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24
Mar 16

Digitized Pedagogies and the Affective Whiteness of Ableism

Jennifer Polish

CUNY Graduate Center and CUNY Queens College

March 25, 2016

UConn Annual Conference on the Teaching of Writing, Storrs, CT

Please feel free to interact with the digital version of this presentation on my website and feel free to Tweet at me @jenniferpolish either before or during the Q&A so that I can respond to your comments or questions. Additionally, please feel free to get in touch with me if any of this information proves inaccessible for you so that I can correct my error.

I’m going to work through this presentation with meditations on three concepts (arranged into a three part harmony, inspired by Suzi Q. Smith’s spoken word piece, “Black Rage in Four Part Harmony”).

My parts will be: Affecting Access; Composition Slash Composure; and Digitized Pedagogies.

These reflections will help me, I hope, begin to tug at the interactions between race and dis/ability in writing class/rooms.

  1. Affecting Access

Melanie Yergeau, in her extremely important contribution to the webtext “Multimodality in Motion”, writes to us about shame. She cannot, in fact, write about access without the affective component of shame.

Shame.

Shame because in classrooms in which digital interactions mean students need to ask professors (and professors needing to ask our colleagues, and our students) for “reasonable accommodations.” Dis/abled students are expected to ask for what they need rather than expecting that classrooms and curricula will be designed with a diversity of abilities in mind to begin with.

People with dis/abilities need to out ourselves when we ask for any of these things, because many (most?) universities require that we provide documentation, and that the “accommodations” we might receive are “reasonable.”

But who determines what is “reasonable”? Ableist rhetorics do.

So in order to gain access, people with dis/abilities must punch through the shame, even when we cannot clench our fists. The logics of accommodation force us to choose between disclosure/shame/dis/ability-is-assumed-to-be-less-than and exclusion/nonparticipation/I-could-not-do-my-homework-or-get-that-tenure-track-job.

So affect is intimately related to access.

Affect: Affect lives in the borderlands between feeling and judgment. More specifically, affect comprises the borderlands between feeling and judgment, mapping the ways that they inform each other and give each other flesh.

Some of our fleshiness is not allowed in the classroom. When it is, it is rendered absent.

Margaret Price argues that the field of computers and writing lacks diversity because it unintentionally marks certain bodies absent, both materially and ontologically.

Unless we think of access differently.

Multimodal pedagogies have become popular ways of trying to engage students on multiple levels, employing mixed media from videos and audio clips to comics and photographs.

However, having more choices doesn’t always mean having access. To quote Stephanie Kerschbaum, “multimodal inhospitality…occurs when the design and production of multimodal texts and environments persistently ignore access except as a retrofit.” By retrofit, Kerschbaum is referring to ‘after the fact’ band-aid fixes that require students and professors to disclose our dis/abilities in order to fully access material. For example, when multimodal presentations (videos, say) are created/shown without captions and students must ask for them.

Engaging studies of African American literacies is tremendously helpful in reshaping access: Adam Banks has broken down technological access into five separate parts, only one of which (“material”) is the form that is usually engaged through “reasonable accommodations.” Broadening our definition of access to be a continuous, multifaceted, structural concept rather than a discrete, “here-have-a-transcript” model, can push our understanding of the kinds of structural changes true tech access would require.

Addressing this, Banks tells us that access comes in (at least) five pieces:

  • Material access, regarding the material conditions surrounding tech usage;
  • Functional access, regarding tech know-how and skills;
  • Experiential access, regarding how tech is or is not useful in everyday experiences;
  • Critical access, regarding a certain fluency with when and how to use which technologies and what their rhetorical implications are;
  • Transformative access, regarding genuine inclusion (not just for inclusion’s sake) as to who gets to shape tech and its uses.

Surely, there are overlaps in his categories. Redundancies.

This is no mistake, for we need redundancies – the same information presented in multiple forms so that there are multiple avenues for understanding – not just multiple modalities.

Redundancies offer various modes of engagement with the same material – my voice, the paper transcripts I have, this talk on my website so people can engage the text as needed here and elsewhere in cases where telepresence is preferable to physical presence..

Redundancy is necessary, and yet “redundant” has such a negative connotation in our society.

