2016 AAA Invited Session: TALKIN’ AND TESTIFYIN’ TO BLACK HUMANITY

2016 AAA Invited Session: TALKIN’ AND TESTIFYIN’ TO BLACK HUMANITY


– [Lanita] Welcome, everybody. Yeah, welcome. We started something new,
a couple of years back, myself and some panelists,
this is a opening discussion. So that’s what I am. My name is Lanita Jacobs, and welcome to Talkin’ and
Testifyin’ to Black Humanity, Producing Black Linguistic
Anthropology, Then and Now. All right, what compels us? What compelled this panel,
when we organized it, was of course the conference theme, and the guiding question, what counts as evidence in anthropology? Yet another motivating factor, and that’s critical reflexivity, this business of thinking
about how we think, why we’re doing the work that we’re doing. Our positionality in the
field as a means of inquiry and analysis among native black
linguistic anthropologists. Another guiding motivation
is the imperative. And I can’t stress this enough, of naming black linguistic anthropology as a means of talking
testifying to black humanity. The panelists to come will
expound upon what that means, talking and testifying to black humanity, which, many of you may already know is a riff on Geneva
Smitherman’s good work. Now this imperative of naming
black linguistic anthropology as a means of talking and
testifying to black humanity is of course inspired by the
recent election results in 2016, and I think Prince helps
to express it best. We are in his hometown,
and he is gone from us, but he has left us this
gift called “Dreamer”. I wanna play just the first two minutes and 15 seconds of it, just to
set this scene, to honor him, and also allow him to riff on why he expected more from a loving nation, and to lament that race still
matters in the 21st century. Let’s listen. (“Dreamer” by Prince) ♫ Oh yeah – [Lanita] He should be turned up. (Prince vocalizing) ♫ Yeah ♫ I was born and raised
on the same plantation ♫ In the United States of
the red, white and blue ♫ I never knew ♫ That I was different ♫ ‘Til Dr. King was on the balcony ♫ Lying in a bloody pool ♫ Expected so much more from a loving ♫ A loving ♫ Loving society ♫ A truthful explanation ♫ But you know what ♫ I got another ♫ Another conspiracy ♫ If it was just a dream ♫ Listen ♫ Call me ♫ Call me a dreamer too (electric guitar music) ♫ With more rewards ♫ And accolades ♫ Than anyone before or after ♫ 21st century, oh what
a shame, what a shame ♫ That race still matters ♫ A race to what ♫ And where are we going ♫ We in the same boat ♫ And I’m the only one rowin’ ♫ Last time I checked ♫ You were sleepin’ ♫ But you can call me a dreamer too ♫ Separatists – [Lanita] That’s it. Yes, yes, yes, yes. Call us dreamers too. The folks on this panel
include Krystal A. Smalls, who was also the co-organizer, she’s going to be talking
about Black Semiosis, Theorizing Black Ways of
Speaking As Survival Codes, followed by Eva Michelle
Wheeler, who will be talking about Shouting into
the Void, Counter Discourses on Race and Identity in
the Dominican Republic. Awad and Alim could not make it, so we’re not gonna be hearing from them, but we will be hearing
from Arthur K. Spears, who is also a discussant and co-organizer. The title of our panel
is Talkin’ and Testifyin’ to Black Humanity, and how do
the panelists plan to do that? Well, they plan to do that by asking, how do contemporary scholars critically and consciously mine disciplinary tropes and analytical conventions
to stake authoritative claims about languaging and speakers,
race and language politics, and ways of seeing in
and beyond the field? They also ask, what does it mean to bear scholarly witness and
pursue scholarly legitimacy within language-oriented disciplines? And I’m sure this is a question we all are considering for ourselves. Then they home in on this. In what ways to native
black language scholars strategically employ canonical tools and marshal and deploy
evidence to translate and explain anew issues
of cultural heterogeneity, fragility, suffering, and survival within and beyond black communities? Must they re-imagine
related language disciplines in service of this work? Krystal Smalls begins this labor in her presentation on black semiosis. She homes in, did you guys know
that’s the way you say this, homes in, not hones in, I been
saying hones in all my life, but homes in on indirectness
among Gullah/Geechie speakers in South Carolina that
enables them to talk without a white person
knowing that they’re doing it. And she views this as one
of many decidedly black ways of speaking and survival codes. The beautiful thing about her
presentation and comments, she reminds us that we
must never lose sight of materiality of race, and
the ways that black folks experience their bodies in
historically-specific ways. In fact, attending to
race, anti-black racism, and what Shirley Anne Tate calls
affective racial economies, can serve to reconfigure
existing theory altogether. Smalls shows us this
through her praxis-oriented and critically reflexive
scholarship that serves to elide metatheoretical
contextual foreclosures in her discipline, and in doing so, decolonizes linguistic
and semiotic anthropology. Get ready. We move on to Eva Michelle Wheeler, whose presentation,
Shouting into the Void, occurred to her as an apt
metaphor for examining counter discourses of race and identity in the Dominican Republic. She found herself, why
shouting into the void, she found herself among
a minority of scholars fighting for a more nuanced view of race in the Dominican context
that was not pre-figured by the West, our Western
notions of blackness, or read Dominicans who identified as indio as evidence of their
racial inauthenticity, or as a denial of their true identity. Actually, her research
participants stake bold claims on their identity as
negro as opposed to indio based on physical markers
that bespeak blackness, such as hair texture,
nose width, skin color, and they also explicitly
honed in their lives counter-hegemonic consciousness in ways that she’ll be discussing. Her focus on language and
race in the Dominican Republic seeks to give voice to
folks at the academic and social margins, thus
talking and testifying to black humanity,
diversity, and complexity. Her work complicates notions of black Dominican exceptionalism
and bespeaks commonalities between Afro-descended people in the West. And the final thing I
wanna say is I can dig it. My job as an opening discussant
is to try to get you excited about the papers to come, but
I’m taking some selfish time to just let them know that I feel them. Some convergences. The woman there with her beautiful hair says she loves her natural hair. In my own research, much like Wheeler, I found black hair and physical features to be markers of blackness. In fact, hair can act as that
tell-tale sign in so far as hair texture and hair style
as corporeal signifiers that narrate and situate at the same time. And much like the panelists,
in my work on stand-up comedy, from 9/11 to Obama within the
comedy clubs in Los Angeles, initially trying to figure
out what black folks had to say, if anything, about 9/11. And ended up writing a paper
about that a year later, and then couldn’t leave
the clubs until Obama. And found that notions of
the real, real blackness, permeated, ran through
like a steady through-line, black stand-up comedy
at pivotal points, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, that moment
when Michael Richards called those black guys in the club
niggers, niggers, niggers. The election of Barack Obama,
and then more recently, Rachel Dolezal humor and Trump humor. So notions of the real permeated this, and to even talk about why,
let me get back to this. Much like the panelists, I felt like I was shouting out so much into a void, but pre-figured dialogues
around real blackness, especially in anthropology. We are very much interested
in deconstructing notions of racial authenticity, and I wanna step back and
enter that discussion again with a focus on why notions
of racial authenticity might matter to black folks,
when the shit hits the fan, and also when things are calm and still. And I very much feel
Eva when she feels like she was shouting in the
void to make her point. Like the panelists, I found
it necessary to center considerations of race
and anti-black racism unapologetically in my work in order to write towards liberty,
mutuality, and legibility. I’ve also had to draw
from analytical paradigms within and beyond linguistic anthropology. Humor studies, cultural
studies, queer studies, in order to situate
the globally-recognized comedic icon that is
Kevin Hart as a trickster. Think about that for a second, I’m sure maybe that gives you some pause. But that was a big deal for
me, to be contending with this comedy research
and find myself kind of walking away from linguistic
anthropology in order to be able to say some other things
that I just need to say. I found that situating black
language, cultural practices, and aesthetics as decidedly
black pushes against merely deconstructionist
imperatives and enables new verses that implicate
power, resistance, and agency, or in other words,
speak to black humanity. A final convergence has to do with this. I’ll never forget a colleague of mine who did not get a tenure at
a prestigious university, but went on to bigger and better things, and is renowned for thinking
about global blackness. And we were at dinner one night, a group of scholars of
color talking about our work and the work that we have to do to kinda push past canonical
tropes, and say something. And we were all
commiserating, commiserating, you know, when you get drinking everybody gets a little bit more honest. And she broke through all of the discourse with one chant, and it was this. Let me live. And it just pretty much summed up everything that we were saying,
because the question was, how can one achieve legitimacy and freedom as a native anthropologist? Can we think and write free
