I have long been concerned about the vulnerability of the Graduate Center as an ethical place of knowledge acquisition and production. For how can there be ethically productive exchanges among the inhabitants of this place if our operational structures solely allot agency and visibility to certain bodies and voices? As the new Editor-in-Chief, I occupy this position with an old sickening burden: Me tired ah being lonely. All around me are wonderful smiling people, yet the elevators feel lonely, the lounges stink with strangeness, di Dinning Commons is the big haunted room! Me tired ah me head hurting with questions about how and when will this madness end. And it doesn’t get easier, knowing that I must learn and deploy the conventions of the dominant culture in ways that perpetuate its entitlement syndrome. There is an expectation that I must skillfully utilize the existing strategies to disguise and erase the characteristics that denote the validity of Diasporas of color. Today, therefore, I will use this space and scream rebellion. Me will scream me names.
I must scream enough so I can hear myself and remember who I am—that I can think—that I can speak what I can think—that I can practice how to be silent and listen to others who embody freethinking. I must amplify my names so that you feel the fire and a consequent temptation to scream your own names as part of a long process of destroying the Graduate Center’s garments that comfortably cloak voices and bodies like mine. Outside the doors of the Graduate Center, on its very steps, my body automatically positions me as a shooting target for the police. And within its doors, in every elevator ride to another floor, on most admissions committees, in every incoming cohort, names like mine that carry certain baggage and bounty of histories are shot down and shut out of opportunities. So in what way must this Afro-Jamaican speak his name into visibility while rebuking traditions of black testimonial erasures?
The article of former Editor-in-Chief, Gordon Barnes, addresses an event with Bernie Sanders and the protestors of Black Lives Matter. As I read Gordon’s contribution, I wonder—is there any usefulness in borrowing from BLM’s activist strategy that disrupted the town-hall meeting with Martin O’Malley and Sanders months ago? Is it time to disable politeness when speaking to those who claim to stand as allies with people of color? How should I, for instance, get the attention of the English department in which I am doing research on Caribbean and African LGBT persons who obtain US political asylum?
As a queer political asylee, I just cannot cuddle conventions of politeness comfortably. Back in Portmore-Jamaica, fifteen years ago, I woke from a dream and discovered my apartment on fire. Fleeing the blaze, I rushed outside to find homophobes firing bullets at me. This is one of many episodes that raised me into a tradition in which I had to fight with my voice, hands, and feet, from elementary school yards to adulthood streets. And nights saw me masturbate to ejaculate away the pain of histories in order to fall asleep with some amount of joy and peaceful heartbeats. But the following days, I often rushed to mirrors only to discern whether wrinkles had appeared in my face too soon. Thank goodness, though, I still believe I’m handsome. For look at my hair, I say to myself, these locks—the queer, tangled growth like my personality—wild and eccentric. And don’t I have this graceful scar in my face, given to me in my teens because homophobes thought my hips had swayed like a woman’s? And what about the slashes along my back? These latter body markings—once upon a time prints of shame—have now become the symbols of my affirmed identities, my names, because I confronted the strangers and family whom I loved, and I forced them to hear the screams of my many names.
Therefore, I must turn to a fact that it has been at least three years now that our English Department—which I love—has been hosting yearly pre-admissions events. The flyers for the events claim to have a special desire for African-American applicants. Yet year after year, I observe the department’s enrollment ratios barely change. African-American students remain disproportionately represented when considering New York City’s racial composition. How do I say to my beloved department where most of the faculty have been welcoming to me and to black discourse in their research and conference talks—I am sick and tired of your f**king bullshit!
Oh yes, it unnerves me that I have to cloak the identity of the word that precedes bullshit in the same way that institutionalism has traditionally cloaked and punctuated the reality of my identities with sanitized scholarships and conference talks. Here, as victim of institutional practices that erase identities, I am reinscribing those problematic conventions by cleansing the orthography of a word—its authentic character, passion, pride, rebelliousness, and resilience—only so I can glorify polite readership tastes. I want to tell my department and all the other departments in this building—Stop trafficking in blackness! Black lives matter! Yes, black lives really matter. And don’t tell me that All Lives Matter. If that were the case, it would have reflected in our yearly incoming admissions population and faculty hiring trends.
Yes, I support the view that, in order to eradicate marginalizing practices, it’s fundamental to expose persons who establish careers by purporting to be laborers for the most vulnerable populations. For that reason, in the spring semester, I attended a DSC meeting to ask President Chase Robison a question. Whether we like his management style or not, let us give credit where it is due. As provost for five years, Robinson positioned our college as one of the leaders of the digital humanities—an area on which Bhargav Rani’s article sheds light from an Indian geographic perspective. Robinson also initiated programs such as the Advanced Research Collaborative and the Initiative for the Theoretical Sciences. Yet, since it has become overwhelming to hear everybody with the word Diversity at the tip of their tongues, I asked the president, what were his anticipated next steps towards equitable racial representation in the Graduate Center’s enrollment and hiring practices—and what specifically could he accomplish now which was impossible while serving as provost?
