By: Tamara Butler, Michigan State University
To Eyatta Yvette Fischer (May 7, 1975-July 19, 2015)
2015 taught me that we each have a personal practice. As a Black female scholar, I am learning that what I do each day as an educator, a colleague, a community member, a relative, and a friend are parts of an evolving practice of truth-seeking and meaning-making. I am learning to develop and articulate a personal practice that is reciprocal and transparent.
Therefore, this piece is part of that articulation process.
In April, I learned to reimagine myself as an interdisciplinary scholar. I am drawn to the word interstitial and often use it to describe the location of my work—situated in the spaces between literacy studies and Ethnic studies, specifically English education and African American and African Studies. Therefore, when Eve Tuck, K. Wayne Yang and Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández reminded us that, “our practices of citation make and remake our fields, making some forms of knowledge peripheral,” I had some things to reconsider.
As a started writing a piece about English educators’ responsibility in the wake of racial violence, I pushed my boundaries to think deeply about who and what I had been citing. Although I leaned heavily on the works of Margo Perkins and Valerie Kinloch, I was also sorting through the works of Paulo Freire, Henry Giroux and Joe Kincheloe and Shirley Steinberg. However, I wanted to write about testimonies, witnessing, and trauma. I wanted to write about Black bodies and matter. I was drifting into waters where Freire, Giroux, Kincheloe and Steinberg could no longer help me. I was in need of a different set of thinkers to help me navigate through this new space that I was entering.
In June, I learned something about proximity. My family lives 21 miles southwest-ish of the Charleston peninsula. While visiting my family in South Carolina, I finished writing a manuscript then took a two-week break from writing. During that two-week break, less than 30 days before my birthday,
Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd
Ethel Lee Lance
Clementa C. Pinckney
loss their lives in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
In a recent interview with the Charleston Post and Courier, Felicia Sanders reminded us, “I’m a survivor and the mother of a child who’s died. I’m forgotten about as somebody who’s alive, but I’m remembered for someone whose child is gone.” Through billboards, profile pictures, t-shirts, and vigils, the city honored the nine. We forgot that there were actually 12 victims. Felicia Sanders, along with Polly Sheppard and her granddaughter, walked away from the church bearing the trauma of that evening.
Remembering the Survivors
As I tried to make sense of the trauma, I still had an article to write. I needed a starting place that would capture most of the things I was feeling and thinking. Over the next three months, I read, refreshed, and re-read my twitter news feed. I took numerous screenshots of my Facebook timeline. I poured through glossy pages of Essence magazine and stark white pages of academic journal articles. I wanted to see something different in the world and stir up something new inside of myself.
I found myself staring at the following question from Patricia Yaeger (2002):
“What do we owe the dead?”
I started to find answers in the words of Rae Paris, Jessica Johnson, Leigh Patel, Bettina Love, Yomaira Figueroa and others. I started to find possibilities in art of Wangechi Mutu and Xaviera Simmons. I am learning that we owe the dead the same that we owe the living: a radical stance that says, “We see you. We honor you. We hear you. We love you.”
I am drawn to these artists and writers because of their practice. Within their work, I hear new voices and find new pathways; pathways that lead to Katherine McKittrick, Leanne Simpson, Keisha L. Green, Treva Lindsey, April Baker-Bell, Gholnescar Muhammad, Detra Price-Dennis, Yolanda Sealy-Ruiz, Marcelle Haddix and Jodi A. Byrd. In their writings, I find fissures, ask questions and see truths. Collectively, they have taught me how to process the year and invest in self-care. Through their practice, I have learned that we are the survivors.
Tamara Butler is Assistant Professor of English education and African American & African Studies at Michigan State University. Her current project focuses on the roles of storytelling and narrative in marginalized communities’ fight for spatial justice, with specific attention to the stories of women of color. In her work, she explores how women’s testimonies, narratives, and other self-authored texts bring attention to issues of injustice and the interstices of oppression.