Despite the travel warning issued by the NAACP in August of 2017 advising African Americans to exercise extreme caution when traveling through the state of Missouri, I never considered not attending the 2018 annual convention of the Conference on Composition and Communication in Kansas City. One of the assumptions that undergirds my work in racial literacy research and pedagogy is that explicit discussion about race and racism is necessary both in the classroom and in our professional discipline. My desire not to contribute monetarily to the city was overridden by my interest in having difficult conversations, even in difficult places.
It has always seemed to me that those of us who engage antiracism in the fields of literacy and writing studies are required to spend considerable time explaining why explicit discussion of race and racism is not only important to our field but also integral to the effective education of a diverse population of students. Our research and pedagogy are too often marginalized, and I must confess that I have felt like an outsider at many academic conventions, including those affiliated with CCCC. Some years, I appeared on panels alongside presenters whose work shared no commonalities with mine aside from the use of the word “race” somewhere in the abstract. We were the token “race panel,” or perhaps we were an afterthought.
This was not the case at CCCC 2018. I found more panels on race, positionality, and campus activism in Kansas City than I ever have before at a national academic conference. I do not think this difference was an accident. From Wednesday’s pre-convention workshops and Asao Inoue’s speech at the opening general session on Thursday morning to numerous community and cultural events, questions of equity and representation were woven throughout the convention. I spoke with scholars and educators doing similar work in their research and in their classrooms. I made connections with CCCC members across the country and have kept in touch with them since the conference.
There’s a caveat to all of this, however, and this caveat nagged at me throughout the time I spent at the convention – I’m white. As a white racial literacy educator, I think about my positionality often, and I recognize that my decision to attend CCCC 2018 is in large part the result of my positionality and privilege. Faces and voices of people of color were absent from most sessions I attended, including my own. Of the four participants slated to appear on the panel of which I was a part, two were present.
This year is not such an anomaly – the voices of scholars of color are often absent from our conventions. The field of composition studies, like so many academic disciplines, remains troublingly White, and people of color are still underrepresented both in our academic institutions and in our organization.
It seemed that we had so many conversations about race in KC because of the boycott, because the relatively small group of scholars of color in our membership was, this year, even smaller. For that reason, I am glad that I attended CCCC 2018 in Kansas City – and I am glad that many members chose to stay home. This paradox haunts me and it should haunt all of us as an organization: As we move forward, how will we make room in our discipline for those voices still unheard? How will we ensure that we do not replicate the marginalization and oppression that prevail in our field, in our institutions, and in our society – and which necessitate warnings like the NAACP travel advisory?