#RSA16 Panel Proposal: “The Rhetoric of Lynching: America’s Reflection of Itself”

The conference proposal for #RSA16 (the Rhetoric Society in America conference) in Atlanta calls for rhetoric and change, or rather how rhetoric promotes change.

For this conference, I am interested in the rhetoric of lynching. When I say “lynching,” I do not mean it in a strictly historical sense because there have been notable lynchings even within the past year (a recent incident in South Carolina comes to mind). Also, many could argue that recent deaths, such as Mike Brown’s, represent a new form of lynching in the 21st century. Rather, I am interested in how various papers can talk about the cultural phenomenon of lynching–the act of people coming together to kill a person publicly. While I do see this in a racial context, I am open to any proposal that investigates lynchings in a historical, cultural, racial, etc context. Specifically, I am calling for papers that analyze how the history/presence of lynching still pervades culture and how public deaths today might reflect the public lynchings of Jim Crow. I think the overall panel proposal would argue that the act of lynching changes America’s perception of itself, in some sense. (We will work out the details for the panel proposal later haha).

For my own part, I will be analyzing cultural memory and the lack of a history on Latin@ lynchings, arguing that the lack of a Latin@ lynching history demonstrates society’s need for a black-white binary.

I am asking for a 200-250 word abstract by July 1st at midnight. Please email those to me at j.c.sanchez@tcu.edu. I will proofread and edit these proposals and will inform people on the panel’s progress soon after July 1st (since the deadline for RSA is July 15th). If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email me or tweet me at @JChaseSanchez. I look forward to seeing this wonderful panel come together!

Kennesaw State Happened to me too

Today, Kennesaw State University made news when a black student was refused advising from a white advisor. She accused the student of “harassing” her by waiting patiently in the lobby. Links of this event and video can be found all over the internet right now. Black Twitter, as awesome as they usually are, called out the racial undertones present in the video and made this event a public ordeal. Though no explicit racial remarks were made, many on Black Twitter promoted the hashtag #ItsNotJustKSU for them to express moments when they were denied services by advisors and mentors, relating these similar events to a racial oppression many of them feel in their own education. A similar occasion transpired for me at the University of Texas at Tyler when I was studying for my BA. The moment altered my view of education, power dynamics, and cultural capital.

To begin, I loved my undergraduate experience because of the major progress I made between my freshman year and my senior year. I entered college in the Fall of 2006 and had absolutely no tenacity nor work ethic. I partied my first two years of college and my grades reflected this lack of effort. I transferred from Tyler Junior College into the University and Texas at Tyler with a 2.8 GPA in the Fall of 2007. I decided to become an English major when I made this transition and began taking classes that fulfilled my major.

My transition into upper-division English reflected my lack of primary education. Being raised in small, rural area, I never had the advanced readings and learned the complexities of language that many of my peers had in my junior-level English classes. When I proofread their work, I became ashamed in my own. Specifically, in my Literature and Critical Theory course, I recall making many Cs and even a few Ds on papers. To become a better writer, I knew I must become a better learner; thus in my junior year of college, I promised myself to make better grades.

My grades improved quickly. I made mostly As and a few Bs, and as I finished the courses prior to my senior year, I raised my GPA from 2.8 to a 3.4. These grades, of course, are not great, but I believe anyone can see the major improvement. At this time, I decided I wanted to enter graduate school and eventually earn my doctorate in English. Thus, I made an appointment with my advisor to talk about my senior year and being smart with my graduate studies pursuits.

I entered my advisor’s office (I will keep him nameless here), and we began chatting. He usually kept a sarcastic but funny tone and was known by students as being kind of a “dick.” (I truly have no other word to use than this one; my peers called him a “dick” on many occasions). But his persona appeared funny and light-hearted, so I enjoyed many of our conversations. On this particular day, we conversed about my senior year and the courses I needed to fulfill in the fall semester. Slowly, I brought up the idea of graduate school, hoping he would be proud of a young student wanting to try their hand at graduate studies and follow a similar career path. His one sentence response to my idea disrupted this fantasy.

“Chase,” he slowly expressed while leaning in closer to me, “people like you wanting to become a professor are who people like me laugh at.”

That sentence, uttered to me over six year ago, remains verbatim. I recollect these words exactly because a part of me changed that day. My professors once inspired me, making me want to become an educator and to help students become better thinkers and writers. But he stripped this naïve notion from me.

My face swelled with anger. I did everything in my power to not yell at him. To not scream. To not tell him that I was better than what he perceived of me. And once our session ended I called my mom and cried.

What prompted this occasion? Why would an advisor tell me I could not do something and basically laugh in my face? What gave him the right?

