Yale Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Volume 5, Issue 2
spring 2015
Editor, Geetanjali Singh Chanda
Managing Editors, Linda Hase & Moe Gardner
Layout Design, Nick Appleby

Faculty Profile: Jafari Allen

Jafari Allen

In the last newsletter, I reported that the goal of the Graduate Certificate Workshop is to strengthen and maintain a cohort of WGSS, feminist and/or queer theory graduate scholars, across a number of (uni)disciplines, and thematic, geographic, and theoretical sites, by asking questions about intellectual/political formation. One of the central pieces of this formation is, of course, teaching. Last semester, we shared and discussed teaching statements—as a formal part of an application, and as a tool for each of us to become clear on our own deeply held commitments and goals—as we will do again at the end of this semester. More recently, I wrote a meditation on pedagogy shaped by a Black/queer feminist habit of mind. Perhaps a short excerpt of this (“Black/Queer Rhizomatics: train up a child in the way ze should grow…  For All of Them.” Forthcoming 2015. In New Work in Black Queer Studies. E. Patrick Johnson, Editor. Duke University Press) can serve as an invitation to more conversation.

Well child, I will tell you: Audre Lorde never promised you a rose garden. Or a crystal stair swept clean of tacks, with no boards torn up, or places where there ain’t been no carpet on the floor/bare. Rather, she and others have bequeathed a this or that which promises only:  continued devastation and certain destruction on one hand, or possibilities— speech, visibility (if not yet recognition), articulation, home-making, joy, love, for example—on the other, which must be worked for, and for which there are no guarantees. As enticement toward protracted struggle, Lorde offers the following:

If we win
there is no telling.
we seek beyond history
for a new and more possible meeting.

I am not naïve enough to believe that scholarly work creates everyday resistance and survival by the most multiply vulnerable among us. But it can give light to it—helping to expand recognition of those sites as legitimate political expression, and providing the basis for institutional support. Moreover, despite attacks on feminist and critical race studies, and other reminders that the US Academy is an engine of racialized capitalism just as much or more than it is a tightly-knit society of friends of one another’s mind; teaching is clearly and incontrovertibly a site in which we can work to evidence being and to transform ourselves and our students. In any event, it is my work to do where I am. After all, as poet Marvin K. White quoted to me from his own scriptures and prophesying Black/queer genius: among our highest calling is to “train up a child in the way he should vogue, and when he is old he will turn it.”

Currently, many scholars seem to agree with the Combahee River Collective’s Black feminist lesbian statement that gender, race, class, and increasingly, sexual identities are mutually constituting and inter-penetrating. Still, a commitment to producing and legitimizing work that actually takes up intersectional, or interstitial analyses is still ahead of us in the traditional disciplines of the academy.  While it is sadly true that the unidisciplines proceed in many cases as if women’s, gender, and sexuality studies had never made the contributions it has, and as if we are not here today, what if Black Studies wholeheartedly embraced a rhizomatic Black/queer feminist habit of mind?

What if we rose to the demand of our complex now, which of course Joseph Beam would have called “coldblooded?” The practice of attending to the abject, the deviant, and the perverse incorporation of queer concepts and methodologies (and indeed bodies and personal political practices) alongside/on top/ or bottoming canonical authors and concepts constitutes another “litany for survival” (and thriving!) Despite loud and sometimes ugly disavowals of “identity politics” and recent pressure from some in queer studies to eschew “intersectionality,” this stream of theorization in fact makes queer studies and women’s studies and ethnic studies possible. We have more work to do than a surface understanding of “interdisciplinarity” would reveal. Beyond the elementary practice of using one or another method or following or subverting a few disciplinary conventions, a Black/queer feminist habit of mind allows us to see and say connections and disjuncture across time, space, genre, discipline, theme and theoretical framework. After Disappeared Women/ After Ferguson/ After Staten Island/ After Gaza/ and after and after.
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