Sourcing the Imagination

"Sourcing the Imagination: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Work as a Praxis of Decolonization"

Stacey A. Gibson, English Journal, March 2017

"The following work, presented in two parts, chronicles select experiences, based on obser- vations of classroom practices, which inadvertently severed and, at times, eradicated student imagination. Second, the article presents the practical ways I have used the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates as a tool to reclaim stolen imagination about Blackness and beyond. . .

. . . . I monitored more closely how race and Blackness were and were not addressed in high school English classrooms. I noticed patterns of inadvertent disengagement when some teachers declared they were “teaching about race.” One such act of disengagement occurred repeatedly when teachers believed that by exposing students to the anguish of the pained ex- presences of people of color they were “teaching about the other,” “enlightening students,” and “digging deeper” into race issues. I listened to these teachers as they touted their pre- vailing logic in variations of, “if these students of color can see how badly ‘X group’ lives/lived, then those students would gain perspective, understanding, a sense of them- selves, and then they would be motivated. They need to know how far they have come.”

What I quickly recognized was that too often the focus of the learning was on the defectiveness, delinquency, wretchedness, agony, and manufac- tured de ciency of the darker characters. There seemed an unwavering study of scenes lled with rape, rage, abandonment, violence, murder, and other heinous acts committed by or onto characters of color. Careful analysis of the parts of the texts that provided important context about a character’s actions were often not discussed or deeply distorted. Pain-pimping pedagogy, I scrawled one day while sitting in a faculty meeting.

Between the systemic pedagogical omissions and excessive exposure to tragic, hopeless, brutal- ized black and brown characters, an often irrevers- ible mistake seemed to constantly reoccur. There became a festering woefulness assigned to such characters and circumstances. In essence, blackness and darkness became a literary af iction and, by consequence, a real-life af iction. The instructional practices were robbing both students and teachers of ways to imagine blackness in multifaceted ways.

The line of broken, dysfunctional, pained characters of color marched through the entire 9–12 English curriculum from AP to the introductory levels. . . ."

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