Tag Archives: embodied

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?

Bodies that Matter: Why Writing Center Consultations Should Not Be About Writing

Photo by aegishjalmur on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

As writing center consultants, our main “job” is assisting clients with their writing, whether that writing is an essay or a video project. However, at times, it is necessary to focus not on the product (writing) brought in by clients, but on the body (the client) that brought in the product. While I am not suggesting that focusing on client writing is not important, I am suggesting that the very bodies that write these documents are affected by the same discourses that impact us all, and it is these discourses that can, and often do, show up both in client writing and in client consultations.

The majority of our MSU clients are, indeed, students of the university. These students are often given challenging assignments asking them to write about various issues ranging from more common topics (e.g. Why did you choose to come to college?) to more complex topics (e.g. Do you believe queer bodies should be protected under anti-discrimination laws?). When clients encounter these types of assignments, client biases—intentional or unintentional—often reveal themselves in writing. However, while tutors may be urged to discuss the biases within the text, I argue we need to interrogate and question the biases within students. By interrogate, I do not mean to suggest that clients who express racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and so on in their writing are intending to be racist, sexist, homophobic, or classist—though at times, they most certainly are. I do suggest that clients, just like consultants, are impacted by the very same discourses surrounding these and other sets of people, cultures, and careers.

These discourses perpetuated by the media, the government, the police, the justice system, the educational system, and yes, the family, live within our clients as they live in us. In other words, while we live in systems of oppression, systems of oppression live in us. Therefore, to help to begin to cut the threads of a dominant system and its discourse, we should begin to ask clients “Who told you this?” “What brings you to this conclusion about these sets of people, culture, and so on?” as well as educating them through literature (scholarly); pop culture (media intended to disrupt certain dominant narratives); and conversation (with consultants when in the consultation). It is easy to focus on the product (text), especially in a capitalist society that seeks to own and in some ways has commodified its entire populace. It is harder to focus on the commodified bodies—the client and the consultant—who write problematic texts that can be harmful to a community of people, as well as to the client. How else do clients begin to question the complex bodies who produce problematic, if not utterly offensive, text documents? And how might questioning the body instead of the text enhance, or even lessen, the effectiveness of the consultation?