Friday, April 25, 2008

Bell Defined (for Sean and all of us): 4/25/2008

Bell. Defined.

that dark thing
sometimes golden
sometimes bright


that dark thing
sometimes shining
sometimes waiting
sometimes broken and rusted

that heavy something
that does it's only job
brutally clear

that invention
simple instrument
sometimes bronze
heavy like morning
jarring like wake up

that heavy open metal

that furnace fused curve
thick skirt to hide
that shape of birthing
as iron as chains

that heavy open metal

that alarm
that sound
that sound

that again

that thing

that deep and elevated symbol
in the middle of the town square

that reminds the people

what they know

time to
get up
get up

brutally clear job of waking

that thing that reminds us

what time it is.

-alexis pauline gumbs
April 25th, 2008

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Always Always: (Breast) Cancer and Black Queer Futurity

Hey all,
This is the talk I gave at the Race, Sex and Power Conference in Chicago on April 12th. I was really excited for the opportunity to talk about something so important and so silenced in our communities. It is something that impacts my family directly, and which is not really addressed in my dissertation. Creating this talk makes me want to think about the queer future of this set of feedback would be especially welcomed here.

Always Always;
(Breast) Cancer and Black Queer Futurity

dedicated to Diane and Kyla

It means you are terrified of love. This is what June Jordan said about living with her 40% prognosis of survival with breast cancer. It means you are terrified of love. It means all references to future time leave you feeling/ignored or irrelevant or both. It means death is always always/blurring your vision with tears. Two weeks ago I looked at June Jordan’s original handwritten drafts of this speech, the Keynote for the Mayor’s Summit on Breast Cancer in San Francisco in November 1996. I wanted to see if she had revised it, if maybe she had described it that way on second thought. I was hoping that maybe she didn’t really feel that way, not on the top of her head, not in the memory of her hand. I sat in the archive hoping that “always always” was a revision. A performative poetic effect for the audience, if not a typo. But there it was, and this time my vision was blurred. In somewhat shaky cursive, in blue ink on legal paper and then again in both typewritten versions. It means death is always always blurring your vision with tears.
I know that starting here endangers my ability to read the talk, but this is the only place to start. This is not about some smart thing that I should say before someone else says it. This is not about some abstract idea that gains me social capital in an academic market. This is not an excerpt from a chapter of my dissertation. This is about people I love, who are living and people who I love who are here even though they are not. I think this about someone who you still love too. This is about what it means that death is always, always blurring our vision with tears. That our chances of survival are less than half.
I believe that by pausing for a moment on June Jordan and Audre Lorde’s understandings of their own journeys, surviving and then not surviving breast cancer we can learn to have a discussion about black relationships, futures, bodies and possibilities that we cannot have if we do not pause here. Please pause with me for a moment here, take a deep breath and remember the name of someone whose spirit comes into the room whenever we talk about the impact of breast cancer on all of our communities.

