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Week 9: #RMDHatWM, or Hacking the System

Let’s be brutally honest for a second: I was exhausted leading up to the Race, Memory and the Digital Humanities Conference (#RMDHatWM). Just last week, I spent three days conferencing at my alma mater, UVA; I went to Hampton Comicon; and I had two papers and presentations due (one of which I only found out about one week in advance, but I digress). All I wanted Thursday after class was my dog, a cup of tea and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill on repeat. But after hearing about the conference through the Equality Lab last fall, after my teacher moved our class time to accommodate the opening roundtable, and after remembering that I had volunteered to help–I went anyway.

I’m so glad I did.

Liz Losh, my professor, the director of the Equality Lab, and William & Mary’s first official digital humanist, put together an amazing series of roundtables, talks and events featuring some of the coolest scholars I’ve ever met. I was first struck by the fact that the opening and closing keynote speakers were both Black women and they were the epitome of #BlackGirlMagic. Thanks to Liz’s prodding, I ended up with a semi-working relationship with the closing keynote, P. Gabrielle Foreman, whom I came to deeply admire. Situated at the intersections of Literature, History and Black Studies, I was in awe of the way she seamlessly utilized Langston Hughes poetry and historical archive as a lens through which we might understanding her work digital archiving, organizing and activist work through the Colored Conventions Project. As a baby grad student working at the intersections of similar scholarship, it was amazing to have a Black woman model a methodology based not on limitations of the Academy but on the truth she was seeking to tell.

The same can be said for Jessica Marie Johnson. Her work transcended space and time as if those principles never existed anyway. In her talk, she moved us from Puerto Rico to New Orleans, cited Black Code Studies and New Orleans folklore, utilized audio to contextualize the sound of Black screams and pain as well as animated videos featuring everyone’s favorite song, “Formation.” I’ve never seen how someone’s mind can move so fast, folding together layers into a cohesive and extensively cited project.

Overall, this conference was valuable because I got to see diverse scholars address issues I’ve been grappling with the whole semester. They asked: How does this lead to transformative action? Where is our scholarship situated? What tools can DH offer us in our goals to dismantle systems of oppression?

The answers I got, for the first time, were satisfying. There is no one way to do DH, therefore there is no one solution. The goal should not necessarily be to find a solution, but to engage in a process with your work that is ethical, intentional, and empathetic. This will lead to transformative work because if you are engaging in such a way and constantly returning to questions of power, privilege and access, you will cite ethically (CITE BLACK WOMEN. GIVE US CREDIT FOR OUR WORK!), you will have reciprocally beneficial relationships with community partners, and you will build infrastructures to encourage this kind of work.

The time that I was able to spend with incredibly brilliant scholars was equally valuable. From advancing Professor Foreman’s slides for her keynote to getting hugs from Jessica Marie Johnson and Marcia Chatelain–I even got to spend a few priceless moments with Jessica, Marcia and Tacuma Peters at the end of the conference. I was so excited to meet them: Black scholars thriving in their fields, and they were also happy to meet me–another face in the crowd, a baby scholar on the come up. They fueled me with stories about how grad school was great (or not), how being a professor was great (or… not), and how to value each phase in my journey through the Academy. They told me not to downplay my work: finishing my Masters is a big deal. They told me to take advantage of my freedom as a graduate student. And they also gave me cards and contact information, which was stunning and so appreciated. I left the conference feeling loved, supported and newly secure in my roles as scholar, activist and creator.

We hack the system by writing ourselves in, creating archives for ourselves and citing POC, WOC, queer authors, indigenous scholars. We do it by working together, valuing the work of everybody–and I mean everybody–involved, and creating communities and infrastructure both digitally and physically. We hack the system by caring for each other and lifting as we climb.

This is how we hack the system. This is how we hack ourselves into the system.

This conference was just what I needed. I needed a model for how to be a caring participant of society as I move through the Academy and thankfully I got an entire room full.

This is how we hack the system.


In honor of modeling the amazing citation practices I saw at #RMDHatWM, I want to take a moment to shout out people that I learned from this conference, and whose ideas greatly inspired this synthesization of three days worth of rigorous intellectual work:

Gabrielle Foreman

Jessica Marie Johnson

Liz Losh

Angel Davis Nieves

Marisa Parham

Amanda Phillips

Kelli Moore

Fiona Barnett

Jacqueline Wernimont

Roopika Risam

Samantha Callaghan

Alexis Lothian

Catherine Steele

Week 8, or Conferences, Monologues, and Comicons, Oh My!

I’ve known for a while that this week’s blog post would be pretty packed because in the last four days, I went to Charlottesville for a conference on Slavery and Public Memory, saw the third annual Black Monologues, and attended my first Comicon in my first attempt at cosplaying, going as Ororo Monroe, better known as Storm.

I still don’t know which part to write about– it was all so incredible. However, it’s still worth the time to just reflect on each event, even if just for a little while.

