The 2018 NCTE/CCCC leaves me feeling conflicted about the implications of race, class, accessibility and what is valued by our national conference. Due to the NAACP travel advisory (NAACP.org) and how CCCC responded to concerns about hosting the 2018 CCCC in Kansas City, Missouri (cccc.ncte.org), members of the Latinx Caucus narrowly voted to boycott this year’s conference. In my first year as co-chair of the Latinx caucus, there has been the exigency to listen to the diversity of perspectives from within the caucus and to hear what it means that CCCC moved forward to hold the national conference in Kansas City, despite an advisory that cautions members of our caucus of Afro-Latinx heritage and racially-mixed families.
As someone of mixed white and Chicano heritage, I am familiar with the complicated, conflicted, and historic racial dynamics in Missouri because my white mother’s father was born and raised in the Ozarks of Missouri. It was this very same grandfather who I mention in my CCC piece “The Family Profession” as having disowned my mother when she married my father because he was Mexican American. This is work that I continue to reflect on with multimodal composing in the forthcoming digital collection Racial Shorthand: Coded Discrimination Contested in Social Media that I am co-editing with Octavio Pimentel for Computers and Composition Digital Press. By examining individual experiences, collective knowledge might come to light.
(Medina’s maternal grandparents)
Perhaps it comes in part from my lighter-skinned privilege that I can feel less threatened in Kansas City than other members of my caucus; it is because of the presence that my privilege affords that I advocate and support those who have chosen not to attend this year’s conference out of safety concern and allyship for loved ones. At the same time, I continue to feel conflicted about attending a conference in a space where not all members feel safe.
Because I believe in the importance of individual stories and negotiating these complicated issues of race, privilege, access, and allyship, I have begun and will continue conducting video interviews with CCCC members who have decided to attend as well as members who have chosen to boycott. The purpose of these interviews is to compose a video documenting the variety of perspectives regarding the beliefs about the place and the space that the conference creates. Through this work, I aim to document the diverse perspectives and decision-making that impacted members’ attendance. By documenting this conference, I also hope to reconcile some of my own conflicted feelings about attending, contributing to those racially-marked bodies at the conference, and making sense of how the conference incorporates social activism to positively impact the conference space marked by racial tensions.
March 19, 2018
Tone Deafness and the Local Economy
As a part of my attendance at CCCC 2018, I wanted to document my experience by asking others about their perspectives on attending the conference. I began interviewing people, some of whom I met at the conference for the first time.
(Temptaous McKoy, 2018 Scholar for the Dream, Interview Screenshot)
Following the Opening Session, I asked Scholars for the Dream award recipient Temptaous McKoy if she would talk to me on camera. I asked her because she wore a t-shirt with the question across the front “Y’all feel safe?” as she received her travel award. Before recording an interview with McKoy, a white man from the conference walked by us and jokingly said, “Do you feel safe?” His tone was light-hearted, no doubt missing the context of her shirt and the travel advisory. McKoy responded by asking him, “Do you feel safe?” To which, the man laughed and said, “You’re the one being interviewed on camera.”
What might have been meant to be a light-hearted exchange came off as tone-deaf, a feeling that others I spoke with also experienced at times.
Conversations with people from the area were useful. I appreciated Jane Greer, the local arrangements chair’s acknowledgement of the controversy related to hosting the conference there in Kansas City. Hearing from both Alvin Brooks and Glenn North at the All-Attendee Event provided some useful intellectual, cultural, and spiritual nourishment. Below is Glenn North performing the poem “Lynch Family Blues” that he recited at the All-Attendee Event.
Coincidentally, I had a friend, Alfredo, from my hometown in Southern California, who has been working at a local nonprofit that serves the homeless for the past few years there in Kansas City (www.hopefaithministries.org). Alfredo let me know that “Kansas City is a bit of a bubble compared to the rest of Missouri.” But he also explained that the segregated division of the town, which Alvin Brooks discussed at the All-Attendee Event, still remained a reality in terms of rent prices and accessibility. Working with the homeless, Alfredo was frustrated that there were a lot of older buildings that were left vacant while the winters in Kansas City could be deadly.