Imagine that we are having a conversation right now. About queer life and death, about black queer folks, about disease, about dying, about loving, about death blurring our futures. There is more than a 50% chance, maybe more like a 70% chance that we are having a conversation about HIV/AIDS right now. And we need to talk about HIV/AIDS. If talking about HIV/AIDS every single day will save our youth, will teach us how to embrace our loved ones who are living and no longer living with this epidemic we need to talk about it everyday. 3 times a day. We need that conversation like we need food. 5 times a day. We need that conversation like we need prayer. As I am sure at least one of my co-presenters will mention, we need to talk about HIV/AIDS because its impact on our communities shows us how interconnected we all are, through love, the sex, through birth, through knowledge. The discourse on HIV/AIDS teaches us something very important about what we transmit and how through, with and as community.
But a disease does not have to be sexually transmitted or contagious at all to remind us how much we need each other, how much we want each other, how much we come from each other. Our supposedly individual bodies do not end at our skin, or our fingertips or at any of our mucous membranes. Desire reaches out past those boundaries. Which is why we are terrified of love, which is why death is always always blurring...
Consider what June Jordan says ran across her mind when she first heard her doctor announce the “bad news” that would ultimately be her breast cancer diagnosis:
“Had something god-awful happened to my son? My lover? One of my students?”
June Jordan said this, in the doctor’s office, waking up from anesthesia after a biopsy. The whole scene was designed to analyze her individual body and its likelihood to survive or whither away, but the first question was about if something “god awful” had happened to the people she was connected to through love. And unfortunately, the answer was yes. Something had happened to her son, her love, every one of her students. Something god-awful. His mother, her lover, their teacher was about to know that she was more likely to die than to survive. Her body was about to be changed forever which meant none of them, none of us could ever be the same. This is exactly why we are terrified of love. This is why death is always always blurring our vision with tears.
If we remember that June Jordan and Audre Lorde were mentors and teachers to our black queer heroes, Essex Hemphill, Melvin Dixon and many many more we will understand that breast cancer is something that happened, in advance, to a black gay movement, and HIV/AIDS is something that happened to June Jordan and Audre Lorde as they became historicized as queer anscestors. This is the importance of the phrase “always always”. The timing of death, especially the queer timing of black death and the deadly timing of queer black futures means death is always always blurring our vision. And blinking doesn’t fix it.
What I am trying to do here, or what I am asking for from you, is an always always timing, inspired by Audre Lorde and June Jordan where we can understand, our lives, our loves, our connections, our bodies, our cells, our traps, our freedom in all directions, out and in towards hope.
On November 19th 1979 Audre Lorde wrote in her journal “We have been sad long enough to make this earth either weep or grow fertile. I am an anachronism, a sport, like the bee that was never meant to fly. Science said so. I am not supposed to exist. I carry death around in my body like a condemnation. But I do live. The bee flies. There must be some way to integrate death into living, neither ignoring it nor giving in to it.”
In November 1979 Audre Lorde wrote this in her journal. “I am not supposed to exist. I carry death around in my body....”. November 1979 was not just any time to have written this statement about how death and life live here in our bodies (always always blurring as Jordan would say) Lorde individually was healing from her radical masectomy when she wrote this, fighting cancer day by day, but the death she was holding in her body was not merely individual. November 1979 was the fall when in Atlanta black children started disappearing. Small black bodies turned up in ravines. Elementary school students lost deskmates and friends. Everyone was afraid to walk home alone. Little black children had to wear the reality, “I am not supposed to exist. I carry death around in my body like a condemnation.” Audre Lorde’s former colleague from the SEEK minority education program at the City University of New York Toni Cade Bambara, who we also lost to cancer, was living in Atlanta, with her 10 year old daughter, writing a book that she would never finish, a book that she would never stop writing Those Bones Are Not My Child. “I carry death around in my body like a condemnation.” By 1979 Ronald Reagan has already coined the term “welfare queen”, Moynihan and his interpreters have already confirmed that black maternity is a disease plaguing our cities. “I carry death around in my body, like a condemnation.”
Just months earlier, at the beginning of 1979, in the black neighborhoods in Boston 12 women were killed, their bodies showed up floating, or grounded in the morning. Audre Lorde had worked consistently with the Boston-based Combahee River Collective. Barbara Smith sent her every clipping about every woman who had been killed, even though most of the news coverage blamed the victims. What were they doing out at night? They must have been prostitutes. Their deaths are not noteworthy. Many of the murders did not even make the news. “I am not supposed to exist. I carry death around in my body like a condemnation.”