Yet Yergeau reminds us why redundancy is a necessary design component of any digitized curriculum, of any assignment, of any scholarly-social interaction. Crucially, she writes that “[t]o [merely] accommodate is to retrofit; it is to assume normative bodies as default and to build spaces and infrastructures around those normative default bodies; it is to deal with deviant bodily and spatial conditions as they bubble out at the seams.”

  1. Composition Slash Composure

Bubbling out at the seams.

I stick on this image because it sticks on me.

When deviant bodily and spatial conditions bubble out at the seams, they force themselves to be noticed by a hegemonic logic that only assumes default positions. Like able-body-mindedness. Like whiteness.

Whiteness. According to José Esteban Muñoz in his work on Latina Affect, whiteness is “a cultural logic that prescribes and regulates national feelings and comportment. White is… an affective gauge that helps us understand some modes of emotional countenance and comportment as good or bad” (680).

Comportment. Behavior or bearing. Put another way: composure.

Performing whiteness is an affective gauge of performing a certain kind of composure, of contorting ourselves into a certain kind of composition.

Composition. We think of composition as something our students are required to take, as something we are required to teach. But what happens when we unpeel composition to its verb form, composing? To compose?

Composure: collect yourself, be calm. Do not express an “excess” of emotion.

Conceal, don’t feel, if you like a good old Disney reference.

Composing affective whiteness, then, becomes the mark of composing ourselves “properly,” of comporting our bodyminds to perform suitable composition, suitable composure.

And by suitable, here, I mean white.

Composing Affective Whiteness: Elsewhere, Muñoz argues that emotional countenances marked by whiteness are characterized by an immense dearth of affective expression such that “the affective performance of normative whiteness is minimalist to the point of emotional impoverishment” (“Ethnicity and Affect” 70).

The rhetorical positioning of white affect is such that white feelings are privileged as fact, as objective. Non-normate rhetorics simply aren’t up to snuff. They are ineffective. They are too opinionated or too emotional or too aggressive. On the flip side, non-normate rhetorics may be dismissed for not being enough, for not being legible, loud, enough. A lose-lose.

Anything that does not compose itself as affectively white is extra. Anything else is “unreasonable.”

Unreasonable. Without reason. Inability to compose oneself.

Dis/abled.

Composition. Composure.

Back to this again.

A plethora of dis/abilities mark people’s (like mine) affective registers as unable or unwilling to perform cognitive and behavioral autonomy in a way that whiteness requires: these dis/abilities are often pushed onto/assumed to be connected with people who are racialized as nonwhite. The ableist suppression of nonwhite performances of behavioral and cognitive processes cannot be unlinked from its fundamentally racist formation, discussed above.

Because the connection between dis slash abled students and students of color extend far beyond the ways that students of color are vastly more likely to be labeled with learning dis/abilities. Students of color, if ever there is violence on campus, are simply students of color. White students, when we frequently shoot up schools, are so unexpected and must have been “mentally ill.” Because white students and professors with dis/abilities are thought to be the exception – I am thought to be the exception. Students of color with dis/abilities are thought to be a tautology: of course students of color are dis/abled. It’s written into the ways that people interpret failure and refusal to compose oneself according to the rules of affective whiteness.

Composing oneself.

Or else.

  1. Digitized Pedagogies

Sushil Oswal alerts us to “technological ableisms”, the vital idea that “technology reflects the needs and interests of the powerful.”

This is surely what Carmen Kynard is signifying on what she writes that her Black students have used Blackboard to re-envision cyberspace to co-participate in the meaning of technology because “their framework is not contingent upon making digitally divided minorities more technologically advanced and better at one type of English, its cultures of power, or its academic discourses. Instead these students experience rhetoric and writing as a way to alter the ways that knowledge is constructed for them and about them…” (330).

“[T]he ways that knowledge is constructed for them and about them.”

In a white supremacist climate in which people of color are much more likely to be considered dis/abled, I cannot help but think of the oft-cited dis/ability activist refrain “nothing about us without us.”

And yet here I am, a white woman with all my white privilege, talking about race. Since I’m coming at it through the framework of exposing the pervasiveness of whiteness, I hope this can remain somewhat effective. Affective.

Adam Banks has written of race and technology in our classrooms that currently “digital theory, rhetoric, and writing [is] white by default because those areas and our American technology sector still appear to be so homogenous.”

