We See You: In Response to Attacks on Zandria Robinson and Progressive Black Thought and Culture

We write today as a group of over 100 black writers, readers, artists, thinkers committed to justice and intellectual inquiry. We have taken time away from our scholarship, research, teaching, activism, and other life-affirming practices to assist in smothering the fire that threatens to engulf the entire academic industry. We are wholly aware that the American surveillance and discipline of black bodies and expression extends to cyber space.

This recognition has been reinforced by recent circumstances involving our colleague, Zandria Robinson. We write to thank Zandria for stating firmly and thoughtfully positing that blackness is a critical creative politico-cultural formation, and for pushing us to question the particular ways black southern lives have mattered in the face of brutal physical and discursive violence.

“This is a moment to have a discussion about black southern identity,” Zandria recently wrote, “and not white southern identity, which is remarkably unchanged just like the whiteness upon which it is and has always been and will always be based. This is a moment to center blackness in our discussions of America, the South, freedom, and the future, not to talk about what black people should do, but to learn from what black people have been and are doing in this centuries-long battle against whiteness.”

Some of us teach Zandria Robinson’s work. Others of us actively read her work. She is the now and future of intellectual freedom fighting, for her work is rooted in ritual, black southern communal love and real intersectionality. It is in the spirit of Zandria’s community based intellectual work that we band together in the knowledge that in coming for Zandria, particular forces of white heteropatriarchal supremacy and anti-blackness are coming for all of us. We know that radical surveillance and disciplining are a constituent element of American terror. Like many of our ancestors, and most recently like Bree Newsome, like Zandria Robinson, we will not be afraid to step through fear into justice.

Social media, and particularly personal facebook and twitter pages, are now recognized as but one of the current battle grounds where whiteness as power labors to adversely impact black people’s reputation, finances, access to healthy choice and influence. Not unlike the case of Palestinian intellectual-activist Steven Salaita, the overseers who patrol the public-private thoughts of academics will find, isolate, and publicly interpret snippets of people’s frustrations, thoughts, and theories in an effort to condemn an entire body of work, a literature, a field, a community. This has deep and penetrating consequences for individual thinkers, public fields of inquiry, the academic industry, and, indeed, the very American ideal of freedom of expression and dissent. 

While we welcome conversations about the range of expression teachers can and should offer on their pages, we will not do so in a vacuum. We cannot talk about the responsibilities of teachers and professors until we first scrutinize and hold accountable the policies, practices, and projects of the neoliberal university and its appendages in publishing, media, and government.

We say to any person, publication, organization, institution trying to violently undermine the work of loving, curious geniuses like Zandria Robinson, we see you. We know your labors intimately, as we write and live it everyday. We will not accept these aggressions in silence; we instead will rally our collective energies of exposure and critique, coalition and mobilization, in order to protect our minds and bodies and work toward the ideals that animate our collective visions for justice.

With Love and Justice,

A Committed Group of Black Cultural and Thought Workers

We're not good enough to not practice

We're not good enough to not practice.

I probably shouldn't give writing advice to folks who aren't my students, but oh well. One of the hardest parts of writing is committing to a routine, committing to regular practice. That's crucial. I write and revise almost 4 hours a day because I don't have kids yet, and I'm not good enough not to practice. You probably aren't either. If you don't commit to a routine, you're likely to think everything you finish is good simply because you wrote it. It's not. It's probably really somewhere around just okay, or lightweight bad. But even that lightweight bad work is important because there's likely a sentence, a paragraph, a word or two in the piece that's doing some important work. It's okay to write 3000 words to find 15 that really glow. That is the work.

We're not good enough to not practice.

Be driven. Be curious. Write to connect. Write to explore. Write to make sense of that which you don't know or remember. Write to discover. But never think something is good just because you wrote it. If you link up with an editor or a writing partner who really believes in your vision, look forward to hearing what they say is great and not-so-great. If they show you that they don't get your vision or your people/audience, you might wanna bounce. There are too many editors and writing partners in the world to waste time with those who don't get your vision. But not getting your vision isn't the same as telling you "these sentences or paragraphs don't leave any portals of entry for reader." Don't be precious about your work. It's not good just because you wrote it.

We're not good enough to not practice.

Akiba Solomon, one of the incredible editors at colorlines and legendary writer and journalist, asked me to write something on Trayvon at the end of last year. I turned in this sprawling meta essay/short story/hymn about Rachel and Trayvon. Akiba let me know quickly that the meta essayish/short story wasn't gonna work. So I cut that and realized that her vision complimented my vision and that "less" was way "more" in this situation. One reason I was okay taking her editorial advice was because she's incredible and because I practice everyday and know that everything I have to say on a topic doesn't have to go in one piece. You don't have to cram every idea ever into your pieces. Use leftovers for other pieces.

We're not good enough to not practice.

Last thing. You're a writer now. Please learn how to read as a writer. That means not only that you gotta get your regimen down; it means that reading is a fundamental part of your regimen. You might want to read everything with an eye for "How in the fuck did they do that?" You gotta commit and, as Jamilah Lemieux says, know that this ain't some ol' easy sometimesy shit. Practice. And obliterate the notion of someone hooking you up. When you don't practice, you're expecting editors and teachers to hook you up. When you practice, you're looking forward to inviting folks to your practice sessions with the hopes that they want to practice with you. Love your people and the words you're trying to share with them. Don't be afraid of love. And write and read into your fears. You come from a lineage of wonderful practitioners whose practice eventually saved lives. Even Baldwin, Morrison, and Hurston practiced.

We're not good enough to not practice.


-- Kiese Laymon