As both Audre Lorde and June Jordan repeated again and again in their writing about surviving breast cancer, diseases are not individual things, they exist in a social matrix. Thus Jordan’s anger about the deprioritization of breast cancer, which she believed was due to the fact that the disease was associated with women and women’s lives were undervalued in the medical industry. And thus Lorde’s discussion of the way women who had undergone masectomies were so strongly encouraged to use prosthetic breasts and implants even when it wasn’t in the best interest of their health, because, as Lorde points out...a woman’s body is simply something to look at. In both cases Jordan and Lorde are crying out against the fact that the pain black women experience is supposed to be silenced, is supposed to be covered over. And they both refused, and since their words are still here they still refuse. When Audre Lorde and June Jordan talk about breast cancer they are not only talking about breast cancer they are battling a larger understanding of social death mapped onto the bodies of black people, and queer black people in particular. Audre Lorde said “the enormity of our task, to turn the world around. It feels like turning my life around, inside out.”
And lest my argument about how these individual deaths are about everyone seem too normalizing, let me emphasize that what I am talking about is a queer experience, where queer means a relationship to time that is not the reproduction of the same, where queer means a violent disjuncture between how our bodies are interpreted by the outside world and how we feel inside them, where queer means “I am not supposed to exist,” but I do. In that sense, most of the black people on this planet are having a queer experience right now. Listen to the way Audre Lorde describes the experience of anesthesia just following her surgery: “Being ‘out’ really means only that you can’t answer back or protect yourself from what you are absorbing through your ears and other senses.” Listen to the way she describes her body as she heals: “I feel always tender in the wrong places.” The surgical experience, the experience of dealing with a body that is understood to be “diseased” is a queer experience. We are tender in what are thought to be the wrong places. And again this is not simply to say individuals who experience extreme health difficulties are queer individuals, it is to say that our whole relationship to death and living as black folks, as folks who are called sexually deviant, as folks creating family out of struggle is a queer relationship. We think that we are over death, but we are not. We are “always tender in the wrong places.” We can’t answer back. We can’t protect ourselves.”
And we are always tender in the wrong places because we are interconnected, we are always touching. And while reading and knowing of Audre Lorde’s battle with breast cancer which eventually metastisized is devastating, alongside, or actually inside the story of that loss is the story of the network. In the I, Lorde describes the network of chosen family that “sprung into gear” to help her and her family with healing. Later in 1992 when her cancer finally spread everywhere, former student asha bandele told me how she was there, organizing, comforting, planning with Audre Lorde while she transitioned. While painstakingly reading through June Jordan’s medical records last month I was shocked by the pain and deterioration she experienced and by what seemed like cruelty on the part of insurance officials and medical providers towards the end of Jordan’s life. But I was also struck by the network of former students, friends and colleagues who gathered to take care of Jordan. To watch after her pets, to deal with her plants and her papers, to battle the University of California which it seemed almost needed proof that she was dead to grant her medical leave. People took shifts and worked around the clock to make it clear that the process of living and the process of transition for Jordan was not an individual situation, it was a community activity.
And more recently more personally Mama Nayo Barbara Watkins, a cultural worker, organizer and visionary who was my age during the black arts movement in the south, who used poetry to register people to vote and who raised 8 children mostly by herself, Mama Nayo who became an ancestor January 29th of this year, called on my community, a set of chosen daughters to be with her. I sat beside her and read my students’ final projects in her ear while she dozed. I sat and held her hand while her grandchildren played around on the floor. I adjusted neck pillows. I watched hours of CNN (the ultimate act of love...especially at that point during the primary season). We fed the dog, enlisted people all over our community to make soup, we read out loud a lot. We sang. We held her grown up children and growing grandchildren while they cried. We sang and danced with intensity to send Mama Nayo all the way home, which is someplace from which she still speaks to us. I know that ending my paper here is a risk that everything will blur with tears. And every time, I think I have it together...I still fall apart. I am always tender in the wrong places.
Unresolved. Love is a queer thing. Death is a queer thing too. Audre Lorde tells us that “the only answer to death is the heat and confusion of living.” May we be hot and confused, may we be incomprehensible and held. May we be open, and unready. May we be surprised and waiting and hopeful. May we be singing in our loss, muscular in our grief, may we be whoever we need to be for the threatened miracle of each other. This is for June, this is for Audre, this is for Toni, this is for Mama Nayo, this is for Diane, this is for Kyla, this is for you who are listening in your bodies and in the air. Always. Always. Thank you.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Africana is a Black Girl