Fluently, the president explained that he appointed a committee to address the issue. I observed the calmness on his face as he spoke. I took keen note of his temperament in handling the question. Obviously, the question was an easy abc for him. Things are easy when we are overexposed to them; aren’t they? Quietly, I listened as he performed his answer. President Robinson’s response embodied the skillfulness of a corporatized, institutionalized, rhetorical design. Softly I smiled and shook my head. For what else could I have done in response to a performance than allow my own smile to perform peacefulness?
Indeed, I must scream my names here to let you know what I bring to this paper and where I hope to take us. It is already clear that issues of race, sexuality, and high education bureaucracy concern me. But I would hope that you will not place me into an ideological bucket because I will disappoint you. My politics navigate in no specific direction. My views—not my integrity—changes as the days and seasons go by. In fact, I enjoy this privilege because, as a doctoral student, I am constantly exposed to new ideas that nurture my ever-evolving understanding of our world. I consider it dangerous that our culture demonizes persons who consistently reevaluate their ideological positions. This remains prominent in electoral campaigns where lines from twenty years ago haunt presidential contenders. I want to assure you that this paper will serve as a space for contending and evolving ideas. Here, there is no ideological agenda to take to Walmart’s shelves, and no ideological plantation to fertilize.
Plantation mentalities unsettle me. Such ways of thinking and speaking are produced in ideological fields managed by Massa-style liberals, conservatives, radicals, civil rights activists, queer scholars, feminists, environmentalists, and others. Say, for instance, one may suggest that Donald Trump may have a point addressing the country’s broken borders. Such an acknowledgement can result in a person being labeled an Uncle Tom if s/he is a person of color, or racist if s/he is white. A second scenario may involve critics arguing that some feminist scholars fail to acknowledge that many of their articulations reinsert the very gender inequities their work seeks to dismantle. Such critics may face accusations that they are sexist if they are male, or still living in the intellectual dark ages if they are female. Evidence of the plantation mentality occurs even close to us. There have been cases of students engaging some members of the DSC, arguing that their activism fails to understand that the college will sometimes have to pay big bucks to attract academic stars and high-profile administrators who will raise the college’s prestige. Such students have being accused of being in the pockets of powerful administration members. The plantation mentalities use a body of rhetorical platitudes harvested from the farms of identity politics. And rather than interrogate and refashion the platitudes, members of ideological plantations unleash their verbal violence to cripple opponents.
While one of my major goals is to accommodate a plurality of views, I must mention that if sufficient articles are not submitted, there will be only few good options from which to choose. Certainly, it is the job of the editorial staff to solicit good articles, but I would encourage participation rather than support judgmental and non-proactive practices. Patterns of only criticizing rather than also seeing ourselves as a community is pointless. I have heard numerous persons criticize the paper for not providing enough views and not having great articles—and their complaints piled up into the heavens—but what have they done to remedy the process? Why didn’t they submit an article for consideration?
In response to these questions, they remind you that they were busy doing research. But as master’s and doctoral students, aren’t we all busy with our academic careers? That’s the problem—there are too many of us who benefit from the student activist tradition, but have no idea who labored behind the scenes. Consider the article by Liza Shapiro and Cecilia María Salvi, whose University Student Senate work addresses the problem of university-wide sexual harassment patterns. Aren’t these writers doing valuable work that safeguards the basic rights we enjoy from being a part of the Graduate Center community? What about the names of the men and women who, year after year, battle and negotiate with the administration and faculty leadership in order to foster programs and policies that fund students and give them more voting access on transformative committees? How about the names of our DSC leadership that we sent into office for 2015-16—Amy Martin, Jennifer Prince, Hamad Sindhi, Liza Shapiro, Saiful Saleem, Jeremy Randall, Kyla Bender-Baird, Charlotte Thurston, Theodor Maghrak, and Carlos Camacho?
Naming and screaming our names and those of others are important. It creates a culture of awareness, affirmation, celebration, and confidence. It destabilizes tendencies that favor subject invisibility and erasures. By sharing pieces of my names today, some might argue, I have circumvented the genre of popular editorial writing. And the question of genre circumvention is one with which I wrestled as I wrote this piece. But do you know what kept me going? It was the recurring thought that nobody owns my thoughts. I am a free thinker. One of the most fundamental concepts I hope to channel within every issue of this paper is the need to break outside the borderlines that have traditionally delimited freethinking. By screaming our names to this paper in the form of submissions, and screaming our multiple names to colleagues in bars, and to faculty members, including advisors, in closed offices and committees, we aggressively project and protect our visibility of bodies, talks, and thoughts. Everyone must be seen and recognized to ensure that the Graduate Center is not a lonely place for people who look like me while being a nurturing home for people who look like President Chase and the majority of the English Department. How can the consciences of our scholars, educators, administrators, and students be at peace knowing that the necessities of screams aren’t remedied in the same manner as certain whispers?