I revisited the notion of "typicality," once again trying to dismantle the concept. I emphasized how crucial it was that we (the pronoun doing double duty as "we" all of us in the room, and particularly "we" Black women) identify the stereotypes and then understand how they are disempowering, and that once armed with the tools and information, we have the responsibility to challenge such myths. You see, this very notion of "typicality" (which this student-mother distanced herself from and therefore unwittingly reified as existing) perpetuates the continued assault on, in the case of the (stereo)"typical" welfare mother, poor Black women and shapes our social policies in egregious ways such as the current attack on welfare. The student shook her head, raised her voice: "I don't care what the stereotypes are," she said assertively. "I just want people to know I'm not the typical welfare mother."

     Since then I have jostled emotions. Mostly anger, at typicality's uncanny will and ability to live, no matter how many times you think you have slain it - as if it had nine lives. Disappointment at not being able to "reach" this student this time around. More disappointment at myself for being disappointed in the first place. What did I think - that my words, once airborn, were so powerful that they could alter immediately whoever sat in front of me? Of course, I know this is not true, but somehow it doesn't ease the feeling that one has somehow failed. My mother often reminds me, you can't solve the problems of the world. "But, Mom ..." Maybe I should remind myself (lest I find myself getting too exuberant too prematurely and dispirited too quickly) that transformation and teaching are arduous processes, and processes take time, and that, hell, I'm in process too. As bell hooks reminds us in Teaching to Transgress, unmitigated immediate gratification is not guaranteed. Sigh.


Story #2: On Preparation ... and Alienation

     It's only week three, and I'm feeling quite confounded. Today's readings were Tera Hunter's To 'Joy My Freedom about Black women in the post-Reconstruction period and Beverly Jones's article on Black female tobacco workers and the development of a female consciousness.8

     I went around the room, as is usual, to ask each individual what they thought about the readings. The same people always seemed to dominate the discussion. Others came unprepared (or ill prepared) to engage in a discussion of the readings.


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May 2000