Teaching On Our Knees

#TeachingOnOurKnees Campaign I Social Movement Studies I Commentary I October 10th, 2016

"The basic goal of a critical education is to interrogate the consecrated. We do this by fighting. No theory is worth anything if it doesn't put us in a better position to eradicate injustice. No pedagogy is worth employing if it doesn't help students understand the transformative potential of theory." [1]

Beginning on September 1st, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has taken a knee during the playing of the National Anthem and, ever since, an increasing number of athletes across the country have joined him. Regarding his actions, Kaepernick has stated, "I'm going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed...This is because I'm seeing things happen to people that don't have a voice, people that don't have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and effect change...To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way."

We choose this day, the birthday of legendary Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, to invite all university educators to "take a knee" [2] in solidarity with Kaepernick and others who have chosen not to "look the other way" and confront violence and oppression. We issue this invitation because as educators we believe it is not only our responsibility to respond to anti-Black violence, but also to shift the conditions that make it possible. We recognize that this entails working against institutional processes and apparatuses of power historically structured to maintain the status quo. The university is not a hallowed place of "objective" learning, but rather an inherently political and contested space, forged through slavery and Indigenous land theft. Within this context, we reject the solicitations for "civil discourse" and dialogue that are detached from interrogations of power. We also understand that speaking out comes with risk[3] as the institution rewards and advances those who do its bidding while those who name its unjust relations of power are typically dismissed, discounted, marginalized, and even fired. Nevertheless, we ask that you consider that this moment is bigger than our individual lives and the university. In this spirit, we invite you to consider the following as analogous actions to "taking a knee":

· Engage in discussions and actions that speak truth to power and inform your students about anti-Black racism, white supremacy, settler colonialism, state violence, sexual violence, and other forms of structural and institutional oppression and add resource links to the list below. #TakeaKnee in the classroom.

· Confront the everyday violence refracted through the common practices of institutional governance, which reproduce the logics of colorblind liberalism. #TakeaKnee in a Faculty/Staff meeting.

· Commit to intersectional analyses of sexual violence on college campuses, recognizing that sexism and rape culture are systemic problems, connected to and reinforced by other oppressive structures (i.e. racism, homophobia, transphobia and class-based oppression). #TakeaKnee against racial/sexual violence

· Ask bold questions about the absences and violences in the curriculum and interrogate the foregrounding of whitestream epistemologies in teaching and research that relegates Black lived experiences, perspectives, and scholarship in the classroom and its extensions (campus lectures, activities, and administration). #TakeaKnee in a campus event.

· Examine racial profiling and violent use of force by campus "safety" and police toward Black students. #TakeaKnee against racial profiling.

· Question the widespread tokenization of "diversity" as "added value" for the learning of white and non-Black students, while enrollments, retention, support, financial aid, and living conditions for students of color, and Black students specifically, decline. #TakeaKnee in a campus life setting.

· Challenge the ways in which the corporate university treats justice as a threat to brand equity. #TakeaKnee in a meeting of administrators.

We ask that in whatever context you "take a knee," that you do so in recognition of the historical legacy of higher education justice workers past and present and, particularly, of faculty lives expended by the university: From W.E.B. DuBois, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, and Derrick Bell to Ersula Ore, Divya Nair, Saida Grundy, and Zandria Robinson and others.

Should you choose to join us in this action we ask that you post a photo of yourself and/or your class "taking a knee" and share it with the hashtag#TeachingOnOurKnees or #4FannieLou. Together we hope to draw attention and to and support for Black (intellectual) Lives in the university and beyond. This is not about "inclusion" this about our collective liberation.


Black (Intellectual) Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter http://blacklivesmatter.com/

Slavery and the University https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xs7hfwDzwYM

The Demands http://www.thedemands.org

How To Support A Scholar Who Has Come Under Attack https://conditionallyaccepted.com/2015/07/09/attack/

Analyses of the health conditions of Black women in the academy http://www.thefeministwire.com/2012/10/the-shape-of-my-impact/ https://academicabolitionism.wordpress.com/2015/10/15/jennifer-lisa-vest-what-doesnt-kill-you/ http://www.thefeministwire.com/2015/05/black-womens-lives-dont-matter-in-academia-either-or-why-i-quit-academic-spaces-that-dont-value-black-womens-life/

K. Blain & I. Kendi, "With Love and Respect: #ScholarsRespond to a Vision for Black Lives" http://www.aaihs.org/with-love-and-respect-scholarsrespond-to-a-vision-for-black-lives/

EMERGING FEMINISMS, "No Matter What Machines Do To You:" Navigating Anti-Blackness in Academic Institutions http://www.thefeministwire.com/2016/09/anti-blackness/

Black Study, Black Struggle https://bostonreview.net/forum/robin-d-g-kelley-black-study-black-struggle

(Campus) Police

What to do instead of calling the police https://docs.google.com/document/d/1_Y0LwX0uOz-P63FVhV0OFkDObbBXcy16YPOcsqnBqto/preview

Campus police and security https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/04/18/u-wisconsin-student-pulled-class-arrested-anti-racist-graffiti http://inhisownhome.com/ http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-blacks-uci-20160130-story.html https://www.change.org/p/howard-gillman-uc-irvine-administration-university-of-california-uc-irvine-demands-to-abolish-the-police )

Campaign Zero http://www.joincampaignzero.org/#vision


#BLM syllabi http://www.blacklivesmattersyllabus.com www.blacklivesmattersyllabus.com/fall2016/

#BLM Syllabus (Melissa Harris-Perry & Jaira J. Harrington) http://ajccenter.wfu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Black-Lives-Matter-Fall-2016.pdf

Left Bank Books http://www.left-bank.com/black-lives-matter

Movement 4 Black Lives Policy Brief on Education https://policy.m4bl.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Education-Amendment-Policy-Brief.pdf


[1] Steven Salaita. "Six Ways to Unsettle Colleagues and Irritate Administrators." Jacobin Magazine (Sept., 2016).

[2] The suggestion to "take a knee" is meant to be both literal and metaphoric and to invoke the Freirean notion of "praxis" - the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, embodied, or realized. [3] We acknowledge that this "risk" is asymmetrically distributed and experienced (e.g. untenured and adjunct faculty of color are vulnerablized to risk in ways that full professors are not) and also that, nevertheless, such faculty still engage in a disproportionate share of this work.