His remarks probably did not come from some inner hatred towards my skin color, but I believe it did stem from my cultural positioning within race, place, and class. I appeared undereducated, a Brown body who typically does not represent academia in many circles. My single mom raised me in a very low-middle class/low class lifestyle. I never fought for things I needed, but like many kids in my area, I did not benefit from wealth. Also, being that I was from rural, East Texas, a place not known for its educational standards, I am sure my advisor thought I had no chance to get past UT Tyler. Though he did not need to represent some false, bootstrap myth to me, his statement could have been more encouraging, more empowering. He could have inspired me. As a Brown English student with a terrible lexicon, he thought my choices in life seemed more ready for a desk job or a banker (as he told me many times). To this white male professor, I, undoubtedly, seemed beneath him.

Needless to say, I am now in my fourth-year of doctoral school in Rhetoric and Composition and should be finishing my dissertation next year. I raised myself out of the stereotype he presented me, and I honestly utilize my words now to spite him. Every year of grad school, when the times get tough, I recollect how his words sliced me, and that motivates me every single time. No doubt, I had professors who encouraged me (a big shout out to Dr. Sloan, Dr. Wu, Dr. Pooler, and Dr. Ross), but his one statement wounded me on an identity level, in a way I could never imagine.

But I cannot help but reflect back now and think of how many students in my position maybe gave up, felt discouraged, never rebounded, thought they were failures. The embodied pain I felt encourages me to always do better by the students. They are not nuisances or problems; they are the reason why we are here.

Looking back over the case at Kennesaw State University, I have no doubt that similar occasions happen to students of color and students from marginalized positions daily across this country. People with power often look at them with doubt, wondering if they are only here because of affirmative action, believing they are a problem rather than a gift. I promised myself years ago I would never do that to students, and I hope you promise yourselves the same thing.

The case at Kennesaw is not exceptional. If you talk to people of color, you will hear similar stories of how they were dismissed by people who should be uplifting them. If we ever want true change in our politics of academia, we will need to position more culturally-aware people to wield power. Until we do so, advisors like mine and like the student’s at Kennesaw will keep telling people like us “no.”


The Stain of Racial Memories and my Public Persona

I have been thinking a lot lately about my own agency in discussions about racism on Facebook. As most of you know, I have dedicated my research and teaching to racism and hope to base my career studying the rhetorics of race. I didn’t get to this moment on my own, though. My interest in racism slowly grew as I finished my MA in English literature. I published a paper on John Steinbeck’s views of race in East of Eden, and as I entered into my PhD program in Rhetoric and Composition, I began to realize my interest in race. New theories in legal and cultural studies, critical race theory and postcolonial theory, grabbed my attention during coursework. And as I moved into my third-year, I knew race was a subject I had to write about my entire life.

My studies were not the only thing that lead me to this point, though. My perception of the world began to change too. I was raised in a white household, in a white town, and was only brown because of my skin. I did not speak Spanish nor have an accent. I sounded like “normal” Americans and fit into this group as well. And as I moved to a larger city after my primary education, I really did not think race had affected my life at all.

But that was untrue. Race had been a major part of my education in my hometown; rather, I remember being racialized. My nicknames in high school were “Wetback” and “Beaner.” I remember coaches saying not to piss off the black kids because they were better athletes when angry. I remember taking part of chants after pep rallies, “We’re alright cuz we’re all white!” That never made sense to me because we had a large Latina/o population. But these words by peers, friends, and authoritative figures showed me how racial my childhood was. That wasn’t okay. People should not say these things to one another. Adults shouldn’t tell kids such things. This would not be acceptable in other communities, so why was is it acceptable in mine?

This pain affected me once I left the town and realized this climate was not the norm. People don’t grow up thinking they can openly say racist things to people. I harbor this pain daily, and I strive to better my environment and educate my friends who still think this sort of thing is okay.

So now we make a full circle. This pain in my formative years makes me who I am today. I use my social media feeds as a way to promote racial equality. I feel that if I can show the people around me the pain that other suffer through systemic racism, if I can show that daily, maybe, just maybe, people might start to see differently about race. So I explore how people talk about race to demonstrate how racism still pervades today.

However, I understand my persona can come off as combative at times, and that is not what I want to do. From now on, I will continue to post the racial pains of those suffering today, but I will no longer be combative. I will take part in honest conversation as best as I can, but I do not want to come off as a “know-it-all.” So I will refuse to. If any of you have any honest questions, please feel free to inquire.

No one can take my memories away from me. No one can take my experiences away from me. I have witnessed a racism that will continually persuade me to fight against it, and I believe this energy is what propels me to be so active in my scholarship and on social media. This energy, however, can become more inviting and less dickish. So I promise you readers and engagers, to promote the racialized pain in the world and to call for love at the same time. It is the least I can do.