PART 2: Interview with Anna Malaika Tubbs, Keynote for HBCU Symposium on Rhetoric and Composition

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Macmillan Learning is proud to sponsor the fourth HBCU Symposium on Rhetoric and Composition. This year’s theme is Transdisciplinarity @ HBCUs: Rewriting Black Futures Beyond the Margin. To celebrate the fourth Summit, we had a conversation with keynote speaker Anna Malaika Tubbs, author of The Three Mothers, a biography about the mothers of three of the most influential men in America -- Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin.

In the second part of this two part interview we discuss the Black female perspective, conversations about race taking place in college courses, and transdisciplinarity.

The Black female perspective is not always surfaced in English and Writing classes, are there any works you would recommend for students seeking to understand this often underrepresented and mischaracterized perspective?

There are so so many that deserve attention. I would say though there are classics that are classics for a reason for those of us who are Black Feminist scholars. 

All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave by Akasha (Gloria T.) Hull. It speaks to why having representation of Black women in the academy, and especially in Women’s Studies, is so crucial. That’s a great starting point.

How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective is another one. 

My third recommendation is Sister Citizen by Melissa Harris Perry. She talks about how misrepresentations of Black women have led to issues in our country today.

What advice would you give to Black and Brown higher education students that are interested in studying English, Rhetoric, Composition, or Writing?

The first would be that we need you, so please stay on the path. 

It goes back to what I was saying earlier about the need for more representation and that starts with storytellers. That’s not to say that if you’re not a person of color you can’t tell stories about a person of color; however we do need more stories that are produced by us, because it’s a different perspective. There are going to be stories that haven’t been told before you simply because you are the storyteller, and the more people study this, the better we will all be.

Also, if you decide to go down that path, you should realize that there will be those who may question your approach to this. Quite often you’ll have to stand up for yourself and the way in which you decide to produce the information. 

Specifically for me in my PhD program, I said that while I get that I’m doing a PhD in Sociology and we traditionally quote Marx and Durkheim, that is not what I’m going to do. 

I want to do something that will be good for the world, beyond the ivory tower, and that can transform the department to help us to see that there is a lot of material that is not traditionally covered and not yet given the spotlight it deserves. 

You have to go into it with a sense of self and a confidence in the fact that what you’re bringing to this world of literature and composition is really needed. People will try to ask you to adjust to what it is already; and I think what we actually need are more people to change it.

Much of your work and research focuses on the erasure of Black women in the American story. How do you think that the prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the development of 1619 Project, and the emergence of Critical Race Theory in more schools are changing the conversations?

They’re playing crucial roles and in many ways are continuing the work of those who came before us. 

The reason Black mothers have been so revolutionary, when we look back on history and how many of our leaders have been black mothers in ways that have pushed and changed, is because they can’t accept the circumstances as they are right now. And so we, as Black mothers, are always focused on what’s possible and what needs to change. That translates into the actions and the demands of our nations, our communities, our school systems and our politicians because we can see what’s still needed for all of us to be treated with dignity and respect. 

So the BLM movement, the 1619 project, the continued development of Critical Race Theory is about telling people’s stories. All the stories that have been largely untold since the arrival of slaves in the US--these are all iterations of how we are pushing the country forward and saying realistically and accurately, “Here are the issues and how can we address the issues to find healing.”

It’s a crucial and integral part of the Black experience in America. But not only for Black people. It’s American history and it’s important for everyone to understand that it’s not only for us that we do this, it's for all of us to be able to live in the country we all deserve to live in.

The theme for this year’s HBCU symposium is Transdisciplinarity @ HBCUs: Rewriting Black Futures beyond the Margin. What would you suggest needs to be done in higher education to evolve the paradigm of teaching and learning to make this a reality?

That’s a big question. I believe the change is one that’s systemic in nature. We need to change the way that people are thinking versus changing the way a subject is taught.

The first thing that comes to mind is the transition of thinking when voices of color are highlighted, or opportunities are given, that it’s some kind of charity that the institution is doing versus understanding how much the institution is benefitting. There needs to be a mind shift around why we want to make sure that we’re inclusive, and why we want to move beyond always seeing people of color as being on the margin. Why it’s beneficial to everyone to center our knowledge, perspective, and experiences. 

When that shift happens and there’s an appreciation for the kind of expertise that comes with various perspectives being included and the respect and support for these perspectives--that's when there will be revolutionary change. It’s not just doing what we’re supposed to do; it’s how the institution is going to lead the world as an example by making sure it's representative of that growth.

We should also be making sure that students don’t feel like they have to choose between disciplines. Take gender studies, for example. It’s usually found in only one department as opposed to the many where the social and societal constructs of gender have made an impact. It’s rare to have programs to support that.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to read the first part of our interview, where we discuss Anna’s inspirations, the lessons we take from the three mothers, and teaching and learning.

To learn more about the HBCU Summit sponsored by Macmillan Learning, click here.