towards black humanity? The panelists and others write towards freedom and translation via a generative and decisive critical
reflexivity that is not so much about narcissism or apology,
but about trying to unpack when and where they enter the field, and to re-marshal new ways
of being in the field, new ways of seeing language
and analyzing language towards a kind of freeing and
praxis-oriented scholarship. Here are some other convergences that speak to recent
attempts in this regard. And also black linguistics. On the right are some of my colleagues who are doing work in their own way that participates in the
larger work of this panel. And so let’s go. I’m gonna turn this over
to Arthur K. Spears. He is our discussant as well as our chair. Thank you. (clapping) – Okay, as you know,
two of our speakers had problems, actually tragedies,
that they had to deal with. They’re not gonna be here today, so we’re gonna operate
as just one session. So we aren’t gonna go in
strict 15 minute chunks. So our next speaker is
Eva Michelle Wheeler. And I’m gonna turn the
floor over to her, okay. Now one thing that I will say, I had some technical problems
with my wonderful Surface, and so what I’ve done
instead of Power Point is I’ve got some handouts that
I’m gonna put right down here, and if you’d like to look
at those they’re available. – [Eva] Good morning. You guys out there, you awake? (chuckles) Excellent. Just take a few moments for
my presentation to come up. And there we are. Shouting into the Void,
Counter Discourses on Race and Identity in the Dominican Republic. Although described by Dominican scholar Silvio Torres Saillaint
as the cradle of blackness in the Americas, academic
and social discourse has often framed the Dominican Republic as a pariah of the black diaspora. A setting characterized by
its exceptional negrophobia, xenophobia, confusion, and denial. The broad strokes of these discourses on Dominican exceptionalism
shout to the world that Dominicans are in complete
denial of who they are, and these shouts threaten to silence the Afro-affirming voices that
also exist in this setting. However, as my work on language and race in the Dominican Republic gives voice to the people at the
academic and social margins, it talks and testifies to black humanity, black diversity, and the
complexity of black identities. And I’ll just mention briefly, the black boxes go over the word black. So the quote says, “I
think nobody’s negro here. “We are told, you are black. “Oh no, I am not black,
I am something else. “Dominicans are in complete
denial of who they are.” And that’s a quote from
Henry Louis Gates’ series Black in Latin America. Although much non-linguistic
research on race overlooks language as a
primary analytic concern, a longstanding tradition
within linguistics has demonstrated the
central role of language in how individuals and
cultures understand race. Bucholtz has synthesized the
existing body of knowledge on language and race, and
concludes that this relationship is clear in at least three ways. First, in the use of racial terms. Second, in racial discourse. And third, in linguistic
performance of race. This present project
explores racial discourse in the Dominican setting and analyzes the content of this
discourse and the broader social context in which it is produced. Based on ethnographic
observation and interviews in the Dominican Republic,
the present study interrogates the critical intersection of language and race in
the Dominican setting. Specifically, the analysis explores non-traditional discourses on blackness, the African imaginary in
the Dominican setting, and the positionality of a
black researcher in this space. With language as the
lens, this project engages affirmations of blackness
that often go unnoticed, and critiques the
exceptionalism attributed to the Dominican racial setting. I selected three regionally distinct sites for the field work for this study. Santiago de los Caballeros,
Santo Domingo, and Dajabon. At each site, as I observed
and participated in daily life, people spoke freely about
race, color, and identity. I selected 23 interview
participants using snowball and convenient sampling techniques at each of the three research sites. The participants range
in age from 20 to 65, and represent both sexes,
12 men and 11 women. These participants also represent several diverse socioeconomic perspectives. Barrio, working class, middle
class, and upper middle class. Furthermore, participants are roughly evenly divided across research sites. For the interview portion of the study, I designed questions to
elicit information about the meaning and norms for
deployment for 11 racial terms. I additionally asked participants how they described themselves based
on their physical appearance and how others would describe them. The data for the present
study emerged largely from these descriptions
of self and others. I began the discussion by examining how participants in the Dominican Republic discuss blackness in traditional
and non-traditional ways. I set the discussion
against the backdrop of the quote included at the
beginning of this presentation, because the expressed
opinion that Dominicans are in complete denial of who they are is consistent with prevailing academic and social consensus on the topic. Participant responses
across research sites problematize this sweeping generalization. Eliezer, a professor in
Santiago, discusses blackness and race in professional
and personal contexts, and describes the pushback he receives when he identifies himself as negro. Eliezer is a professor of sociology, Dominican-Haitian relations, and Caribbean culture and history. He states, I, with much pride, am negro. He goes on to describe how when he makes the statement in his
classes, his students who would describe him as (speaks foreign language) ask incredulously,
professor, you’re negro? In these interactions with his students, Eliezer disrupts traditional discourses on Dominican racial identity
by choosing to identify as negro despite the fact that society would expect him to identify otherwise. Eliezer then turns to the
racial dynamics in his home. He has two daughters, and
his wife is my color, morena. He speaks about how one of his daughters describes herself as
(speaking foreign language) and describes her sister as
(speaking foreign language). Careful, he recounts telling her. Here we are negros, and with much honor. As Eliezer affirms his own blackness, his discourses shape the way that those in his sphere of influence
see and understand race. His students see a positive image of a professor affirming blackness, and his daughters learn that blackness is something that they
should possess with pride. Another participant, Alex,
a student in Santo Domingo, describes how some people see blackness as a most undesirable thing. Alex explains that many
would consider negro the most negative thing that
can exist in this country. When I ask Alex how he
would describe himself, he says, “I am negro.” In light of his statement, that negro can be viewed negatively, I asked whether negro is negative for him. To which Alex responds, “For me, no. “I feel proud to be a Dominican negro.” He continues. “They have negro as the
worst thing that can exist. “Not for me. Negro is the most
beautiful thing there is.” To cement this proclamation
Alex blows himself a kiss. As Alex talks about
blackness, he has no illusions about how blackness is
generally positioned. Nevertheless, he does not shy away from his own black identity,
proclaiming instead that blackness can be not only beautiful, but even the most
beautiful thing there is. Romeo, a government
employee in Santo Domingo, demonstrates how the use
of racial terminology can vary according to whether a person is describing race or skin color. When we begin the interview I
ask him to describe himself. And Romeo uses the term
(speaking foreign language) to describe his physical appearance. He explains that (speaking
foreign language) describes a middle space for people who are not white and not really dark. Later in the interview I ask
Romeo how he would describe his race, as opposed to his skin color, and he responds that his race is negro. The phrasing of the question in this way, race versus physical description, elicits a completely different term. I ask Romeo if he is framing his race in terms of his provenance, and
he explains a popular saying that alleges that all
Dominicans have an African past. “Yes, yes, it has to do with provenance. “Although my family
supposedly comes from France. “That type of thing. “My grandmother was blanca. “They tell me that she had
fine features and all that. “But everyone that is born
here, there is a saying. “They have negro behind their ear.” Romeo’s comments indicate the
methodological importance of specificity in conversations
on race, color, and identity, because the shift from
one metric to another can change the conversation. This fact is particularly
important for researchers who are cultural or linguistic
outsiders in a given setting. This is also a point at which
language becomes critical. When asked about their ancestry, most Dominicans who have African descent will acknowledge it, as
in the case of Romeo, who explains how Dominicans
are black behind the ear. However, this acknowledgement
of African descent does not smoothly transition to the foregrounding of a black identity. These discourses reveal that
race in the Dominican Republic is conceptualized in
a way that can disrupt hegemonic discourses on blackness. Manuel is a local folklorist in Dajabon, and during the interview we
speak about how ideas of race have changed and continue
to change in the country. According to Manuel, Dominican
history has primarily been written from the perspective of those who hold a more Hispanicized
vision of the country. But people are beginning
to accept the place of African heritage and culture. Although (speaking foreign
language) describes him as indio, Manuel states that other