Hey all! This is a short speech I gave at the 15th Anniversary Celebration of Africana Studies at my school. Africana Studies is one of the main things I got myself into trouble over as an undergrad. I want to hear about your relationships the institutionalized study of race, gender, ethnicity and power!

Happy Birthday Africana!
15 Years of Africana Studies at Barnard College for Women @ Columbia University
dedicated to Ariana Christine Gumbs

Let me tell you about this black girl I know named Africana. You know her. She turns 15 this year. Now. Like a lot of 15 year olds, Africana has decided to change her name. Africana is cool. When I met her she told me to call her “Pan-African”. I have a feeling that one day, maybe by the time she turns 20 she’ll go back to the name our mothers gave her. Her birth name is Black.
But I am here with you today to celebrate Africana. Happy Birthday girl! You’re 15! That means when I met you were about nine years old. I had no idea. I thought you were much older than that. I thought you were older than me. I thought you were ancient and necessary. I thought you had always been around. Maybe I met you in your reincarnation.
When I met you were nine. And you had been abandoned. Nine years old, beauiful vulnerable and nobody was willing to take care of you. Or maybe it was that, like me, you were the daughter of a single mother, overworked and under-rewarded within a larger structure that really didn’t care if you survived.
Whatever it was, I met you. I saw myself in you. I knew that we were related. I also knew that I wasn’t going to let you die, and that is a form of love.
But I wasn’t nearly responsible to raise no nine year old girl. So my sisters and I, most notably Emmanuelle St. Jean (BC ’04) created what could be called a makeshift babysitting brigade for you Africana. We carried you around with us because you were more homeless than we were. Or maybe your abandonment taught us how homeless we already were at Barnard.
So what were we going to do? You don’t just meet a beautiful nine year old and let her die. You learn to fight for that girl harder than you know how to fight for yourself. So we demanded space in hiring meetings. We wrote troublesome editorials in the Barnard Bulletin. We asked questions that were very bad for public relations at the Alumnae of Color Luncheon, like why Barnard had only tenured two people of color ever in 2003. This particular question sparked the creation of a working group on the board of trustees dedicated to faculty of color recruitment and retention. We did it for you Africana. We didn’t know quite how to do it for us.
And individually, without consulting my fellow babysitters, or anyone else with good sense, I put flyers that said “There is no such thing as Pan-African Studies at Barnard” in every single bathroom on campus. Even Judith’s. If this place did not know how to love you, at least it would not ignore you on our watch.
Girl you were so beautiful, just like us. We couldn’t understand why Barnard did not love you and we would not accept it.
And you didn’t die Africana. You were often hungry, undernourished, vulnerable and bereft. But you survived. You survive. And now you are 15. It is time to move beyond bare survival.
Happy Birthday Africana! May we celebrate, feed and support you. May we help you to grow. May we love you right.
We love you Africana. Long live your challenge and your vision. May our love for you remind us who we are.
Thank you.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

What She Said (Borrowed Sounds from the Theorizing Blackness Conference)

Hey all...this is the talk I gave this past Friday at the "Theorizing Blackness" conference at CUNY Grad a self-fulfilling prophecy...the sound of me whispering my talk into the microphone was almost drowned out by a tech system gone mad. Read this quietly.

Borrowed Sounds:
Black Feminism in Translation


When we come into the master’s house we want to whisper. We want to steal everything. We want to steal each other, we want to steal ourselves away home. When we come into the master’s house we shudder less and less, a biometric loss in each doorway we make ourselves into. These words are dedicated to black women who survive in unlikely spaces. This voice is borrowed from warriors who could have been gone but are still here waiting. I dedicate these words to all warriors who have laid down their bodies here in the master’s house. This paper is dedicated specifically to three former employees of the City University of New York. Toni Cade Bambara, June Jordan and Audre Lorde, we will not forget the work you did here, and we will not forget what it cost you. May our chosen words and our open listening build us warmer, more nourishing hopeful places to live.


In 1983 a U.S. born Grenadian/Barbadian poet/teacher/lesbian/warrior mother everything who traced herself back to the small island of Carricou had some questions for the readers of Essence Magazine. In her essay “Black Women, Hatred and Anger” before suggesting “We can learn to mother ourselves” she asked:
“Am I not reaching out for you in the only language I know? Are you reaching for me in your only salvaged tongue? If I try to hear yours across our differences does/will that mean you can hear mine?”

