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