people would describe him as mulato, and that he
identifies his race as negro. Although Eliezer, Alex, Romeo, and Manuel acknowledge their African ancestry, this is not the case for all Dominicans. Fernando, the director of a non-profit organization in Dajabon, states
that the Dominican Republic is unequivocally a country
of negros and mulatos, and that is a fact that some
people find it hard to accept. They do not want to accept the reality, that is, that we are a country of negros, of negros and mulatos. This is a country of negros and mulatos. Although participants in Santiago,
Santo Domingo and Dajabon acknowledge and affirm African heritage, and even black identity,
these discourses remain a part of the minority perspective
in the Dominican Republic. However, although this
perspective is in the minority, such views have been
present fairly consistently throughout the nation’s history,
and are gaining traction as globalization,
trans-nationalism, and technology normalize black identities in this space. The responses in this section suggest that the broad strokes of
exceptionalist discourses do not accurately represent the complexity of black identity in
the Dominican Republic. Although throughout the nation’s history, those in power have disparaged,
diminished, and actively tried to erase the country’s
connection to Africa, these projects have not
been completely successful. In fact, many Dominicans
readily acknowledge African ancestry, although some
downplay it as behind the ear. Adding nuance to the
conversation are Dominicans who foreground blackness,
and even celebrate it. These voices are frequently
excluded from broader academic and social narratives
on Dominican racial identity. The second section of this
presentation extends the question of discourses on blackness
to specifically examine how a connection to
Africa is enacted by those who affirm a black identity. As in the case of other
post-colonial spaces in the West, the espousal of a black identity does not ensure that individuals have a cultural or linguistic knowledge of Africa. In the country where those
in power have consistently recast African descent as a
burden born by the republic on the other side of the island, Haiti, Dominicans who choose to identify with their African past
use discourse as a tool to connect themselves to this heritage. As I conducted research in
the border city of Dajabon, overlooking the Haitian city of Juanamen, from the banks of the Massacre River, I toured the city with Manuel, the local folklorist and culturologist. As a note, I just indicated
there in the picture really how close the border
of the two countries is. DR on my right side, or on the bottom, and Haiti on the north side. There’s no actual, physical border. It’s a river. Once you cross the river you’ve moved from one country to the other. So Manuel is a local
culturologist and folklorist, and he’s active in the
culture of the border region, and has more than 30 years of experience organizing cultural events. In addition to this experience, he has received training as
a folklorist from UNESCO, and from the Ministry of Culture
of the Dominican Republic. In the border region,
Manuel is widely considered an expert on culture and
folklore, and he is frequently invited to speak at
international conferences. During a morning visit to a
local non-profit organization, Manuel begins to sing a song whose lyrics I cannot distinguish as Spanish. He tells me that the song
is part of an oral tradition that emerges from the
country’s African origins. During our interview later
that day I asked Manuel if he can sing the song
again for me to record. And I will play a clip of the song now. (speaking foreign language) (singing in foreign language) “Ging Gang Goolie” constructs
a narrative of a distant African past, and its
place in Dominican culture. When Manuel sings “Ging Gang Goolie”, his voice is strong and confident. According to Manuel, the song starts off African
in lines one through six, and ends like a Spanish
(speaking foreign language) in lines seven through nine. He continues, “This song
reflects who we are. “Africans, Spanish, and
the indigenous part.” Manuel then describes
what the song represents, and how it fits with
present understandings of Dominican heritage and identity. “Ging Gang Goolie” does not
use a familiar linguistic code, like English or Spanish,
and when I initially heard Manuel sing it, I could
not immediately place it. Subsequent background
research on “Ging Gang Goolie” reveals that the song has a
rather interesting origin. “Ging Gang Goolie” does not, in fact, originate on the African continent. Rather, the British
Lord Robert Baden-Powell of the Boy Scouts
organization composed the song for the first World
Scout Jamboree in 1920. The original song lyrics
have no actual meaning, but are said to facilitate pronunciation irrespective of mother tongue. I include the example of
“Ging Gang Goolie” here, not to frame Manuel as ignorant. In fact, Manuel has a wealth
of cultural and historical knowledge about the border
region and its oral tradition. Rather, the proffering
of “Ging Gang Goolie” as a connection to a distant African past broaches the topic of
the African imaginary in this space and beyond. This prompts me to consider
the question of how Afro-descended peoples
construct a connection to a geographically, linguistically, and culturally distant motherland. Manuel chooses to accept and espouse an African past in a
cultural space that does not require or even encourage it. That there is a disconnect between this African imaginary and
reality should not be viewed as an indictment of Manuel’s
identity, but rather, as an indication of the lasting cultural and linguistic toll of colonialism. The discussion here turns
to the positionality and accountability of a black researcher studying race in the social, cultural, and linguistic space of
the Dominican Republic. My cultural positioning
as a black American gave participants license
to espouse blackness in a social space that has not
traditionally been Afro-affirming. As participants interacted
with me, they often invoked famous black Americans
into the conversation. Michael Jordan, Lebron James,
Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Sammy Davis Jr., Harry Belafonte, Denzel Washington. Because of globalization,
and because of the trans-national nature of
the Dominican diaspora, participants were very aware of how race was viewed in other
countries and contexts. As a black researcher from
the US, I also grappled with my responsibility with respect
to transient structures of privilege in the research setting. By flexing my American-ness, I could change the
course of an interaction, because American-ness brought presumptions of power and socio-economic status. Thus, I wielded my
American-ness cautiously, so as not to interrupt
normal interactions. Finally, my perspective as a
member of the African diaspora, whose own history was disrupted
by the middle passage, allowed me to relate to certain
language particularities of post-colonial identity formation. Moreover, nuances in the language used to talk about blackness
were apparent to me, although not widely discussed
in broader literature on race and identity in
the Dominican Republic. This paper began by considering the current framing of the
academic conversation on race and identity in
the Dominican Republic. By employing language
as an analytical tool, I’ve explored and
analyzed racial discourse in an increasingly complex
social and cultural setting. The first section of the
discussion talks and testifies to the complexity of
black identity by engaging discourses on blackness that
are infrequently acknowledged. These discourses push back
against broad-stroke narratives of confusion and denial, and
negotiate the positioning and important of blackness
and African ancestry in an increasingly globalized
and trans-national space. The second section of the
discussion talks and testifies to the shared fragility of
our cultural imaginaries. This discussion again calls in to question the idea of Dominican exceptionalism, by positioning the Dominican
Republic within the broader context of Afro-descended peoples
tasked with reconstructing a connection to a
geographically, linguistically, and culturally distant motherland. As the identities of
Afro-descended people in the West shift between imagination and reality, language is the medium
that frames and conveys these identities to the world. As black linguistic anthropologists continue to bear scholarly witness to the way that language
works in the world, we are tasked with the
responsibility of framing language as a site of identity
construction and negotiation. Of validating voices of those
who exist at the margins. Of unpacking the complexity
of black identities. And of testifying to black humanity, in spaces where these voices
have not always been heard. I would like to briefly
acknowledge my funding sources, who so generally sponsored my research in the Dominican Republic. Gracias and thank you. (clapping) – [Arthur] Thank you. Our next speaker is Krystal Smalls, who is going to speak on black semiosis, and theorizing black ways of speaking. – [Krystal] Good morning, greetings. I’m so indebted to my
collaborators here, and not here, and I’m just really
grateful for this space and this opportunity to
have this conversation. So my talk today is a little
bit more of a meditation. It’s a paper, but it’s definitely
still kind of in progress. This idea of theorizing,
really, re-theorizing black ways of speaking as survival codes. So in many ways this paper provides a metapragmatic account of,
and also provides examples of, significations of survival
that have constituted black ways of speaking and being since the earliest constructions of blackness. So I will speak of layers of coding, actually through layered coding. These kind of super-imposed registers that result in the kind
of subversive signifying that many of us in this