In 1989 a poet/lawyer/linguist from Tobago by way of Toronto had some questions in a book of poems dedicated “to all the mothers.” In her poem “Meditations on the Declension of Beauty by the Girl with the Flying Cheek-bones she asked:
In whose
In whose language
Am I
Am I not
Am I I am yours
Am I not I am yours
Am I I am
If not in yours
In whose
In whose language
Am I
If not in yours

In 1986, in a review of a British poetry collection called Black Women’s Writing a black british feminist poet, historian, visual artist and reproductive justice advocate from Scotland had some questions. In the Black women’s literary supplement of Gen Magazine she asked
“What do they mean by black? Do they mean women of African descent? If so why is the collection edited by two Asian women. Do they mean African and Asian women with a shared experience of colonization and immigration? If so, then why are all the included writers of African descent?”

Because, but not only because, Audre Lorde, Marlene Nourbese Philip and Maud Sulter say so, black feminist diaspora is not a statement. It is a question. More specifically the possibility that black women will be able to relate to each other across boundaries as multiple and simultaneous as the nation state, as multiple and simultaneous as the skin we wear, as multiple and simultaneous as our conscripted engendered performances towards love, the question about how and if we are related is a question of language. Not least of all because it is a question that must be spoken. Again and again. Am I yours?
A small, queer, Afro-Anguillan Jamaican grand-daughter in a room at the City University of New York, in a black blazer has a question. If I learn my own name, who will hear me when I say it? What poem should I dress myself in so you recognize me? How will you ever find me under these overspoken undermeant words that turn paper into blood money on contact? What is the word I can say that does not buy me into an exchange I cannot afford? Okay, so the small girl in the blazer has a lot of questions, but let’s try to condense one. What happens if we understand the word “black” to be a term in translation as it is spoken by and written by “black” diasporic feminists in the English language?


At points in this project it may seem that the word “feminist” is doing strange and awkward under-rewarded work. It may seem that I have borrowed the term “feminist” from a discourse that often excludes black women, and imposed the word “feminist” on a multiplicity of women who may not own the word “feminist”. This is true. I cannot own the word feminist. But I am not the only one borrowing, I am not the one in debt. An earlier poet warrior everything woman taught me, with a speech that she gave in this very place that feminist is not a loan that I have to pay off as though it belongs to white women. But feminism is a borrowed word to the same extent that borrowed does not explain the relation. The energy that haunts the word feminism is borrowed from the traces of fighters, creators and healers whose erasure precedes and constitutes the privileged iteration of the word “feminist”. The word borrowed does not sound as violent as what I mean. When I say that the word “feminist” was already a borrowed word before I audaciously reclaimed it for my uses. I mean borrowed in the sense that the land we are on right now is “borrowed”. This language is inadequate. But the fact is that the word “feminist” was in circulation among black women transnationally in English in the 1980’s much more frequently than the less violent, homegrown and embracing term “womanism.” I want you to know that I chose the word “feminist”, not because I have no choice, but because my choice is shaped by and accountable to the language relation that my elders, the subjects of this paper, attempted to break through.
At this point in the conversation on black diaspora we must recognize that the term is as over-employed and as underfed as many of the women the term “diasporic” would seek to describe. To think that using the term “diaspora” means we know who we are talking about is mistake. Especially if we are using the term diaspora as irrevocably modified by the term “black”. Black diaspora is not about knowing where we are from, who we are related to or who the “we” I am invoking is. Diaspora cannot mean anything It is just a sound that tries to hold the fullness of how profound our not knowing feels. It mean not only do we not know the answer to the existential question of origin, population genetics not withstanding, we can never know. Diaspora is a name for a loss that we cannot account for so when I talk about black diasporic feminism, it may seem that I am talking about feminism as practiced by a particular set of in the people in the “black diaspora”. This is only a biproduct of our loss for words. What I mean when I say “diasporic” is that this feminism, this writing, this reaching struggles across despite and because of impossibility. I mean that reaching, that desire, sustained and repeated like trauma. I mean love in the temporality of flashbacks. I mean all of us who stand at the shoreline, crucial and alone.
I am seeking to clarify and make visible the reproduction and reclamation of blackness across national contexts in one colonizing language...not because this is only happening in one language at a time, not because English is a more interesting colonizing language than the other languages of forced death, but simply because it is the shoreline I happen to be drowning on.

