yay, love antibiotics that make me super drowsy). I missed a conference, but luckily I sent my materials and they were displayed via video (I love digital media). I’m embroiled in some sort of dramatic exchange with a professor. It’s… the end of the semester. Yay!

So anyway, enough of me explaining why I haven’t updated every day like I said I would. Let’s get to an actual update. I didn’t have any classes, in the general sense, this week, as all our professors are at CCCC (where my video was sent). My life moved in to swallow all the time, but I did have one really interesting academic conversation with Julie.

We were dining on sushi (well, she was– I’m not that brave when I’m sick, so I had some manner of enormous plate-o-beef stirfry which was delicious) when we started to talking about how people “come out” as academics (all apologies to the GLBT community for using your metaphor, but I’m borrowing it here from another scholar on our campus). We were talking about ourselves, in large degree, when we came to the “isn’t it ironic that…”

I’m part Cherokee. And I do Native American rhetorics. We have a friend who is gay, and he does GLBT.  We have another friend who is African American. She does… yes… African American rhetoric.

So this leads me to more ask a question than to really assert any opinion. We claim in the field that we want open research and for people to not feel boxed in, but is there a sense that we still have to write/research as what we are?

Someone told me a few years ago that one didn’t need to be “black,” for example, to do African American scholarship. But in that class–which was American studies– all of the African American works and theory were written by African Americans. And as I start to learn Native American rhetoric, I’ve noticed that the Indigenous studies works that aren’t written by Indigenous people are automatically viewed with a degree of skepticism (I can even attest to being the skeptic in one case).

So it makes me wonder… CAN someone write accurately about what he or she isn’t on a race/gender/sexuality/spirituality level? And if not, are we sort of kidding ourselves when we think we can look at some other sort of community from the outside and write about it in a way that is fair?

I’m not sure… this is just a thought rattling around in my head. I thought I’d share it.

 

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4 Responses to Man, that’s a weak week

  1. k8 says:

    Nellie McKay, now-deceased uw-professor and African American Lit. powerhouse, once argued in an essay that it is necessary and important to welcome and encourage scholars of African American studies who were not African American themselves. It was in PMLA and was titled *Naming the Problem That Led To The Question*. I believe that one of the issues that comes up is that if we take the approach that only insiders can study and write about a particular group, we could also be arguing that an African American shouldn’t study someone like Shakespeare. The article caused a bit of a stir.

    She also wrote a forward to a book dealing with this argument titled *White Scholars/African American Texts*.

  2. alexa325 says:

    Thanks for the comment, Kate. That’s one of the pieces I was thinking of and couldn’t remember… the other is by Geneva Smitherman, I believe.

    I agree with McKay’s take, but I sometimes feel this creepy sort of “why are you looking at me like that” vibe when it comes up in conversations. I think most of that just comes from the fact that sadly so many of us do fall into studying what we are. I saw it with our newest group of PhD recruits here, too. It just seems so natural, but… maybe we should mix it up more.

    I’m a classic example, though, in my own right. Native American Rhetoric, gaming studies, digital composition. I’m a mixed-blood Cherokee, a life-long video gamer, and I’ve tinkered with computers since I was first able to stand at K-Mart and code in basic on the demo units.

    I just took a crack at writing about African American popular culture here on the blog (I have an essay somewhere on McGruder, and I taught a unit using his cartoon and Dave Chapelle tw years ago). I need to get back to that and not feel weird doing it.

    Thanks for the reminder! I need to locate that article to have on hand when this discussion comes up again! 🙂

  3. k8 says:

    I’m pretty sure it is in jstor.

    One thing that comes into play is considering what part of us it is that the interests are drawn from. Once upon a time, I started out as an international studies major. I suppose this is part of me in the sense that my grandparents frequently hosted grad students from Africa during breaks in the academic schedule and, when she was younger, my mother traveled quite a bit. Those aren’t my primary interests by any means, but I’ve always been interested in the differences between people and the differences that come up when we communicate. I don’t mean in the sense of othering people. I just think that if we were all the same life would be boring. I don’t want to be bored.

    Now, I wouldn’t claim knowledge that I don’t have, but then identity is such a tricky thing for everyone and, just as the insider perspective is important, I think the outsider perspective can also be important. I’m suddenly reminded of an article by anthropologist Kirin Narayan titled “How Native is a ‘Native’ Anthropologist” in which she explores her own position as a researcher. It’s in *Feminist Postcolonial theory: A Reader” edited by Reina Lewis and Sara Mills.

    I am such a librarian.

  4. alexa325 says:

    I love that you always have references in mind, Kate. 🙂

    There’s an introduction to a collection called Rhetoric and Ethnicity by Keith Gilyard that sort of hints at the same things we’re talking about here in a different light. I need to re-read it, now that I’ve done more study in race and rhetoric, but the part of his argument that stuck with me the most was his reflection on how the white guy in the movie Barbershop is “granted blackness.”

    I think Gilyard was critiquing it as a sort of hokey plot move, but I think that concept– of granting someone admission to an ethnic group that the person wasn’t born with– is probably going to be of tremendous value as we start to look more and more at the ramifications of mixed races.

    And now I’m off to look at the readings you mentioned! 🙂 Thanks!

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