- Archiving as an Act of Cultural Resistance:Steven G. Fullwood and Sheena C. Howard in Conversation
Academics are teachers and writers, so we should be under no illusions about “objectivity” in terms of what we choose to present or omit in our classrooms or publications, even when presenting information about historical events, places, and things. When doing this work, as educators, we choose from an infinite number of facts, which inevitably reflect, whether consciously or not, our own interests.1 Being an educator in academe at times provides one with the privilege of using our critical scholarship to inform public discourse, which can potentially influence public opinion. Take, for example, the framework of intersectionality.
The term “intersectionality” has been used in various contemporary popular culture platforms, such as but not limited to the Los Angeles Times, the Huffington Post, and Salon,2 to analyze everything from the Black Lives Matter movement to the 2016 presidential campaign race. The term, and its application, has transcended the realm of academe. Scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw first coined the term in 1989. To be sure, early activists, writers, and scholars (such as the women of the Combahee River Collective) had already laid the groundwork for the theory of intersectionality in the 1970s. This transformation of critical and scholarly work from academe to the public sphere happens all the time.
In addition, the historical foundation of intersectionality illuminates the ways in which marginalized voices are and continue to be repressed. For example, [End Page 119] intersectionality emerged from a web of interconnected forms of oppression across various movements that spoke both to the historical exclusion of Black women from the feminist movement as well as the exclusion of Black women from the Civil Rights Movement. In the twenty-first century, as we reflect on the leaders and activists of the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Movement, Black women still fight to secure their place and be named. Even within movements birthed out of oppressive practices and ideologies, certain people, places, and things are presented or omitted. Certain people, places, and things are celebrated or ignored. Whether it be in the classroom as an educator or on a more systemic level, those in positions of power, whether individual or collective, get to decide the who, what, when, and where of information dissemination. This is what is meant when we say, “history is told by the winners.”
In the United States, the winners have been the purveyors of African-American history, particularly when we look at the educational system. One only has to reflect on history lessons learned in grade school or K–12. Where in our educational history have we learned about African-American history—the actual horrors of slavery, the resistance, the voices, and the violence?
One would be hard-pressed to find a textbook in K–12 that mentioned the names of Nat Turner, Harry Belafonte, Hattie McDaniel, or Shirley Chisholm or the events of Tulsa, Oklahoma (Black Wall Street) or the MOVE bombings in Philadelphia, for example. We always hear the same set of names and the same set of events.
In 2015, a textbook published by McGraw-Hill Education, used in high schools across Texas, described the Atlantic slave trade as bringing “millions of workers” to plantations in the American South.3 In 2010, the Texas Board of Education approved a social studies curriculum downplaying slavery as the cause of the Civil War. Aside from facts and events being diminished or omitted from historical narratives, the use of language is pivotal. For example, these textbooks also spend time talking about the “upside” of slavery for Blacks. This distortion of language and strategic placement of words obscures the atrocities and gravity of racial slavery as well as the condition of Blacks in America, both before and after the Civil War. According to Molefi Asante, “the oppressed must gain attention and control by introducing another language.”4 Gramsci’s concept of ideological hegemony is useful here.
My reading of ideological hegemony is that the most effective way to control the oppressed is by means of cultural domination. As addressed here, cultural domination engages the education...