room have long mastered. We are indebted, all of
us, to a rich tradition of black fugitive
scholarship and signification that has laid the ground work in many ways by providing a kind of floor
plan of the ivory tower, if you will, for myself and others who do this work on black
language and culture. So today I. I’d like to explore possibilities of achieving more analytic precision in our readings of processes through which meaning is made about
blackness, that is to say, how signs are inscribed
with racialized meanings, and how these signs are
deployed on various scales, and also for us to gain more
precision in understanding the meaning making processes
and strategies that are conditioned by and made through blackness. That is to say, the experience
of being raced as black and how that may codify or
condition ways of meaning making. So I’ll first be focusing on the latter, expression of black semiosis
by considering the way structures of race,
blackness in particular, have impacted the development of particular language development varieties, and I’ll be conjecturing a semiotic model, or some renovations, interventions through prevalent semiotic models
that more systematically attend to the materiality of the body as a relevant constituent in any process of interpretation or translation
in the semiotic process. And one of the many
reasons that I’m exploring a racialized account of
semiosis is to contribute to the re-conceptualization of these
various ways of communicating that were carefully crafted,
and very courageously mobilized along the coast of Western Africa, in the villages of Oceania,
on plantations in the American south, and on the mountainsides
of various Caribbean isles. To re-conceptualize them not
as apolitical derivatives of various kinds of quote,
unquote, language contact, as many Creolists suggest
in their, I think, ahistorical or very thinly historicized accounts of Creole genesis. So I hope to underscore how
the evolutionary trajectories of these ways of speaking
with their various lexifiers and superstrate source
languages, and so on, were not solely shaped by a need or desire to communicate in a
European target language, and then a target
language that wasn’t met, as many of these theories suggest, because of their more complex grammars. But were actually shaped by an ecology of white supremacist ideologies,
and systems, and practices. And very specifically
by anti-black racism. Additionally, some Creolists
suggest that these trajectories were animated by agentive
strategic actors on all fronts, even if they are positioned
very differently. For example, Faraclas’ volume, Agency in the Emergence
of Creole Language, interrogates assumptions of
forced language acquisition, and a kind of uni-directional
language development. Phillip Baker’s notion of a medium for inter-ethnic communication reconceptuallizes target
languages in this development of these varieties that we call creoles. So a close examination of
the actual socio-cultural, socio-political contexts of, right now, what I’ll call non-indigenous
black language, in their evolution, so the
development of pidgins, creoles, and dialects in
the old and new worlds reveals that although
there’s nothing, or not much, that’s structurally exceptional
about these varieties to warrant a distinct
typology, the despotic nature of many other germane
events that we refer to as language contact may have
engendered very particular discursive or pragmatic practices. So whether animated by the
actual trade of human flesh, or of poached natural resources,
or by the sequestering of black bodies in overcrowded,
under-resourced spaces, the types of contact that
have yielded the pidgins, jargons, slangs, and dialects
developed by black peoples throughout Africa, the Americas,
Oceania, and parts of Asia were, and are, invariably characterized by oppression, and often terror. Some might contend that we
parse indigenous languages, or indigenous language
varieties of Africa and Oceania from quote unquote black
languages, because such languages emerged prior to the
manifestation or construction of blackness as a relevant
condition of being. So this becomes especially applicable when we begin to survey
the notion of blackness in regards to semiosis. So that’s to say the
hybridized language varieties of concern here are not only black, because black identified people
speak them or created them, they are also effectively
black in the sense that they were made
through the ideological and material intervention
of blackness, and through the psychic experience of living
in a black identified body. So from this posture we can begin to speak of a bifold black semiotics, that examines one, semiosis of blackness, of making meaning of blackness, as I said. And two, the racialized semiosis, or a distinctly black
way of making meaning, of which one iteration has
already been identified, and copiously and beautifully
theorized as signifying. So this geminated conception
of black semiosis partly emerges from Michael Silverstein’s
dialectic indexicality, which demonstrates how science
not only index, or point to, phenomenona in the world,
micro, macro, and between, but also how they entail such
phenomena, and in doing so, help constitute social
context, or social reality. In other similarly complex words, racialized subject
formation as it plays out, in infinitesimal interactional events, involves both the usage and
the reification, or kind of, re-racialization of
already racialized signs. And the construction
of new indices of race. So regarding enslaved
persons in the United States, Marcie Morgan introduces a
concept of counterlanguage, which she describes as,
quote, “a conscious attempt “on the part of US slaves
and their descendants “to represent an alternative reality “through a communication system based on “ambiguity, irony, and satire”,
as cited in Spears 2008. So Morgan’s and others’
accounts deeply consider the context of oppression, and danger, in which many non-indigenous
black languages were developed, demonstrating how
something like indirectness not only allowed for creative
and covert expression of thought and affect,
but also how it derived from particular, though
overlapping, histories of subjugation and terror
that required quick-witted practices of resistance,
and sometimes insurgence. Or, as Arthur Spears has tendered, quote, “Indirection appears to have
developed as a life-preserving, “soul-saving, means of resistance. “Particularly to the
workings of white-supremacist “racial hatred and internalized oppression “during slavery and after. “For example, during the
reign of terror in the “United States often euphemized
by the term Jim Crow era.” Saidiya Hartman vigilantly
explores this very history, slavery and post-slavery in the Americas, and documents some of the
performative and interactional strategies of resistance
that enslaved black people used to salvage and
reconstitute their humanity. She explains that clandestine
acts of resistance, that’s her language, often occurred under the
guise of fun and frolic, and helps us understand
the context through which this agentive, but forced,
indirectness emerged. With her historiography
and theory in mind, I’d like to contribute
to recalibrating this socio-linguistic concept of indirectness as, in this context, as a kind
of compulsory esotericism, and one of many examples
of black semiosis. And I’m interested in
designating a specific practice that was born of material dehumanization and a pervasive threat of death that was necessarily indirect
and double articulated, including layers of
meaning intended only to be construable to particular
others in a given audience, namely those who were in
the same precarious state. So, indirectness was
and is used to express authentic joy in the face of white terror, to disarm potential white
aggressors, and in this sense, was used to counter, discredit,
or plot against entities that were, that undermined the speaker’s and intended audience members’ humanity. The substantial body of
socio-linguistic literature on signifying and other forms
of indirectness encourages us to consider the practice
as an integral part of black ways of speaking,
to use Stillheim’s terms, in which individuals are socialized. And an expansion on the
phenomenon from scholars like Hartman, Morgan, Smitherman, Spears encourages us to reimagine
practices like signifying as integral parts of black
ways of being in the world. And like most ingrained
cultural practices of survival, metadiscursive or metalinguistic awareness is not common among users,
nor is such awareness necessary to do specific
interactional work. It’s not common, but it
certainly does exist, so this excerpt from
field work I conducted in South Carolina, South
Carolina low country in 2009, illustrates a very keen
awareness of the… Okay, I’m sorry. Keen awareness of the origins
and contemporary functions of some indirect black ways of speaking. So, can I get a volunteer
to help me read this? Somebody to be Lola, maybe. I’ll be me. Okay. – [Woman] I always thought
that that story was so capital because the thing that you
learned when you were here was, you learned how to speak
about a white person in their presence without them knowing it. – [Krystal] Mm. – [Woman] And I continued to do that. I tried to teach it to my children. (Krystal chuckles) I don’t think the current
generation does it very much. – [Krystal] Yeah. – [Woman] They just don’t
quite get it when you, you know, it’s a lot of
eye movements and the body. You can talk about a
white person right while they’re sitting there and they won’t have a clue about what you’re saying. – [Krystal] Mm-hm. Oh.
(laughing) – [Woman] And you can, you
know, speak the truth about them and they still won’t get it. And it’s, it’s not all
words, but there’s um, you know, it’s a methodology,
and I hate we’ve missed that, but we don’t know how to do that anymore. Yeah, yeah, that seems
like another level of– – [Krystal] Oh, I’m sorry, that was me. I lost my cue.
