Category Archives: Decolonize This!

Decolonize This! Writing as Embodied Double Consciousness

Often in the writing center tutors are trained, as are many students, that writing is an object—both a product and that which must be produced. The arguments over “good” and “bad” writing are arguments based on neoliberal capitalist discourses surrounding the selling and consuming of texts, be they written, digital, or multimodal. Therefore, “good” writing is writing that can be produced for the purposes of selling it to consumers (academics, the public, and so on). While writing is a product and does serve a larger capitalist goal, writing is not only a product. Writing is not only an object, but an action—a type of cultural practice and way of doing. Though these cultural practices of academic writing is deeply tied to classed (upper-middle-class) and raced (white) assumptions and ideologies, this cultural practice is a useful discourse to learn and one that is taken on or embodied in scholars neither identifying as upper middle class or white. It is in this embodiment—this “putting on of the White Hat”—that I argue a feeling of double consciousness is created that is or could be portrayed in writing or in the works of those writing from the margins.

For many scholars of color, this elitist academic discourse creates a type of double consciousness within writing, where they question: To whom am I writing if not my own? For what purposes am I writing if not for those not in the academy? To which community should I speak when I write and to what discourse community do I need to preference, suppress, or speak across equally? These questions are not outside writers’ heads when they write. We cannot automatically silence the discourses—of teachers, tutors, parents, friends, employers and employees—that tell us what acceptable writing is and what it is not, and while one can (and many do) argue that standard writing is nothing but a rejection of discourses of resistance, e.g. Black Language and Rhetoric, Working-Class Rhetoric, Queer Rhetoric, and so on, these rejections create an embodied response. This effect can cause a state of double consciousness that can present in clients as “I don’t know how to say this the way the teacher wants. Help me say what I want the way they want” to “Why do I have to write about Keeping Up with the Kardashians as a representation of American culture? I’m an American. I live in America. That’s not my life.”

I could ask the conventional question of how we should train students to answer these questions and others like them in a relatively short writing center consultation (a question of time)? However, I want to ask by what means should tutors be trained to address the colonizing practice of academic writing, its purpose in neutralizing discourses from communities deemed undesirable, as well as its democratic functions? Moreover, what tools do tutors need to teach clients rhetorical disguises which would “involve using dominant codes of language in expected ways, to speak and write in ways that might otherwise appear to be covering or assimilating to white standards of conduct” (Denny, 2010, p. 54)? How can the embodied experience of navigating double consciousness, not only in writing but also in the public arena, be useful in teaching clients ways to counteract such psychological damage within their writing?

Decolonize This! Interrogating Academic Literacy Practices

While taking the Writing Center Administration course offered here at MSU, I have found myself questioning writing center pedagogy and practices, specifically with regard to ushering clients into various forms of academic literate practices. These academic literacy practices (clean, concise, effective writing, most often written in Standard English) are laced with politics of exclusion—the exclusion of marginalized bodies, their rhetorical practices, and their various language(s) and dialects. While many scholars do challenge longstanding academic literacy practices, writing center tutors and directors, if not interrogating these longstanding practices, may—in fact, are—re-inscribing oppressive literate practices on the bodies of the students entering the writing center for tutoring. Grimm (1999) argues, “writing centers need to be more fully engaged with the paradox of literacy—the way that literacy both dominates and liberates, both demands submission and offers the promise of agency” (p. xiii). In other words, literacy, like all “standards” is “a socially constructed modifier” that “systemically bases policies and practices on those mistaken judgements” about standards and clients abilities to meet them (Greenfield, 2011, p. 35).

It may seem a large undertaking for writing center directors to take on the task of educating and disrupting academic literacy practices, particularly if those practices benefit them in the advancement of their own lives and careers. However, educating clients about and encouraging them to use rhetorical practices of their own choosing that allow their concerns, inquires, theories, and resolutions to be heard is productive for expanding not only the rhetorical skills of tutors, but also the larger ideas surrounding literacy, literate practices, and what counts as such in the academy.

While I encourage clients to resist within assignments if they wish, I also educate them about the costs of such resistance. Let me be frank: some instructors have power issues; some instructors believe they can learn nothing from their students—no matter their age, class, sexuality, or lived experience they may have. Some teachers cannot handle challenges from students with regard to assignments given or texts read. These teachers are the least likely to support such resistance and the most likely to give students performing this resistance a bad grade. However, there are teacher who welcome such resistance and the insight it can give them about their own pedagogical practices. These teachers are often more willing to allow students to push at boundaries in writing and reward them, usually with a good grade. Educating students about the real consequences writing has also teaches them that writing can and does have immediate impact and affect and is important for clients to learn.