By Arturo R. García
By Arturo R. García
One of Peterson’s first acts as president was to institute a “diversity representative” on the student council board to eliminate tension on campus when talking about race and gender issues. But her diversity initiatives were not widely welcomed; a push for gender neutral bathrooms was particularly controversial. And Peterson herself was viewed with suspicion by a significant number of students, mostly white and male, who opposed her candidacy from the start.
Some even thought the school had rigged the election so that a woman would win; only two women served as student body president before Peterson. “There was outcry for Lawrenceville to release the voting data for her presidency, because popular opinion was that she was not actually elected,” said David, a 2014 graduate. “I’d still like to see those numbers, is all I’m saying.” (The numbers were, in fact, released.)
The backlash to her election led to personal attacks. Shortly after Peterson was elected, an anonymous student sent the dean of students photos of Peterson using marijuana. Soon after, the school received more anonymous information that alleged Peterson had posted racist tweets about a Sikh student. In a school-wide meeting, Peterson apologized for the photos and the dean of students clarified that the racist tweets were fabricated. Still, many students believed she wasn’t right for the position.
“There was too much controversy around Maya,” said Rob, a rising senior. “We didn’t really want a president who breaks school rules. It isn’t a representation of who we are.”
— “What Happens When A Prep School’s Black Student President Mocks Her White Male Classmates” by Katie JM Baker, 6-30-14
The increasing racial diversity of college debate is directly attributable to the work of these leagues, but of course the presence of more Black folks in any space also fundamentally challenges the ground upon which business proceeds. Black students have not only excelled at traditional debate, but they have invented new modes of competitive forensics, including a more performative style of debate that incorporates rap music, poetry and personal anecdotes.
Pioneered in college debate programs like that at the University of Louisville, this more performative style of debate has productively disrupted the traditionalist forms of debate centered on spouting, at the highest rates of speed, copious amounts of academic literature in order to prove a point. When I spoke with Korey by phone about this piece, she was hesitant to characterize her and Ameena’s style in a singular way, since they tend to incorporate both traditional elements like the reading of arguments published in academic journals and books with newer elements like poetry. Korey told me, “The word ‘traditional,’ the word ‘performative,’ the word ‘k-debater’ (which refers to “critique” or “kritik” debaters, who argue more philosophical rather than policy positions) will never actually capture what we are trying to do here.” That resistance to labels, and ambivalence about “the violence labels perform,” are hallmarks of the speech of young thinkers, searching to find their way in the world.
However, as my own scholarly research about Black female public intellectuals in the 19th and 20th centuries indicates, we live in a world that still struggles to see Black women as serious thinkers and intellectuals who have something to contribute to our national grappling with social problems. Frequently for young Black women thinkers, particularly those who invoke a clear Black feminist perspective, there is a resistance to donning a stance of detached objectivity. Korey asked me rhetorically, “How can we talk about policy if we don’t know [the] social location of the people?”
“Gabourey, how are you so confident?” It’s not easy. It’s hard to get dressed up for award shows and red carpets when I know I will be made fun of because of my weight. There’s always a big chance if I wear purple, I will be compared to Barney. If I wear white, a frozen turkey. And if I wear red, that pitcher of Kool-Aid that says, “Oh, yeah!” Twitter will blow up with nasty comments about how the recent earthquake was caused by me running to a hot dog cart or something. And “Diet or Die?” [She gives the finger to that] This is what I deal with every time I put on a dress. This is what I deal with every time someone takes a picture of me. Sometimes when I’m being interviewed by a fashion reporter, I can see it in her eyes, “How is she getting away with this? Why is she so confident? How does she deal with that body? Oh my God, I’m going to catch fat!”
What I would say, is my mom moved my brother and I to my aunt’s house. Her name is Dorothy Pitman Hughes, she is a feminist, an activist, and a lifelong friend of Gloria Steinem. Every day, I had to get up and go to school where everyone made fun of me, and I had to go home to where everyone made fun of me. Every day was hard to get going, no matter which direction I went. And on my way out of the house, I found strength. In the morning on the way out to the world, I passed by a portrait of my aunt and Gloria together. Side by side they stood, one with long beautiful hair and one with the most beautiful, round, Afro hair I had ever seen, both with their fists held high in the air. Powerful. Confident. And every day as I would leave the house… I would give that photo a fist right back. And I’d march off into battle. [She starts crying] I didn’t know that I was being inspired then. On my way home, I’d walk back up those stairs, I’d give that photo the fist again, and continue my march back in for more battle. [She pulls a tissue from her cleavage and dabs her eyes] That’s what boobs are for! I didn’t know I was being inspired then, but I was. If they could feel like that, maybe I could! I just wanted to look that cool. But it made me feel that strong.
— Full transcript available at Vulture
By Kendra James
On 2-3-14 I sat down to live tweet the television premier of the documentary American Promise. The film follows two Black students, Idris and Seun, as the begin kindergarten at an elite college prep school in New York City and highlights the challenges and as they face along the way.
Earlier this summer, my beautiful then five-year-old Nepali nieces sat with me in our garden enjoying the warm and easy sun. What started as a conversation about what happens to melanin when it finds home in all that glorious vitamin d, looking at our skin browner than it’s winter shade, turned into a difficult conversation about race, gender and diaspora.
One of them began to talk about wanting white skin and blonde hair, and what she would do if she had it. Whilst her twin sister disagreed, responding fervently that she actually liked her brown skin and her black hair, I needed to know what exactly had triggered the other’s denigrated thinking. Her answers, however, were unsurprising – a consequence of not only the (gendered) shadeism (and anti-blackness) that holds dominance in Asian communities but her experiences as a brown girl in a white supremacist society.
Upon my questioning, she responded with a resolute and yet strangely logical answer:
but everybody on TV is white and all the nice people are blonde. Nobody wants to be brown.
There was nowhere she could really see herself.
By Arturo R. García
The opening of Kimberly Bryant’s video lays it out: “Just to say the words ‘Black Girls’ is revolutionary.”
In this presentation from a TED Talks event in Kansas City in August 2013, Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant takes us through not just the development of BGC, but her own upbringing in Memphis, a hub of social change in its own right.
“As a child of the ’60s, I like to think that revolution and radical action was running through my veins, from the time I set foot on the Earth,” she explains. What she has built, she says, is a movement not just for the nerdy girl she was growing up, but for girls like her daughter, and girls “who believe the revolution of this generation is, indeed, technology.”