– Sorry. (laughs) – [Krystal] Sorry. Yeah, yeah, that seems like another, okay. Yeah, that seems like
another level of language that we had, I guess you’re
saying that we’ve lost. And then you start there, I messed up. – [Woman] Exactly. And you had to. You had to be able to warn
your friend or your coworker, or whatever they might have
been in the presence of somebody and they were asking you
to do something, and you, you know, you had to know
what to say or what to, you know, you know, if you
didn’t want to do it or whatever. – [Krystal] Right, right. – [Woman] And so you, you
used your parents frequently. My parents would tan my hide
if I got involved in something you know, in something
like that, or whatever. And so, uh, it’s just, it
was, it was a way of talking. – [Krystal] Yeah. – [Woman] That, that we
don’t, we can’t do anymore. – [Krystal] Thank you, that was awesome. So Lola was a 60-something graduate of the historic Avery school,
now the Avery Institute in Charleston, South Carolina. And she shared this when I
was asking her about teaching and learning Gullah/Geechee
language, or language practices as a young woman growing up in Charleston. And so she rendered
Gullah/Geechee a way of talking. And she demonstrated that,
much more than a mere code, it included an inculturated
system of indirect signals that are used to carry
out a host of tasks. In this case, protect speakers
and interlocutors from various harms, namely those
inflicted by white people. So this structured talk
transpired in the presence of an ostensibly white
man, one of her colleagues, who seemed to be within
earshot of our conversation. So she lowered her voice to
a nearly inaudible level when saying the word white, and
modeled the very discursive tactics of survival that she
described in the excerpt. So interventions by
black language scholars, like the game-changing volume
that Lanita showed earlier, Black Linguistics, and also
new methodologies and concepts like Samy Alim’s critical
hip-hop ethnography, and Jonathan Rosa Nelson
Flores’ theorizing, or theorization, of racial
linguistic ideologies, Marcy Morgan’s
counterlanguages, as we saw. And many others. These have been vital for
modifying the paradigms and the very tools that we use to explore racialized language practices. Like the one that Lola described and theorized as well. From their work we learn that, as black scholars of language and culture, we must not only renovate dominant theory, but also exhume our own deep-seated anti-black predispositions. That is, we must deeply
consider Theresa Perry’s observation that black language is the last uncontested arena of black shame. So I’m suggesting that
for a better understanding of the role of race in semiosis, or meaning-making through
signs, we also need recalibrated theory, analytical tools, and
more uncomfortable reflection. My own socialization
into, and my investment in this kind of recalibration,
makes the task of performing black semiotics, or racialized semiotics, even more formidable and more fulfilling. So, Paul Thibault’s text on
social semiotics interprets the field of study as an
intervention that, quote, “Starts from the
praxis-oriented view that our “practice as analysts
and theories of social “meaning-making practices
and their textual products “in our own and other
social semiotic systems “is itself a set of social
meaning-making practices, “just like those we study and analyze.” So this kind of reflective
stance is central to decolonizing linguistic
and semiotic anthropology, an enduring project in which the field’s sister field, cultural anthropology, got the comparable call, got a comparable call, from Farharson around the same time, the early 90s. So from here I’m imagining and formulating a theoretical framework of black semiotics that is always constituted in
and through a given ensemble of black semiosis practices. And I’m earnestly considering
Thibault’s insistence that semiotic theory not
just be a science of signs, that disarticulates and deconstructs, but that it actively re-articulates and reconstructs something as well. And I consider this kind of
impetus to be a vital artery that connects semiotics
and Africana studies, any black studies, critical
ethnic studies, gender studies, these other kindred vocations in which repositions of the theorist
as one who rearticulates, but doesn’t necessarily confirm
everyday meaning-making, or folk theories about meaning-making. So these are also fields
in which our modes of knowledge production that
are actually constituted through reflexivity and praxis. So all this underscores
one, how our theories are always already there in some form. Right, we don’t actually create them. They are always imminent
in people’s everyday lives, and in their meta-pragmatic and metalinguistic
commentaries and theories. And also, two, how we must
re-articulate these activities and meta-commentaries to make new, relevant, critical meaning of them. So among other things,
Peirce’s very generative semiotic model and
accompanying theory expanded to Saussure’s binary that
we’re all familiar with, the signifier, signified model, to include the process of
translation and its apparatuses. This is what he called the interpretant, I’mma say interpretant (chuckles). Meta-theoretically, black
semiotics is actually a more precise Peircean
interpretant, or a translation, that helps re-articulate
the connection between a class of reference, or
meanings, and a class of signs, or assigned vehicles, representamen. In this case, the connection
between blackness and various meanings of blackness,
and particular signifiers. So the necessity for a
distinct theory about meaning, the meaning of and meaning through the construction of
blackness, derives from also the oft-cited Peircean principle
that the greater the degree to which assigned vehicle
intends or denotes a particular meaning, the fewer
meanings there are available that it can intend, so simply put, the more specific the meaning of the sign, the fewer things it can be
used to denote in the world. The difference between bird, versus fowl, versus chicken, versus hen. Concerning black semiotics,
the theoretical specificity of black semiosis only
extends to meaning-making articulated through black
bodies and consciousnesses, or the experiences of being
socially raised as black and developing a functional subjectivity through that designation. So this specificity, which
can be extrapolated to attend to any pertinent historical racial schema, which I’ll talk about in a minute, requires attendance to human
actors in semiotic mediation. So Fanon’s historical racial
schema was one part of his two part intervention in
Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological model of the corporeal schema. A concept that addresses
just basically the way humans experience the
world through their bodies. Dilan Mahendran, I think I’m
saying his name correctly, has described Fanon’s
corrective in the following way. They say, the historical racial schema are the sedimented and
knotted fabric of self, experiences of anti-black racism, and its interpolating discourses. Sort of the pre-reflective consciousness, memory of lived experience. Lived experiences of racist violence. So his words illustrate not only this existentialist charge of
racialized meaning-making, but also the material experiences of different kinds of bodies. So in keeping with these Peircean tenets, meanings always entail the signs through which they are expressed. And those signs entail the
method or means of translation. Actually, I’m gonna skip
up ahead a little bit. So, all of this means that
we must seriously consider human interpreters in
semiosis, and therefore must take into account
conditions around actually defining the human, and
experiencing humanity. Specific and historicized
attendance to race, class, gender, and religion
then become necessary starts. So in many ways black
semiotics attempts to answer Stuart Hall’s reverberating question, what is this black in
black popular culture? Which Michelle Stephens recasted as, what is this black in black diaspora? By considering how it
is that an abstraction of social, cultural, political,
economic construction, as we talk about it, like blackness, predicates black bodies, black personhood, and other black entities
and thereby constitutes a mode of very specifically
black being in the world. So parsing black semiosis also becomes a helpful project when
we consider indexicality and processes of enregisterment in more politically and
historically specific ways. The sociogenic and antegenic
conditions around what is possible for black and other
non-white raced individuals have to be considered when
theorizing how sense is made of reference and signs
relating to social identity. In the most universal
context of white supremacy, making meaning about humans
is strikingly different for individuals whose selfhood
and notion of personhood were steeped in a rubric
that located him, her, them, and those that they were bracketed with in the center or the top. So for those who
customarily find themselves up against whiteness, as Stacy Lee put it, as they conceptualize beauty,
intelligence, democracy, modernity, civility, and self, race, and all of its effective racial economies, cannot be tangential,
theoretical concerns, but must actually reconfigure
theory altogether. So the bodies of work produced
by scholars like Alim, and Mary Bucholtz, Lane
Chun, Cecilia Cutler, Michel DeGraff, Nelson Flores, Jane Hill, Awad Ibrahim, Adrian
Lowe, Sally Kocoum Fuente, Angela Reyes, Lanita Jacobs-Huey, Jonathan Rosa, Geneva Smitherman, Arthur Spears, and many, many others. They have directly and indirectly pierced this kind of contextual
foreclosure that studies of language and semiotics
frequently erects around its own racialized
epistemes, right, and inferences, and contingencies, and it’s my hope to help
dilate these punctures that have been made. Thank you. (clapping) – Oh, I see I don’t have a flat surface. I’m Arthur Spears, and I want to thank Krystal for organizing this panel. It was an idea whose time
has come, so to speak. (coughing) Okay. What I want to do is go general, and that’s what Krystal asked me to do, and talk about some of the basic issues and ideas that we confront
when we talk about black linguistics, black
linguistic anthropology, how we do our research, and so forth. The title of my talk is Blackening
Linguistic Anthropology. And I could also say that the subtitle is Linguistic Anthropology, Black Linguistic Anthropology,