Of course, I am not the first one to suggest that translation can occur within one langauge. In “The Task of the Translator” Walter Benjamin suggests that translation is really about a desired relationship to a zone of communication that is not reducible to any of the languages that people actually speak and write across. In her long introduction to Derrida’s Of Grammatology, Gayatri Spivak suggests that the translation does not reproduce but engages the tracing, the play and the differance that troubles our hold on language to begin with. And these suggestions, though they might be saying opposite things, are helpful. “Black” as a translational term in one language is understandable through some of Derrida’s insights on writing, where the written is possible and multiple because it is inevitably deviant. “Black” as a term invented to mark and hold the absence of meaning, (at least as Fanon tells us) may be the ultimate translational term, or the term that reveals the everpresent haunting of translation everywhere. “Black” what is it? It is not a crystallized object that can be exchanged, but yet it is how we know that people can be bought and sold. It is not the same as death, but the overlap is persistent. Black is not a known, but it is not an unknown, is it visible even while it challenges the very possibility of enlightenment. Black might be a reminder that we don’t know what anything means. It may be the first thing that we don’t know, but as Fred Moten reminds me it is also not original. It is somehow befor and without origin. Nobody knows what black means. People convene conferences to think about it, but even more funding goes towards gathering people in a way that tries NOT to think about it.
Brent Edwards has very helpfully taught us to think about black diaspora as something manifest in print across oceans, across language, a perpetual gap in what we mean when we say “black” or “negre” when write the words used against us towards each other in different languages. Even more helpfully, I think, Michelle Wright, in her very important book Becoming Black, explains that blackness is a dialogic question, not a dialectical position. She rejects the figure of the “mask/veil” through which DuBois and Fanon have responded to the positioning of “blackness” in an antithetical relationship to whiteness, by pointing out the bankruptcy of this one to one relationship, when actually blackness is something that does not exist, it is in production discursively, even now. Wright suggests that the figure of the black mother (so misused in pan-africanist proclamations that women are land) is actually the most useful figure for thinking about blackness as a dialogically produced ontology, never pure, always contingent, already discursive.
It is the black mother, Wright’s argument seems to suggest, that poets like Audre Lorde and Carolyn Rodgers are writing towards as audience and as contested mode of production. I would add that black feminist writers are answering for the charge through which the social reproduction of abjection in society is continually ascribed to the reproductivity of black women. (As Hortense Spillers teaches us) The term mother is a borrowed one. Black feminist literary production takes up the task of how blackness gets created over and over. Maybe we are throwing disruptions to meaning towards each other like lifelines across an abyss. But the life saving sentences fall into the darkness, they never quite make it across. Maybe we are reading the drowning, the sound of that falling now.
I have been telling you that I think “black” might be a translational term manifest in the practice of diasporic feminism, in production in literary distance. And I have been telling you this in my one voice, made multiple by the ancestors that inhabit this space. But of course you also inhabit this space, literal and discursive with me, and the translation of the term black is only relevant because it happens in multiple voices. And here I am with you. Let’s practice. Diaspora happens across time and distance and I think black happens that way too, in writing. So since the time of the talk is over I want you to use these hand outs to more deeply inhabit the context of what I want. A translational black feminist diasporicity in print..
(pictured...the other audience)

For "Black Motha" the hand out that I handed out see:

Monday, April 07, 2008

Helping Us Get to the AMC!

Hi everyone!

So here is a tangible wish. This year I am planning to attend the Allied Media Conference in Detroit, June 20-22. The Allied Media Conference cultivates media strategies for a more just and creative world. It is the primary point of intersection in the U.S. for alternative media makers and committed social justice activists and this year's theme is "Our Evolution Beyond Survival: Media Strategies for the Next Ten Years." We will be strategizing about sustainability and reclaiming the media for our urgent needs. This conference is not just about talking, but doing as well. Check out some of the amazing events and articles from last year's conference.