(Alfredo, Cruz, and David)
A friend of mine from undergrad, David, has also been living in Kansas City for several years, and he lamented some of the things that others say to him as a straight, white male. “I’m really embarrassed of the things that people of my demographic say sometimes,” David told me. David lives near downtown, although he has family obligations requiring that he spends time at Line Creek, an upscale community like Loch Llyod, a gated community outside of Kansas City that touts a man-made lake (http://www.lochlloyd.com/). From his time in and around this community, David recognizes a distinct feeling of those in these communities want to be separated from the diversity of downtown.
In discussions about Kansas City, there was a lot to be said about the city’s economy. The phrase “the middle is the new edge” arose. It refers to the middle of the country now being the place where innovation happens. The video below captures the central argument for the middle of the country being the place where practicality and hard work will make the middle of the country “the comeback kids” for entrepreneurialism.
The video argues that the “edges” (read: coasts) are where more extreme feelings or responses occupy. The middle-edge binary is reductive from a critical perspective, yet it seems to serve as a useful metaphor for the business pitch of the video to audiences of potential investors and would-be entrepreneurs. Although this video is meant to be economic in subject matter, the political undertones cannot be completely ignored. Despite the video’s assertion that the “middleness” of the entrepreneurial mindset will bridge the extremes, the legislation prompting the NAACP travel advisory, the intersection of economic and racial housing segregation, and the recent history in Ferguson, MO suggest that the solution is to continue to ignore racism by maintaining segregation and discrimination through policy that masquerades as pro-business.
At CCCC 2018, I wrote a letter to one of the senators who supported the bill and I voiced my advocacy to repeal Senate Bill 43 (thank you to the graduate student volunteer running the table). I made the point in my letter that while the bill could be interpreted as a pro business bill that protects employers, by making it more difficult to use for wrongful termination, many interpret it otherwise. I identified myself as someone who raised concerns about hosting the conference in Kansas City because of the NAACP travel advisory that resulted in response to SB 43, and I explained that if the bill was meant to protect business, then it should be repealed because it will hurt businesses when tourism and conferences such as the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing (ATTW) move from Missouri because of this bill.
Business interest. Middleness. Housing segregation. These are all much too complex of topics to reconcile with a blog post about few conversations, but it is important to look at the knowledge produced in the discussions with locals in the sites our conferences momentarily occupy.
Perhaps another blog post will come from the topic of “occupying” and the conference hotel ballrooms with the names “Colonial” and “Imperial”…
Capitalism, Intersectionality, Labor
Since the conference, I have interviewed a few more CCCC members who either decided to boycott or to attend for different reasons. Themes that arose during my interviews with conferences attendees and boycotters had a lot to do with the criticism of the economic concern of the national conference organization to save the money deposited for the conference in Missouri. The centrality of the conference’s concern about finances seemed to outweigh all other advisories about racial climate or the intersectional “oppression that threatens everyone when one group is threatened” (Driskill in interview). Capital and the fear of losing capital created more labor for those within the organization seeking to provide alternative sites for the conference.
The labor of graduate students and junior faculty who felt they needed to attend the national conference for either concern for job market networking and tenure-implications. For junior faculty, the commitment to graduate students seemed to weigh heavily on the decision-making for many. Junior faculty find themselves in precarious positions as they attempt to meet expectations for tenure while negotiating the affective labor associated with supporting undergraduate and graduate students presenting at the conference, while wanting to maintain solidarity with the populations most impacted by the political climate. For many I spoke with, the question of whether the work would be done beyond the talk of social justice action was raised again and again. At the same time, there was apprehension by some scholars of color who wondered if this work of creating relationships in local communities would also fall on the people of color within the conference, which again raises the question of who will be laboring and for whom will this be transformative?
Another reoccurring issue raised in relation to capital and labor was that of personal privilege and who felt that they would be safe to attend. The majority of interviewees were forthcoming about what their privilege allowed in terms of whether they felt targeted; however, many recognized the complicit nature of attending because they felt safe. Some thought that they should attend so that they could leverage their privilege for the safety of others.
Find Cruz on Twitter @AcademiadeCruz