rather, Then and Now. My talk is divided into four parts, and so I wanna make four main points, and then each one of
those has some sub-points. And you can follow me with the handout that I distributed before. So the first point simply elaborates on that term, blackening
linguistic anthropology, what does that mean? I’ll make three points. When I think of linguistic anthropology, I think of it broadly. And it’s the study of
the inter-relationships among language, society, and
culture, in the broad sense. Of course once a subfield gets named, there are, there’s a
certain group of questions, certain methodologies, and theories, that the bulk of the
practitioners adhere to. But I just wanted to lay out that I’m thinking of it in that broad sense. I wanna talk also about the history of black scholars in
linguistic anthropology, as I’m talking about
it in the broad sense. And I’m going to begin
with Mark Hanna Watkins, and I’ll say a few remarks about him. And the third thing I’m
thinking about is ways that current and future black
linguistic anthropologists can act upon the program that has
been termed black linguistics. And that was discussed
in Makoni, et al, 2003, and the title of the volume
is Black Linguistics. Now my second major
point, blacks in the study of language in society and culture. And I’m gonna begin with
what black linguistics is, as it was laid out in that
volume Black Linguistics in 2003. So, black linguistics
involves four main principles, with regard to practitioners
and their research. The first one. Membership in or life
experience with the communities whose languages we research and analyze. Keeping in mind that membership can be a matter of degree, always. Second. Use of an ideological
orientation designed to analyze and expose the workings
of ideology and research on, about, and for black languages. Use of race as a defining feature in our linguistic autobiographies, and as black languages and scho-la-gers. Now, when I just
mentioned black languages, I should elaborate just a little bit, but I don’t want to spend
too much time on it. We’re talking about the
languages, globally, that are spoken by those who
have been racialized as black. And in terms of communities, societies, and geopolitics, share certain features. So we’re not talking about
genetic language families, in any sense. I just wanted to point that out. The fourth point is analysis
of language as social practice, with a keen eye and ear
attuned to its social history. Also, attuned to changes and continuities in the categories of thought
and the historiography of linguistic analyses of black languages at different historical periods. Now I wanna say something
about Krystal’s intervention. Her remarks illustrate the application of all four principles. She illustrates how black semiosis is the direct result of
the lived experiences and communal histories of
racialized black bodies in racially structured societies. Now her main example is indirectness, which, widely occurring
in black languages, not just in the US. Indirectness is a defining
trait of signifying, but much broader than signifying alone. Indirectness is incorporated
into African-American English grammar through
grammatical camouflage, whereby the black identity
of African-American English grammatical features is
rendered largely undetectable. Also, Krystal Smalls prompts
us again to look into the vast research area of distinctively
black ways of speaking, and traits of African-American
English grammar. Now in African-American English, indirectness and other
principles, as I call them, for example, camouflage,
directness, prosodic semantics, semantic license,
augmentation, and so forth, are at once both grammatical
and metadiscursive principles. They relate to grammar and
communicative practices. This fact proves yet again that culture is inextricable from grammar. That can’t be repeated too often. Next point, the history
of black linguistics. Some highlights up to the
1970s generation of scholars doing research in language
in society and culture. So I’m going up to the 1970s, in terms of those who got their
PhDs before that period. And I should place Geneva Smitherman, the well known linguist, into that group. She got her PhD in 1969
from University of Michigan. Now, at this point I also want to remember Margaret Wade Lewis, who is the, or was the, historian
of black linguistics. And her main work was the book Lorenzo Dow Turner,
Father of Gullah Studies. And she also produced a
collection of writings on other scholars in what we’re terming black linguistic
anthropology, or linguistics. The next person I want to mention, and I mentioned him first, is Lorenzo Dow Turner,
who I just mentioned, who is the first to
establish unequivocally, based on empirical research,
the African linguistic and cultural content
of the Gullah language. It’s classified as a creole language. And he did that in Africanisms
in the Gullah Dialect in 1949, which was the first book-length treatment of a US creole language. Secondly, Mark Hanna Watkins,
who I mentioned above, who passed away in 1976 and
spent most of his career at Howard University,
the historically black institution in Washington, DC. He was an Africanist. His PhD was in 1933 in anthropology, but he specialized in linguistics, and that was at the University of Chicago. He was interestingly the
first American, any American, to write a grammar of an
African language, and the book was titled A Grammar of
Chichewa, a Bantu Language. He trained with Sapir,
and Leonard Bloomfield, who some of you may be familiar with, was a member, outside member,
of his dissertation committee. The next person I want to mention is Joseph Applegate, who passed in 2003. He spent the last years of his
career at Howard University. Along with Chomsky, he was
trained by Zellig Harris, at the University of Pennsylvania,
and got his PhD in 1955. His dissertation was on
Berber, and he had later in his career publications on the
language of the drug trade. He was the first black
faculty member at MIT, and taught linguistics with
Chomsky and Hawley there, and became director of MIT’s new language laboratory in 1959. Afterwards he was a faculty
member at UCLA before moving to Howard where he was
one of the founders, along with Mark Hanna
Watkins, of the first African studies program
offering a PhD in the country. The next is Beryl Loftman Bailey, who was a creolist specializing
in creole languages, and she was the first black
woman linguist in the US. She was born in Jamaica. To first systemize, on
its own linguistic terms, the grammar of a creole language. And that was Jamaican Patois. Within a genitive transformational
grammar framework. And the title of the book
where she presented that was Jamaican Creole Syntax. I’ve also mentioned Claudia
Mitchell-Kernan, at UCLA, who went into administration during the later years of her career. She was the first to write a book on black communicative practices and
grammar, based on participant, actually, I could say
member, observation research. And that book was, that
research was presented in Language Behavior in a
Black Urban Community, which appeared in 1974. The last two that I will mention are Orlando Taylor and Ida Stockman, who were early scholars in
the 1960s, particularly who worked to describe and vindicate
African-American English. And then as I said,
coming right at the end of the period that I’m talking
about, before the 70s, was Geneva Smitherman, and
of course her best-known book is probably, she has several
that are quite well-known. But let’s say her first
best-known book was Talkin and Testifyin, and
she insisted on leaving the apostrophes out of, off of the end of Talking and Testifyin. The third major point I want to make is the need to study up in
investigating language and race. What is the macro context in this society or national, regional, global level? And Lanita Jacobs confronts
this point very well. First, the study of language and race must be carried out within
the explicit context of theories of society,
culture, and oppression. They shouldn’t simply
remain in the background, but they need to be mentioned and sketched as a framework for the specific research that we present in a particular work. As Lanita Jacobs has put it, there’s concern about
linguistic anthropology’s isolating language from particular
macro social structures, and searching for evidence
of matters bearing upon race merely at the micro level
of talk and interaction. Secondly, this remark of Jacobs’ is echoed in Krystal Smalls’ comment after Thibault, that black linguists should
be critical activists, and quote, “pierce the
contextual foreclosure”, unquote, wrought by would-by
theoreticians who would position race as a tangential concern. Fundamental points. Also, she sees as more valuable, speaking to the promise
of language research to unpack other kinds of truth
and scholarly imperatives, so that we can open our fields of inquiry, experiment with our writerly
voices, and bring our political stances and
intellectual quests to the fore. Next point. A fundamental understanding
of race can’t be achieved absent the placement of race and racism into the context of oppression overall. That is, race and racism
are simply one strand of the oppressive, exploitative matrix, as implicated in oppressive
social hierarchies. Hierarchies tied to not
just race, but also gender, sexuality, socio-economic class, religion, immigration status, national
origin, and so forth. And all of the foregoing,
individually and intersectionally. Now on the macro level
of the, what I call the political economic pentad,
are the following five things. Number one, the global system. Two, the state. Three, ideology and
coercion, which in practice are two sides of the same coin. Four, social stratification. Five, oppression and
exploitation, which again, are two sides of the same coin. Next point. There’s no reason for all
linguistic anthropologists and scholars of language and society
and culture not to do this. There’s every reason that we must do this. In other words, place race and
racism in its macro context. We don’t have to start from the beginning, since there are already
treatments of this macro context I’m referring to, there
are already treatments that we can draw on,
and one is Jane Hill’s book on language and racism in 2008. There’s also the 1999 book, edited volume, Race and Ideology. Next point. Alim calls for research
within the framework of the political economic
pentad, as I’ve named it. He does this in his
introduction to his book, edited by him, John