You can help me get to the conference through a donation to cut the cost of airfare and housing when in Detroit. Just click the paypal button below. Give $1, $5, whatever you can spare!

I am super excited this year because SpiritHouse and Youth Noise Network are organizing to bring the young people I work with in Durham to the conference. Also, I am part of the keynote for the conference.

I'm grateful for your support for this conference. Just click the paypal button (indicate location). Give $1, $5, whatever you can spare! Let me know if you want your donation to go straight into the funds for the young people...I'll be just as grateful for that! Either click on the paypal button below or just make your donation via paypal using the address

Also help these other lovely women of color trying to get to the conference!

Are you thinking of heading to the Allied Media Conference as well? Register now!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Discipline and Discipline: Universalized Policing

Five Families, Oscar Lewis, 1959
“39 Siezed at Queens, But Sit-in Resumes”, New York Times, Apr 2, 1969, p1.
“In the Colleges, ‘Separate’ Could Mean ‘Inferior’ for Blacks.” New York Times, Jan 12, 1969, p E9.
The Voice of the Children, June Jordan and Terri Bush eds., 1970
Public Sphere and Experience, Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge, 1972 (1993 translated edition)
Detroit: I Do Mind Dying, Dan Georgakas, 1975
The Privileged Many: A Study of the City University's Open Admissions 1970-1975, The Women's City Club of New York, 1975
Open Admissions at City University of New York, Jack Rossman et al, 1975
Right Vs. Privilege: The Open Admissions Experiment at the City University of New York, David Lavin et al, 1981
A Comrade is a Precious As a Rice Seedling, Mila Aguilar, 1984
The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Social Inequality in Postwar Detroit, Thomas J. Sugrue, 1996
Zero Tolerance: Quality of Life and the New Police Brutality in New York City, Andrea McArdle, 2001
Leaving Atlanta, Tayari Jones, 2002
Street Justice: A History of Police Violence in New York City, Marilynn Johnson, 2003
Memory and Cultural Trauma: Women of Color in Literature and Film, Anh Hua (dissertation), 2005
Unspeakable Thoughts, Unthinkable Acts: Toward a Black Feminist Liberatory Politics, Sara Clarke Kaplan (dissertation), 2006
"We in Redux: The Combahee River Collective's Black Feminist Statement", Brian Norman (Differences), 2007
The Witch's Flight: The Cinematic, the Black Femme and the Image of Common Sense, Kara Keeling, 2007
No Snow Here #11, Nadia, 2007

In the late 1960’s New York City officials had a problem. During the 1950’s, 700,000 white people had moved out of the city and 700.000 black and latino people from the southeastern United States and the Caribbean had moved in. The market for unskilled labor was shrinking and the resonance of southern-born freedom struggles was growing. And black and Puerto Rican people were disproportionately on the welfare rolls. The city was funding the wrong public. Without the disciplining function of factory work, how would this population learn not to be free? The police force had one answer: shoot black and Puerto Rican children on sight. But riots and organized protests in black and Puerto Rican communities voiced a clear rejection of this form of discipline. Starting in the mid-1960’s it became increasingly difficult to ignore demands for a civilian review board, and even the associations for black and latino police officers within the force demanded disciplinary action against racist police violence. At the height of this controversy in 1964 the City University responded by creating the College of Police Science (COPS), which later became John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
In 1969 the City University finalized what it had planned for a decade: the expansion of the public university apparatus. And not a moment too soon. Students at Queens College had already taken over their campus, demanding the right to choose their own administrators and an autonomous structure designed with the social and intellectual desires of black and Puerto Rican students at its heart. Students at City College had followed suit, taking over more than half their campus and renaming it “Harlem University”, flying the black liberation flag and the Puerto Rican liberation flag and insisting that the College would serve the interests of black and Spanish Harlem.
The decision to use Open Admissions (which offered every high school graduate a spot in the 4 year or community college in the University system) to expand the City University was a move to quiet tensions in New York City and to supply a space of discipline to help address the loss of factory labor as a disciplining apparatus. This transformation in the tuition-free City University coincided with efforts by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to expand the State University of New York. Furthermore this creation of a seemingly level playing field helped to justify the gradual shifting of government funds away from the social welfare programming, a shift which would reach its height in the Reagan years. The transformation of the university to include “minorities” then is not necessarily a simply progressive act.
I argue that the expansion of the public university system in New York in the 1960’s and 1970’s was an instance expanded discipline. Furthermore this particular context reveals the intricate relationship between the university apparatus and the police apparatus. Understanding the expansion of the university as part of the same disciplinary project that would lead to the expansion of the prison system by 400 percent in the decades that followed means we have to pay close attention to the function of the "Academic Industrial Complex" a topic that many brilliant people convened to talk about at University of Michigan recently.