When considering the ways that able-bodymindedness is coded into the affects of whiteness –

when considering the ways that students of color across the country are beaten, physically, emotionally, mentally, in their own classrooms for not demonstrating the expected amount of whiteness –

when considering the ways that the ableism of romanticized multimodal pedagogies continues to erase and make absent non-normate bodies from our classrooms –

it is clear that affective whiteness invisibly dominates hegemonic usages of technology in the classroom, and that this affective regime structurally reinforces the technological ableisms that increasingly shape our interactions with our students and our colleagues.

Our intent to promote student-centered methodologies of digitized teaching are admirable and yet must be re-examined to ask the most fundamental but hegemonically un-ask-able question: who is the capital-S “Student” that we imagine when we discuss student-centered, digitized pedagogies?


14
Mar 16

Digital Griots and the Scratch of the Slash

Presenting a plethora of beautiful (and beautifully written – the two, it seems, go together fluidly here) images and analyses of Black rhetorical excellence, Adam Banks uses Digital Griots to craft and perform several exigent and fleshy calls for a re-vision of both African American literacy studies and digital humanities. An intimate piece of all of these calls is Banks’ prioritization of spaces that refuse to suffocate Blackness (the call itself is performed as a survival technology of sorts in all the texts we’ve read for this term thus far. No coincidence that these calls to Stop Shooting Us aren’t generally presented – quite the opposite – in composition classrooms dominated by whiteness).

In attempt at homage to both Banks’ rhythmic and fluid writing and to my colleague Seth Grave’s technologically poetic introduction to Banks’ text by remixing his notes of the text, the rest of this post will attempt to (perhaps poetically, or perhaps simply badly) remix Banks’ concerns and arguments with attention to constructions and affective experiences of dis/ability in composition classrooms. Queerness and womanness will, too, inflect this remix, because though all of these identities wove themselves in and out of Digital Griots, their more explicit, more persistent, presence can perhaps thicken the already bodily readings Banks graces us with.

(My whiteness, of course, will inflect all of these readings, so they must, by nature, be read as incomplete, as even, perhaps, appropriative with the hope that they will be themselves remixed, re-visioned, through frameworks of color that I do not inhabit.)

Dis/ability

Dis

/

ability

Dis/ability

Dis(s)

ertation,

dis(s)

respect

My students ooohing and exclaiming (pro-claiming) when someone throws shade

glancing at me furtively to see if my whitegirlprofessorness will be mad that they dared raise their voices in something other than

A voice that sounds like mine

Dis(s)

Is bad, diss your friend when they’re not around, without saying it, suck your teeth and

roll your eyes when that white kid be talkin some shit about people need to stop playing the race card,

microsoft word dissin me when it insists on adding ‘g’s to the end of words, when I type out a quote from Banks, some of his most beautiful writing, his rhythmic end to his fabulous book, Word automatically adding ‘g’s to the Words, Banks tellin us we need to be

“building assignments that invite students not only to work across modalities but also to link those multiple modalities, individual assignments, and assignment cycles and in critical examination of the power relations and material conditions inscribed in technological tools, networks, and discourses. Practically, it means working to increase meaningful, transformative access to digital technologies for people on their own terms. It means mix, remix, mixtape. Access and transformation. Healing, celebration, self-examination, and critique. Community. Flow, layering, rupture. Innovation, vision, quality, tradition. Afrodigitzed. Word.”

WORD doesn’t lose its techno-mind until the end, until transformative (UNDERLINE IN RED SQUIGGLES), mixtape (THAT’S NOT A REAL THING, PUT A BLOODY ZIGZAG UNDER IT), and then that sea of green,

all that green because when Banks starts writin rather than

Writing

Word won’t have it. Word shuts that shit down.

or tries to,

with its squiggly underlines,

with its digital policing that “NEUTRALLY” tell my students they’re wrong even when their whitegirlteacher, surprise surprise, tells them it’s cool, write how you wanna write, write how you wanna sound, write how you want to communicate.

Except how you want to communicate is determined by…

Allthethings.

sometimes I have students who can’t speak above a whisper,

Because if they do, they’ll have to shout.

oftentimes, though I am not dis/abled in the same way as these students may be, my bipolarness makes me feel that way, makes me

Perform

That way.

my students, I think, just think I’m energetic, enthusiastic.

I am allowed my energy, my enthusiasm.

I am a youngwhitegirlteacher.

I can speakwritetalkbouncearoundbesilentbelowkeybeLOUDbeactivebeinjuredcommunicate

However I want, need, need to want.