The conference began with a keynote by Daina Ramey Berry on the Domestic Cadaver Trade and what she calls soul value. That talk was valuable for me because I have recently found myself exceedingly taken with Black studies and the lives of Black people, and while I felt I comfortable in my knowledge of the lives of the enslaved, Dr. Berry informed me that for a lot of Black people, the abuse didn’t end in death. Their bodies could potentially be snatched up and used as cadavers for medical school. It never occurred to me that abuse of Black bodies could extend beyond the grave, at least not in this form. It’s harrowing, but necessary, to think about.

Equally as important was the talk I attended after the keynote. I slipped away afterwards to find my former professor, Claudrena Harold, who was giving a talk in the Rotunda. A few mishaps and awkward conversations later, I found myself seated a dinner table surrounded by first year RAs, but listening to Professor Harold give a history of Black students at UVA. She is always so passionate about her work– the students she investigates, the stories she tells about them, the critical thought attached to the message– and the form her work inhabits (she’s been into film for the last 5 years.) It reminds me that I can do this grad school thing and be me. It reminds me that I can go to class, write those critical essays, because they matter, but I can also work with undergraduates and blog my thoughts and experiences and write fiction because all of these forms are a part of me. She reminded me that sometimes writing a critical essay isn’t going to adequately communicate a particular story, sentiment, or idea– and that it’s a blessing to be able to use different methods to work through various problems.

That is how you do intersectional work.

You allow yourself to tackle one problem, you allow yourself to see as many sides as you can, you evaluate it, and then you decide which of your tools is best suited to address this particular monster. Sometimes it’s an essay, sometimes a blog post, or a photoessay, or a film. Sometimes it’s talking through difficult feelings with undergraduates, sometimes it’s yelling yourself hoarse at a protest. Intersectional work is not limiting yourself based on the arbitrary parameters of the Academy.

I took this revelation with me as I moved through the rest of the conference– sitting in panels about confederate monuments and student activism, the lives of descendants of the enslaved and memory in the South; meeting everyone from undergraduates to professionals; reuniting with friends, professors, and loved ones. I made it my mission to do work for the Lemon Project while I was there. I wanted everyone to know who we were and what we stood for, because that was what felt right. So I chatted and gave out business cards, took extensive notes, and live tweeted almost the entire conference, which helped grow our small following on twitter from 180 to 230 followers just in the course of a few days.

When I wasn’t working, I was reuniting, slipping out to see everyone I had to leave when I graduated– my second mother, my dear budding academic friend, a former resident, and a couple of the best friends I’ve ever known. One such excursion involved me, my soul sister and her actual sister, and one stage that I’ve come to love with all of my heart.

Yup, I went to see Black Monologues.

I’m not sure how it happened, but the magic was back. I was enraptured. The show spoke to me again, held me comfortably in its arms, and I felt so loved once again, as if I had never left that stage, never left that theater at all. My heart ached so badly that tears started falling before I could stop them, I laughed so hard the tears started again and my stomach started to ache. The struggles were real– they responded to the August 11-12 demonstrations, they related the difficulty of choosing to be an activist or a scholar because it feels so often like you can’t be both, they spoke of Black love, trust and hope. They tapped in to the fear of losing a loved one to police brutality, the fear of admitting your mental health was declining, the fear of putting your trust in the wrong people. There was disappointment and guilt, but so much pride. As they performed Master Jefferson and For Your Entertainment, my heart swelled with pride because Ed had truly left his legacy at UVA with those pieces. When the cast told us where they had come from, it was all I could do not to break down sobbing.

The sobbing came later when two of the actresses from the first year of doing the show ran up to me afterwards, telling me how they’d seen me and tried not to make eye contact because they knew they’d laugh or smile, radiating happiness and love, and I fell into them, crying, because in that moment, I was home again.

I carried all of this love and hope with me as I moved through my last day at the conference, and finally home to Williamsburg, where I prepared myself for my next adventure, Comicon.

I had a whole adventure before we (my friend Adrienne and I) even left as I’d been so exhausted the last three days that I’d passed out before I remembered I had to go get spray on hair dye to turn myself into Storm for the convention. I ran around all morning, picking up a pair of black jeans here and dye there. By 10 AM, I was a dead ringer for Ororo Monroe, so we left, Storm and Ms. Marvel, for the festivities.

Admittedly, it wasn’t as fun as I had imagined. It was small and cramped with a lot of people. The panels weren’t particularly organized nor did I just decide chat with anyone. I did however get to look at a lot of cool stuff, including amazing, nerdy woodworkings, a lot of comics, and a ton of art. Most of my fun was looking through all of the artists’ portfolios and getting to chat with them about their work. I eventually picked up a Black Panther poster from an artist, along with an X-Men patch, then Adrienne (who had accumulated similar goodies) and I decided it was time to go. We took some really fun pictures outside of the convention center before we hit the road back to the Burg.

All in all, it was an enormously fun four days. It just speaks to the fact that I refuse to be stuffed in a box that I attended a slavery conference, a show on Black experiences and a Comicon in less than a week. This has been me living my best life. I want to continue to be moved in all kinds of directions, and find somewhere to land no matter which path I take. I want to continue to believe in my ability to decide which form speaks to my thought the best. I want to continue to be unapologetically me as I move through grad school and into a career– and to do that, I have to accept my complexity.
I’m never going to be just one thing and I take pleasure in knowing my future will be very complex, very multi-dimensional, and thus very, very rich.

