Tensions of Anti-Racism
The backslash between “Centering” and “Burdening” in the title of this resource aims to prompt readers to reflect on how, when, and with what effects inclusive and exploitative practices come into uneasy contact with each other. In this regard, the title gestures toward the ambiguous and shifting relationship between the value of centering narratives of marginalization and the effect of burdening people as living examples of such narratives in the practice of anti-oppressive education.
As the next section explores in greater detail, the contents of Centering/Burdening also aim to invite communal conversation and collaboration about anti-racist pedagogy. For this reason, we have elected to refer to the collection a specifically dialogical resource. To learn more about why we made this decision, move ahead to "A community of learners."
The cover image is a detail from Everything #21, part of the Everything series (2010-2013) by the conceptual artist Adrian Piper. Installed in a range of places (the Venice Biennale, NYC’s MoMA, and the Cairn Gallery in Scotland), it features the phrase “Everything will be taken away” written 25 times in cursive handwriting on blackboards. With each installation destroyed with an eraser, the work brings to mind multiple reference points for the purposes of this introduction. Thematically, it presents an opportunity to reflect on impermanence, expropriation, language, and what remains in the wake of erasure. Art historically, it resonates with Glenn Ligon’s abstractionist approach to Zora Neale Hurston’s famous statement in Untitled (I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background) (1990)—a work that features in the "Student Power and Privilege" subsection. Conceptually, its materials (chalk, blackboards, erasers, and performers) bring us to the space and scene of pedagogy, to how social power circulates through educational relationships and institutions, and to the transience and potential transformability of these relationships. This particular image comes from David Adjaye’s Instagram page.
On student learning communities
This is the first student learning community that the CEP has formed, and we did so for several reasons. First and foremost, while it would be possible for our staff to conduct research on dynamics of racial recruitment and burdening on our own, we also feel that such a document would be fundamentally incomplete without the knowledge of students whose experiences and interpretations of those experiences are foundational forms of expertise. In this context, we see collaborative models of research and writing as necessary when trying to do justice to the question of how students with connections to marginalized groups live through and with pedagogical efforts to center them in the classroom. More generally, the formation of this learning community also speaks to the Center’s goal of approaching students not as mere beneficiaries of our research and advocacy but as active contributors to a culture of engaged pedagogy at Barnard College. Our hope is that projects like this, which we plan to expand in the future, inspire readers to reimagine the possibilities of teaching and learning through practices that account for and flatten hierarchies within the liberal arts.