What do teachers do when the University is a trick, a trap a prison...but is at the same time one of the few places where writers and thinkers can make a living, one of the few spaces of sustained and supported intergenerational dialogue. What happens when the most accessible portal to the future (not particularly accessible to begin with) is a prison? How do we teach here, think here, live here without forgetting what freedom might be?

Audre Lorde and June Jordan were case studies in this predicament. They were both conscripted into the ranks of "composition" instructors during this period. They were hired to manage the changed population of the City University of New York. They were supposed to be teaching the unruly to think inside the lines, believe within the structure...and they did...and they didn't.

Audre Lorde's teaching experience is the most poignant illustration of this point. After teaching, with June Jordan at City College and supporting the campus takeovers, she was hired as the first black member of the english faculty to teach at John Jay College of Criminal Justice...which moved to a new campus (appropriately an empty former factory complex) right as the new open admissions policy came to pass. Imagine this teaching environment....almost 100% male attendance, a stronghold of white ethnics...mostly irish, a new population of students from highly policed areas mostly black and puerto rican...and everyone but Lorde is wearing a uniform...everyone but Lorde has a loaded gun. Teach composition here.

In this most unlikely of utopian sites, Lorde pushed against discipline for transformation. She expanded past composition to teaching about institutional racism (the composition of the racist police state), she co-taught the first women's studies class and opened the converted factory rooms of John Jay to the mothers, girlfriends and wives of police officers and to the women of the NYC lesbian scene...pushing the open-ness of admissions well past their target audience for target practice.

In the 1990’s the state of California had a problem. Again, it was a problem of migration and public resources. The displacing impact of US trade interests in Central America had increased migration into California markedly. In 1986, California legislators amended their constitution to make English the official language of the state, beginning a series of “English only” legislative acts that continue to impact public education. And in 1994, the state sought to respond to increased immigration with Proposition 147, which would have required local police officers to collaborate with Immigration and Naturalization Services and denied health services to anyone not able to prove legal residence. At the same time, California was engaged in population control via the largest prison build-up in the country. Proposition 147 was defeated, but the growth of prison funding by billions of dollars continued (and continues). And again this problem of an unruled and unruly public had an impact on the university. Discipline is flexible, it will sometimes do opposite things to achieve the same ends. In this case the University constricted admissions by refusing affirmative action.

This was when June Jordan, not coincidentally, published her book of political essays entitled "Affirmative Acts". Jordan was in the newspaper and in the street demanding the structural acknoweldgement of racism within the University of California...on the level of admissions and also on the level of the extreme funding differences between the elite campus (her own Berkeley the best example of this) and the crowded community colleges. (Professors were/are paid less to teach more students, who arguably need more time with faculty to remedy short lifetimes of being educationally suppressed.)
And this was when and where June Jordan created a disciplinary intervention that lives on. The Poetry for the People curriculum, a creative writing/ethnic studies/literature/blackstudies/service learning/performance/student taught/high school inclusive/undepartmentalizable course, was democratic in form and content (in fact giving the word "democratic" a new poetic life after what Chandra Mohanty and M. Jaqui Alexander call the colonization of the word democracy by narratives of neo-liberal capital), juxtaposes discipline and poetic rigor which Jordan calls the art of telling the truth. Poetry produces the people
out of line(s).

Let's go.