Pedagory: Teaching Change, Teaching to Change
Thursday, August 28, 1998. The first teaching day of Black Women's History. It's the first time I've taught this course. The first two readings were Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham's "African-American Women's History and the Metalanguage of Race," which unveiled how "race" gives meaning to gender, class and sexuality, all socially constructed categories that both simultaneously shape identity, lived experiences and social interactions; and also undergird systems of domination and strategies for resistance. I also assigned the "Introduction" of Beverly Guy-Sheftall's Words of Fire, a primary text for the course, which outlined the historical antecedents, development, dynamism, and multiple expressions of Black feminist thought, thereby raising the very issue of what it means to "own" a "Black feminist politics" or, in the words of Alice Walker and Chikwenye Ogunyemi, a "womanist" politics.5
I started with these two pieces because it was extremely important for me to establish that this Black Women's History course, while a Black women's history course in the sense that we would examine the particularity of Black female experiences, and a Black women's history course in the sense that we would interrogate the past, was very much a working example of Black feminist politics in practice. I felt that all the courses I teach, but particularly the Black Women's History course, must necessarily engage in an oppositional politics.6
I believe that history should transform, that it provides critical and creative moments to gather the necessary analytical tools to combat inequalities, oppression and misanthropy or as bell hooks says quoting Paulo Freire that education should be viewed and utilized "as the practice of freedom." It was crucial that I, as a Black woman teaching Black women's history, incorporate that "call" for transformation into the very structure and content of the course.
Remembering my own discomfort, especially with theory and particularly with EBH's "Metalanguage" when I met it over six years ago as a journalist on her way to graduate school, I solicited examples from the class that would help explicate how this theory worked and operated in people's daily lives. We talked about the 19th century image of the "lady" and the contemporary (and pervasive) stereotype of the "welfare mother."