Week 7, or Ravynn’s mid-Semester Check In, ft. Pieces that Stuck With Me

“Definition of womanism: ‘…committed to the survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except occasionally, for health.’ 

Alice Walker from “U.S. Third World Feminism”

I’ve gotten into the habit of doing mid-semester check-ins here on BGDGS. My first semester I reflected on the goals I set for myself before I started this whole crazy journey, my second semester I listed the books and essays that had the greatest impact on me as a person, and now as I’m looking at my third mid-semester check point, I’ve decided to do a riff on my books and essays list.

I think it’s a good exercise for myself to keep track of the things I read that truly move me– and why. It’s also potentially important to think about when I encounter certain things along my journey, as it impacts how I move through the world. So, for my third mid-semester check-in, I’ve decided to do a list of texts that I mulled over this semester, even after the class I read them for was over.

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  1. Kimberle Crenshaw’s “Mapping the Margins”

I will never forget when my friend asked a class of predominately white women whether they thought “intersectionality” as Crenshaw imagined it had been appropriated by white women. Until she said it, I had never thought about it. After she said it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

As I’ve moved through various spaces this semester, I’m feeling the liminal space that Crenshaw wrote about every day. She gave a words to the void I feel myself slipping into as I try to maneuver in this world without falling to the wayside, but it also gives me hope that if someone can give this feeling a name, then something can be done about it.

chela_sandoval_md2. Chela Sandoval’s “U.S. Third World Feminism”

I didn’t know how much I liked it until I got into class and had to give my presentation on it. I could vibe with the basic premise that Third World Feminism (a broad category that essentially doesn’t include hegemonic [white Western] feminism) as a methodology was a combination of a ton of different tactics. It was both invested in equal rights but also revolutionary, sometimes supremacist, sometimes separatist, but always “differential,” as Sandoval puts it. The difference is that this Feminism can be and is everything, sometimes all at once, sometimes one a time, and sometimes nothing. I liked the idea that you have a tool kit to pull from, and you use different tactics dependent on each unique situation.

lorde

3. Audre Lorde’s “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”

I’m suddenly of the camp that believes with all my heart in new strategies. I think I found myself at the end of my rope these semester, tired of doing things the “right way” and still not quite moving forward. Now that I believe in it, I need to live it.

Still working on how to live my pedagogy.

41hghhlf5ol-_ac_ul320_sr214320_4. Stuart Hall’s “New Ethnicities”

Stuart Hall is always a good read, especially for someone who will probably be classified in some capacity as a cultural historian. He’s difficult, but worth reading, primarily because you’ll definitely have to read his work at least twice. I like the way he works through monolithic identities, deconstructing and reconstructing as he goes.

 

 

 

9780060838676_p0_v6_s192x3005. Zora Neale Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God

I honestly think that every time I read this book, I fall in love with it even more. I get something new from it. I never get tired of reading it. This time around I was particularly taken with Zora herself. I read an article about her for my Reflections of the African Diaspora class and I couldn’t help but notice her ample descriptions– fun, controversial, outrageous, aggressive, a loner, and impatient, for a short list– and I was astounded. I was astounded that she was described as though it were incredible that she dared be anything short of herself. She was remarkable– truly one of a kind. I love her for daring to be unapologetically herself because it helps me feel brave, and embrace myself for who I am. I want to be Zora Neale Hurston fearless some day.

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6. Antenor Firmin’s The Equality of the Human Races

This was an incredible work of anthropology and I was astounded by its rigor, the francophile in me proud of the Haitian revolutionary, intellectual spirit, and impressed that someone so angry about have to explain common sense could write so eloquently. However, it was also a prime example of how something can be both passionately anti-racist and also supremely sexist. I’m pretty sure this would be my favorite book if I were a Black man.

 

 

narrative-of-the-life-of-frederick-douglass7. The Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass

Although my Dad loves to hold up pictures of Frederick Douglass to his face when he hasn’t shaved in a while and say that they’re twins, I never felt moved to read any Douglass. After I did, I found a way to mention Douglass I think once a class. His ingenuity was inspiring to me and I now love reciting stories from the book. Douglass was WILD, honest and fearless.

 

 


So there you have it, a short list of my favorite texts I’ve read this semester so far. Relatedly, I felt inspired to mention that my favorite assignment from the semester was my blog post on Black hair as a medium that I did for my New Media, Old Media class.

I’m going to spend the next few days trying to rest up, then I have a big week ahead of me. Instead of heading back to class on Wednesday, I will be on my way back to my alma mater for a conference on slavery as a representative for the Lemon Project. In between being a professional conference-r, I’ll be running around with my friends and I’ve even got tickets to see this year’s Black Monologues. Then, once I’m back on Saturday, I’ll be off to my very first ComicCon with my friend.  I will be cosplaying as Ororo Monroe, a.k.a Storm, X-Man and former Queen of Wakanda. With so many incredible things to write about, who knows what you’ll get next week.

Stay tuned to find out.