Rickford, and Arnetha Ball. It just came out, and the
book is Raciolinguistics, How Language Shapes Our Ideas About Race. They want to advance the
racial-linguistic perspective by, and I quote, “looking
comparatively across diverse “ethno-racial and linguistic
contexts to better understand “the role of language in
maintaining and challenging racism “as a global system of
capitalist oppression.” Eva Wheeler’s study of race
in the Dominican Republic is an excellent step
in the right direction. She questions previous studies of the Dominican racial system and
uses her empirical research to revise, amplify, and in some cases, ratify those previous studies. Her study participates in the construction of the theory of racial systems. Still urgently needed for establishing the flow of assets,
not just capital alone. Assets managed and regulated by language. And that’s in, out, and through. The global system. Wheeler lays down the
challenge to theorize, globalize, historicize, dynamicize, and political economicize our
research on race and language. So fundamental that we need to coin some new words to talk about it. The fourth main point that
I’ll close my remarks with is the need to question, and
shove aside, if necessary, the received theories and methodologies delivered to us in graduate school. Now often they’re useful, of course. But when they aren’t when
we need to push them out, or set them aside, what do we have to do? Too many of us, black scholars included, continue to conduct research shackled by the graduate school questions
and frameworks handed us. There is a need for us to push ourselves to confront profound threats to black, and overall human
well-being and existence. Also, we have to struggle against the recognizability trap, as I call it. Whereby activists’ critical scholarship too often is marginalized
or rejected for not slavishly reproducing studies mirroring the products of our
graduate school training. Okay. And as I’ve written, our
graduate school masters, which they are while we
are in graduate school. And many of them are of
course what I refer to as the theory mandarins, who are
licensed to theorize grandly by white supremacy and intent and ills. So, what I want to say finally is, break out of the received paradigms, wherever necessary, and
feel free to go forth boldly and theorize grandly for
the sake of human well-being and the continuation of human existence. Thanks. (clapping)
(cheering) Now, fortunately, we have a somewhat expanded period for questions and answers, so I’m going to throw the floor open. My hearing is a little bad,
so I hope you will go to the microphone, and I assume
the microphone is working. And just volley your questions up to our distinguished panelists. Okay. – [Audience Member] Hi, thank you for the really nice panel and wonderful comments. I’m glad there’s a microphone, ’cause I have no voice as it is today. I had a question, really, especially for the
Caribbeanist on the panel, but others might have
thoughts about this as well. I saw it come up in one of your transcripts, the word
(speaks foreign language), and it’s something I’ve seen in my work in the Caribbean as well, this sort of category,
and there have been, there’s been some writing about this sort of category, and it often is put in contrast to blackness, so for example, the formulation (speaking
foreign language). Black but fine, elegant, or whatever. And I was just wondering if
you had some thoughts about how that’s in play in
the Dominican Republic, and I think more broadly, in the black Atlantic, as a
sort of discourse to critique. – Thank you. Very much. Yes, I definitely saw the use
of different strategies to kind of dilute the sting of blackness, and so one of the reasons
why I very much see the Dominican Republic as a
part of this broader story of Afro-descended peoples
in the West is that in the Dominican Republic,
as in many other spaces, blackness has historically been something that was viewed very negatively. And so to call someone
negro, without a modifier, could be seen as an insult. And so, in order to counteract
the presumed negative status of saying someone’s negro, or
moreno, sometimes people will use words like (speaks
foreign language), fine. Other words like (speaking
foreign language), which literally means washed. But is used to kind of say,
well like, you’re negro, but not so negro that I see it negatively. And so like, you can definitely
see how anti-blackness is kind of ingrained in this
notion of just blackness period. Like, blackness comes with
a presumption of anti. And then you counteract that
by using different strategies, either linguistically or in terms of your actual mannerisms and your tone, as you were talking
about in your examples. And so something also about the word negro in the Dominican Republic,
it’s so complex, because it can be the worst insult
that you can call someone, but it is also the most endearing
term you can call someone. And so there’s really nothing in between. Either you’re using it
to tell someone that they are nothing to you,
you know, get out of here, I hate you, or you’re using it to say you are the most valuable person to me. And the way that negro works
in the Dominican Republic is also very interesting,
because it can be used to describe people who
phenotypically are not black, if it’s used in that context
of (speaking foreign language), like in English I’m
struggling for the word, but to say that someone is close to you. So one example that
people told me, you know, if they’re two spouses and
they’re both blond hair, blue eyes, white, and Dominican, they can say to each other
(speaking foreign language), and it has nothing to do with phenotype, it has to do with affect. And so negro is just
this fascinating term, because it can be infused with
positive or negative affect. Using modifiers and then
also communicating with tone. So I’ve definitely seen
(speaking foreign language), and I’ve seen (speaking foreign language), and a bunch of different
strategies to try to extract that negative affect from the term and recast it as something positive. – [Arthur] Another question. – [Audience Member] Greetings. Kind of in line with your
last comments, Dr. Spears. There’s something, a few
things have baffled me. I saw the term anti-black racism in one of the slides
from the presentation, and I, it made me think
back to one of the gains where affirmation is made in the UK, being part of this United Nations decade for people of African descent. And there’s research of
the word Afro-phobia. And it’s just interesting,
because I’ve never heard anti-black racism, but I
know what Afro-phobia is, and it just made me think,
it’s the same thing like, a couple of days ago, someone
talked about the enslaved, and enslaved people, which is correct. And then of course we still
keep slipping back into slaves, and slave owners, and, you know, I call them enslavers and
slavers, I never refer to enslavers as slave owners. And it made me think, does
the academy and its frameworks kind of like put pressure
on us as academics to keep falling into
terminology that demonizes or that re-asserts white
supremacist ideals, and how difficult is
it to break out of that without having a cost to your career? And actually to the
quality of your research. So that’s the question. – I have often thought
about the same thing, and I continue to think about it. There’s more discussion in
the book that I mentioned, Makoni et al, Black Linguistics,
but, I would say this. We would like to get rid
of these terminologies and systems and the
questions that they ask us here and there, in the census,
and so on, and so forth. But essentially there are social, cultural terminologies and terms
that we have to deal with. And one of the ways that
we deal with them is that when a term has been used
against us, so to speak, it puts us in the same ballpark. We have common problems,
we have a common agenda, in the sense that we have to
work against that impression. So the socio-cultural term bands us together. It’s just like the people working for a particular company or whatever. They’re very different. They’re all individuals. But there’s a system in place that’s part of society and
culture that essentially bands them together through
their common predicament. And so that’s how we use those terms which had been used against
us, we use them for us. We take a negative and turn
it into something positive, always keeping our eyes
on some end situation that we hope will come about, where those terms and
terminologies will really be figments of the past. So I hope I’ve understood
your question correctly, and that that answers it. Would someone? – Yeah, I also grapple with this, I think most of us do. The kind of, how much, what the full possibility of, the utility I guess of the master’s tools. Like, the terminology
and the actual paradigms, or the actual theories that we have to, if we are going to refute
them, or what have you, they still end up centering our work, or being the centers of our work, we have to either respond to them, or we have to reproduce them in some way. And that’s really what I’m
trying to think through with even something as
basic, as fundamental as our idea of how a sign is experienced, because that in and of
itself already presumes you know, that there’s, so we understand there’s this human actor involved in it. But there is an assumption
of what human is, and what it means to be human, how people experience humanity. So even from something
that fundamental that seems very mutual and fine to
just kind of work with, when you actually see it
applied over and over again and the ways people are
actually able to do, you know, semiotic analyses of encounters
and completely ignore race, because they don’t have to address bodies, and don’t have to address, you know, for me, that’s where that
really came to the fore, is, right. There’s already written into, it’s already written into
so many of our paradigms. Certainly the terminology,
but even the underlying ideologies that produce these
terms that we have to use or that we find ourselves having to use, time and again, to be legible. So yeah, I think we just continue to do exactly what you did, and
every time you become aware you invoke the term that
actually deconstructs that underlying ideology,
and you say enslaved person, so that we don’t, you know,
lose sight of what happened, what the process was, and
that these were humans, so. – [Arthur] Eva and Lanita, did you have anything to add to that? No, okay. Do we have other questions?
