This C’s event, the organization has gestured towards more socially-minded activism among its participants to address the NAACP’s travel advisory. Before reaching the registration booth on the second floor of the Marriott, I noticed a series of smaller booths and signs along the edge promoting social justice events, socially-minded writing activities, and anti-discriminatory position statements. Signs, such as 4C4Equality, Writing for Change, Writing Networks for Social Justice, among others, played a more prominent role in this year’s C’s. Among the various booths and signs promoting social justice that was most apparent to me was a sign on racism. “Racism can be enacted through English Language Arts curricula. Anti-racist ELA curricula must celebrate and sustain diversity as part of education justice in a changing world. These curricula must dismantle systems of oppression through the means and the materials that are exacted by educators and leaders. Thus, as members of the National Council of Teachers of English, we recognize that anti-racist curricula provide students with the following: (pictures of this sign to follow).
When reflecting upon this sign, I drew on scholars in and outside the field who have informed my understanding of anti-racist curricula. In particular, I drew on Victor Villanueva, Geneva Smitherman, Elaine Richardson, Morris Young, among others, to reflect upon decades of scholarship that legitimatized these “taken-for-granted” statements that many of us in our field hold. But before these statements ever became a truism in our field, many who spoke a different language or dialect struggled, and are still struggling, to fight for legitimacy to have their languages and dialects recognized. I was both relieved and troubled by this sign. On the one hand, it is a clear gesture towards linguistic inclusivity and anti-racism. On the other hand, I was troubled because this sign, as well others, felt like an addition to, rather than a central focus of, this year’s convention. While I do acknowledge that linguistic inclusion and anti-racism were part of the original CFP, the issue of anti-racist curricula is a constant in our field that merits greater attention, which I did not feel was fully addressed or acknowledged in any meaningful way during the chair’s address. As I reflected upon these types of signs sprinkled throughout the convention, I couldn’t help but think about racism and anti-racism more broadly, especially given the socio-political climate of this year’s convention.
So, at the convention, my thoughts were about inclusion, access, and anti-racism, and I looked for both subtle and explicit ways that this year’s Cs responded to all these three aspects. I arrived at the Cs troubled by the ways in which the organization had responded to the NAACP’s travel advisory. In previous discussions and email correspondences, the EC’s decision to keep the convention at Kansas City was not transparent. With this in mind, I wanted to see how inclusion, access, and anti-racism materialized in concrete ways. Granted, the Cs had to respond quickly to the NAACP’s travel advisory, and it was quite clear that money was invested in setting up equipment so that Cs’ members, who decided not to participate in person, still had a way to be involved. Interviewing volunteers working at “Donations to Local Movements” booth, I came across one member who discussed his experience at length about this year’s convention. He acknowledged that the Cs has made a concerted effort to address the problems of inclusion, access, and anti-racism. He first preface his
discussion by arguing that wherever the Cs decides to hold its annual convention, intersecting identities and complex histories will always make the space complicated.
He notes that the Cs is entangled in these complex histories and what is different, as he observes, is that the electronic platform is an important, albeit extremely expensive, pathway for access and inclusion of divergent voices and perspectives. However, my interviewee acknowledged that the electronic platform is under-utilized.
Another important point that he makes regarding the Cs’ work in the areas of access, inclusion, and anti-racism is sustainability. As my interviewee makes clear, the organization cannot solely rely on the altruism of its members to perform the labor-intensive work of changing the organization. Given the chair’s call for “structural changes” in the Cs, it is necessary that such changes start at the very top—changes that are both ideological and pragmatic that create a climate for real and sustained progress to happen. This need for sustainability was one of the main points I wanted to touch on when interviewing members at this convention. How do we, as an organization, sustain the pragmatic efforts of access, inclusion, and anti-racism? Where do we go from here? How do we carry the lessons learned in Kansas City, MO to future conventions? My interviewee suggested that a committee, which is already in existence within the Cs, take the lead in making these issues a topic of perennial discussion at the Cs.
The question of sustainability was one of the many questions I thought of throughout the week of the Cs, and I wanted to find out what participants’ thoughts were on the issue. While at the Cs, I attended various parties and social events to get a feel for people’s reactions. Unsurprisingly, things stayed the same. The discussion around the organization’s decision to hold the conference in KC, despite the travel advisory, didn’t seem to phase anyone as laughter, drinks, and food were had by everyone. At times, as one colleague stated, these events “can’t get anymore more tone-deaf.” The event to which my colleague was referring was the cultural event. Prior to the event, I was told that a “cultural event” will be held on Friday. I take responsibility for not investigating it further prior to purchasing my 50 dollar ticket, but when I heard the words “jazz” and “barbecue,” my thoughts immediately went back to prior discussions about supporting local communities and engaging the local. So, I thought that the money I invested would circle back to a local eatery. At 7:30pm on Friday, I met up with a few of my fellow colleagues and friends. We entered the other end of the Marriott, (a big red flag), and entered a swanky place filled with meticulously placed napkins, china, and food. My hair was disheveled, my jeans were torn, and my shoes were coming apart at the soles. By all accounts, I was not appropriately dressed for the occasion, but I had imagined that the occasion and venue would be different—one that engaged me with the local. The price point of the event, the location, and food all communicated exclusivity. While I had the financial means of physically entering this space, I did not have the social and cultural capital to be identified as a member who typically participates in these types of social events. At one point, I had mistaken little balls of butter for cheese puffs! I was clearly not in the “know.” This event, like many before it, challenged my sense of the profession’s commitment to learning from and engaging with the local.