I have the authority.

most of my CUNY students, in one way or another, or others,

do not.

because anyway,

Word says no. Word

disses

people.

Wrong to write “fragments.” Add your ‘g’s to everything.

Oooooooh! DISS!

so it’s hard to say yes.

dis/respect, dis/tasteful, dis/tant (sometimes the words don’t split

E

v

e

n

l

y

)

/

I can’t think of a slash without thinking of slash fanfiction, without thinking of femslash, without thinking of the late-night hours as a teenager, logging onto DIAL-UP (that scratch, scratchscreetchscratch sound like salvation’s on its way, as long as no one else in the apartment hears it), furtively copy-pasting all the lesbian shit I could find (on Star Trek: Voyager, mostly; this was before I knew about The L Word, before I knew… anything), throwing it on a Word Perfect doc so it would look like homework, deleting the words that gave me life – that gave me orgasms – as I read.

Slash.

slash between dis and ability because it scratches the word

it is the scratch(ing) (v. and n.) of the knowledge that the word

is supposed to hold

Slash between dis and ability because Banks wants us to call attention to the simultaneous independent and dependent integrations of DJing as writing, of writing as DJing, of

Knowing tradition, wrapping it around you like a

shawl

(I can’t not think of Meredith Grey’s widow shawl)

immersed in tradition and knowing, because of history, because of affirmations of culture, because

“the learners’ identities are not under constant threat or outright attack; instead, the space [of DJing] is one where their humanity and ability are taken for granted, even while the expectations of rhetorical excellence and agility are always high. Furthermore, there is room for a balance between individual identity and participation in broader communities”

Unlike in classrooms.

unlike in classrooms.

Unlike in classrooms, where you learn a tradition that is not

yours, that, in fact,

seeks constantly to destroy yours,

so how can you switch it up, how can you remix, how can you scratchwithoutwoundingyourself

With the edges of the

slash

/

that allows us to connect

Dis

and

ability

without claiming

one or the other, but

both.

Ability

skill, unskill, one of my students said “they think we’re uneducated”, “they think it means we’re not intelligent”

“They” being me, people with bodies like mine, white supremacy, which is the

shawl I can’t get rid of, but will never suffocate me

Unintelligent for speaking different tongues, for laying down different rhymes

(different from the dominant)

Unintelligent, slow, disabled without the

/

“retarded” without the

“”

independence and dependence,

so strongly a part of DJing, community and individual contribution melding, melding,

Shaping each other.

like my best friend on the couch who needs me to get up and

adjust his pillows

and empty his blood-bile drains

because his body’s been cut open, he is

temporarily

dis/abled,

independence and dependence in a loop, another

/

In/dependence, inside dependence, what might digital griots be like

when people can’t physically hear, when people can’t be in clubs because of

flashing lights or toomanypeopleImightstarthyperventilating

What then of in/dependence

when dis/ability is equated with POC students

because whiteness determines smartness and smartness

determines tracking, determines ability, determines

What is acceptable to put on your

résumé.

Resume.

when affective whiteness makes the rules

I am allowed my outbursts, I am allowed to be extra

but my students of color are not

(they know, of course)

because for them to be extra is for them to be excess(ed),

to be inappropriate, to be

Threatening, and therefore to be segregated,

to be

They be

Marked.

as disabled (no /)

and what of students who do identify

with dis/abilities, how might

dis/abled digitization work with POC digitization to

Disrupt

white digitization?

a key seems to lie in how affective whiteness

dictates

ability, dictates

Access.

what if access is a process, is socialized, is understood as

continual navigations

Negotiations (I keep thinking of Clexa on The 100 and those damn fanfictions

about

lesbian sex with THAT THRONE)

Access is not to be achieved

not to be acquired

because access to tech, to digitization,

Is more than having classrooms equipped with

computers

(Dial-Up tone, google, wipe sweat.

copy, open Word Perfect, paste,

Repeat.

Delete as I read.

Cum.

Repeat as needed.

Repeat as permitted [though none of it is

Permitted.]

Fanfiction as survival technology. Because they dis/able

trauma – AND WITH QUEER SEX – so much better than

white straight cis able-passing men ever do.

Dial-Up tone, google, wipe sweat.

copy, open Word Perfect, paste,

Repeat.

Delete as I read.

Cum.

Repeat as needed.

Repeat as

)


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