– I had something. I’ll add just, from, like
a personal standpoint, thinking about that same question, because actually that very terminology I’ve had to grapple with in my work, saying enslaved persons, or enslavers, and actually this is the first
time I’ve heard enslavers, so thank you for that term. But I was thinking, you
know, about that question of, you know, are we feeling that we’re forced to use these terms in
order to have legitimacy? And in my experience, it wasn’t
so much a feeling of being forced, but this was the
terminology I was born into, right. And so when we’re educated, even from elementary,
middle school, high school, this is the language
that’s in our textbooks. So it wasn’t as much like
feeling that I was forced, but initially not knowing that there was another way to talk about it. And so right now I live in New Mexico, and right next to us is
Texas, (chuckles) Texas. And so, you know, there are some textbooks that have recently come out in Texas that talk about slaves as migrant workers, and so they say, you know,
migrant workers were brought from Africa to work on
plantations in the South. You know, and so you think about children who are gonna be reading those textbooks, and the kind of damage that
you’ll have to undo (laughs) when later they say what’s the big deal? They were just migrant workers, why, you know, why are we all in such a fuss? And then, yeah, Texas is
just, it’s its own panel. But just to say that
just like these children are gonna be learning from
those types of textbooks, I learned from textbooks that
used words like slaves and slave owners, instead of
enslaved persons and enslavers. And so it was actually
through these kind of critical analyses and
graduate school in itself where I started to actually question this. But I think that outside
of the sphere of academia, sometimes there are people
who aren’t gonna encounter those critical moments,
and just continue to take for granted that this is
the terminology that is used, because it’s the terminology
that’s always been used. – [Arthur] You know, that’s a good point, that we work with, revise,
and reject those terminologies as we deal with the
situation we’ve been handed. Do you have a question? – [Audience Member] Not really a question, so much as an advertisement for the Language and Social Justice
Group is trying to organize tweeting around language
and social justice issues, and clearly you guys are
talking about language and social justice, so I wanted
to let anybody who tweets know about this, so @AAA
for the next couple of days you can tweet, and then we’re
going to storify these tweets. So the major hashtag is just #LSJ2016. But I’ll leave this, give
this to you guys up there. (Arthur speaking away from the microphone) – [Arthur] And we still
have a little time in case (Arthur speaking away from microphone) – [Adrian] Sorry, this
is made for tall people. I just wanted to say that
I really appreciate all of these issues being brought
up here at triple A, in which it’s very hard to find a space to talk about how white our theory is. – Speak louder. – [Adrian] Okay. I really appreciate having
this space at triple A, where it’s extremely
difficult to find a space to talk about how white the
theory we’ve been given is. And I especially appreciated Krystal’s intervention in this space. But I would also like to point out that those people are not here. (laughing) We are here, right, which is great. So, I just wanna hear what you
have to say about, sort of, I mean, this is something
Jonathan and I are really struggling with in
this paper that we’ve been trying to write when we were
whitesplained last year. But sort of thinking about,
what are the strategies? Do we engage them on their terms? Do we try to prove that we are as theoretically tough as they are? Do we create this alternate theory, which they’re not gonna read? (chuckles) I was just wondering, and these are not mutually exclusive strategies,
but I was just wondering how you think about the
sort of broader project that we’re all trying to be engaged in. – Thanks. Panelists. – Thanks, Adrian. Adrian was my colleague and peer when I was at UCLA and we were being trained in linguistic anthropology. And we were part of a group called the Discourse, Identity, and
Representation Collective, DIRE. And even at that time we
were trying to think about how to write theory anew, and
deal with race explicitly. And we all settled up with that in similar and also distinct ways, and experienced different trajectories. I’m just at a point in
my life and in my career where I really feel that three, those three words, let me live. And sometimes for me it means walking away from linguistic anthropology proper, because I just don’t
have the energy to try to establish race as
significant in the language. I’m sorry the election just kind of, was very sobering for me,
in terms of underscoring the significance of anti-black racism. And the work ahead, so, I’m post-tenure. That has something to do with it. I’m also, you know,
mid-life, post-divorce, where, you know, the real
becomes very significant to you. And wanting to write stories
that my research participants and my mothers can understand. And for me that means saying no to a certain kind of legitimacy. I don’t care if you quote me,
I’d rather that you read me. Or hear me. And I’m starting to locate a lot of my interventions in the classroom. In who I train, and impressing
upon them the significance of asking questions that
you really don’t have to ask to become even an academic
celebrity, or a star. But impressing upon them
the importance of thinking about gender, and race,
and intersectionality. And believe it or not, Kevin
Hart was one way to do this. I was asked to do an
essay on a black comedian. In a volume on stand-up comedy, and they need a black comic to be covered. And I was really excited
about Katt Williams (chuckles) you know, who seems to be, in the past, have self-sabotaged but
is especially gifted. And of course they said Kevin Hart. And I was like, oh, of course, right. And in some ways dealing with him, and listening to his comedy, he was one of the comics that I followed. I didn’t expect him to blow up, but I’m not shocked that he did. It was strikingly Kevin Hart’s
kind of self-deprecating, you know, sometimes slapstick. Some would even say slightly buffoonish, and especially queer humor
that got me to a place that I’ve never expected, and that was to end my work as a linguistic anthropologist and speaking across
disciplines to talk about what’s decidedly black
about black language. What’s decidedly black
about black culture? And that’s where my
emphasis is these days. And I may not take everybody
with me in that quest, but it’s just where I’m at. – [Arthur] Further comments? – I will just add briefly. Kind of like a coping mechanism, or a defense strategy that
I’ve always had in academia is to kind of pull back
and de-contextualize, and so like, as a young scholar, I very much tried to frame
my inquiries in a way that the masses would understand
and not balk away from. And so when I initially
conceptualized my project, I wanted it to be, you know, in the realm of lexical semantics. Right, so it’s I’m just
looking at words, you know. Just looking at what they mean. Nothing to see here, you know (laughing). Just let this one fly under the radar. And you know, in talking with
my dissertation committee, you know, they were like,
there’s so much going on here. It’s great that you’re doing this kind of semantic analysis of racial terms, but you might be doing a
disservice to the inquiry if you don’t go deeper and look into some of the other issues that
are present in society. And so, you know, initially I was thinking I want that legitimacy, you know. I wanna get to put something
out that people will read, and if I put it in terms
of semantics, you know, lexical semantics, that’s
kind of like apolitical, and taken away from
social context, you know, it might have a broader audience. But the product that I put forth that has that broader
audience might be incomplete. And might not fully
represent my perspective. And so I’m taking baby steps towards putting forth
that authentic product, but it’s something that I
definitely struggle with and fight against, because
my inclination is to put forth something
that isn’t making waves, and so I’m learning how to
be bold in my scholarship. And be able to accept and confront the consequences that
come from that boldness. – Yes, I’m also taking baby steps. And I’m learning from
people like you, Adrian, and you, Lanita, in particular,
and Jonathan, so I’m. I also really kind of
parse the audiences, right, so the way I teach is very different from what I just did here. And it’s partly because I feel like yeah, there’s different people I would
like to be able to hear me, and to take me seriously, and
to understand what I’m saying. So, and I’m very, very junior, and on the market at
the moment, so for me, legibility as a proper
linguistic anthropologist is still, I feel like, a toll that I, that I need to pay if I want access to a certain, a certain kind of, not just security, but also to, to students, right? Like, at the end of the
day, my goal is to be able to be in a department with students, and be able to support them,
have the resources to do so. And so, yeah, so I’m still
trying to figure out myself how, how and when to
speak to whom, and how. But, the sustaining aspect of all this, and
the space where I know what I’m really doing and why I’m here is always in the classroom,
at the end of the day. And that’s, yeah, that’s it. I know you didn’t ask what keeps us going, but (laughs) that’s
what I’m responding to. – I just wanted to get in
two cents before we leave. My two cents. And this is that we have
a lot to say, obviously, to each other, but also,
to the public at large. And my wish is that at least sometimes, particularly when we’re writing
and speaking to the public, that we get rid of that
awful, serpentine prose that anthropologists so often write in. I often present it to my students groundbreaking, landmark writings. And the students can’t make
heads or tails of them. It’s a problem. And that’s why every chance I get, folks, it’s okay to
write to the colleagues. We enjoy those serpentine sentences. And the vocabulary that
comes from the very bottom reaches of the
Oxford English Dictionary. But, let’s remember our true
audience, people out there, and write so they can understand us. So that’s my point. We’re just about finished. What time do you have? None of my clocks are working today, none of my computers are working today. 12, okay. So with that, we can thank our panelists, and thank you for coming. (clapping)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *