Good morning to everyone attending FemRhet 2019 on the traditional homelands of the Manahoac and Monacan peoples; niltze from the traditional homelands of the Karankawa, Atakapa, and Orcoquisa peoples. The title of my portion is “When You Can’t Help but Be Intersectional, or Letting the Rage Drive You.” I have only a few minutes to speak before we open up this roundtable discussion, but I feel it necessary to let you know I’m bypassing academic citation here and speaking from the heart. Venting. Maybe this talk needs a content warning? I’m not sure.
There’s a “joke” that people of color grow up hearing, especially when you grow up poor or working class or are 1st Gen and dare to demand more of life. “What do you call a person of color with a degree?” The answer is the racist epithet that most hurts people of your community. Your people tell you this “joke” because they love you and don’t want to see reflected in your eyes the disillusionment that broke theirs long ago so that some of them, all they see is a choice between complicity and cansancio, fatigue. I start with this because we know our degrees are regarded as inferior to yours and we know we are not who you’re thinking of when you compose your theories and methodologies that speak to women’s experiences. We’re still asking the question Sojourner Truth asked your rhetorical foremothers 170 years ago, the people who got you the vote and our peoples more denigration. This is why the people on this round table have had to create new spaces for ourselves and people like us. Because too often, mainstream academic publishing is a eugenicist apparatus for maintaining the whitestream.
I’ve spoken about the founding of the Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics before. We’re new, especially compared to the well-established journals that wear tweed patches and smoke pipes. Some of them are cool, like Gandalf. Others are not so cool, and they engage in scholarly gatekeeping that actively excludes BIPOC, queer, working class, and disabled folks under rubrics of “rigor.” This is precisely why there is a Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics, because I have personal experience with the racism, misogyny, and ableism of some editors, and with the outright transphobia of others. This summer we saw two cases in which editors made their views of marginalized people quite clear. I’m speaking of the individuals in charge of Rhetoric & Public Affairs and Disability & Society. In the case of the former, the editor stated that he didn’t think rigor should be sacrificed through appeals to diversity; in the case of the latter, the editor refused to publish authors whose work directly negates her own work in transphobic campaigns across the UK. I’m not going to name them because if you’re really interested, you can always look them up, but I refuse to give them the privilege of a name here.
The not really irony is that before any of this happened this year, I already knew to avoid That Guy because his feedback to a friend had been condescending and unconstructive, just like the feedback I had received from the editor of another journal. In my case, my prose was difficult to comprehend due to its “lexical opacity,” a term I then had to look up. I know my writing is dense—that’s what anxiety disorder and ADHD mixed with reading too much theory will get you. But it depends who’s doing the writing. When it is women of color or disabled people, dense language is simply a marker of error. I guess it’s cool when Derrida or another French guy does it, people whose work has influenced mine, though I didn’t have the cultural capital to make people contend with my words. The list of things I did wrong was pretty long. Soon it became blurry because I started to cry. But something I want you to know: I am a rage crier. And rage crying can a great incentive. Because rage is a pretty great incentive. At least it is when I sing—okay fine, scream—as a member of a political punk band. Welcome to the underground DIY scene.
Currently, we have an understanding of DIY that has a lot to do with making things, from repurposed jeans to artisanal cheeses. I’m not going to knock it because I like making my own soap and other things. But I first encountered DIY as more than pastime. In the underground Latinx punk scene, DIY is how people make themselves heard. These aren’t bands looking for a record deal; these are bands that put out music that captures the rage of their communities. People tend to think of punks as disaffected kids in appropriated mohawks and spikes all over their jackets, and that’s definitely there. But in Latin America, including those parts of the US where we live, being punk doesn’t always look like that even though it is a way of life. A lot of the bands are political, and music is how people share political information, especially in places where such info gets you arrested. We sing about sexism, racism, homophobia, colonialism, classism, government repression; and while the lyrics may seem simple, the background is not. You’re talking about people who live and learn about the conditions they inhabit. The amount of philosophy and political theory consumed in the scene is astonishing to outsiders. This is where I first read Freire and Angela Davis; it wasn’t in any college class. Lesson 1: your lit review is not my lit review.
These bands create a community where people who are tired and angry can “talk back” to the system that attempts to regulate our bodies, our minds, and our voices, and we do it using whatever tech is available, the more lo-fi the better. I’ve spoken before about the need for marginalized folks to have transformative access, which is our ability to adapt tech to suit our needs because capital-T technologies come to us already built without us in mind. Latinx hardcore is one model of culturally-based hacking-invention that allows us to see ourselves in the tools. One 4-track recorder, a borrowed drum set, and pooled cash and you have yourself an album. Lesson 2: it doesn’t have to be fancy to make an impact.
The bands in the Latinx hardcore scene sing in Spanish, too. It’s not uncommon to hear someone give an explanation in English of how the song came to be, what social issues the song responds to, only for this information to be repeated in Spanish. Not all Latinxs speak Spanish, but even those who don’t will translate ideas so that the lyrics are deliberately not in English. We want to make ourselves heard in the language that the dominant culture rejects, though believe me, we know Spanish is a colonial language. But we repurpose the tongue of that colonizer to oppose the more powerful system that wreaks bodily and psychological harm through its tradition of interventionism. In creating this music, we want our relatives to know they are not alone and we want certain people to receive the message. Lesson 3: use what you got to make room for others.
What I love most about this scene is, sometimes all you really want to do is yell or mosh or slap the fuck out of a bass guitar because the energy renders words irrelevant. Sometimes you yell just to remind yourself and others that you are alive, which is something members of marginalized communities cannot take for granted. We are the peoples with the colonizer’s boot on our necks and the peoples whose bodies are held in the eugenicist’s vise so he can get a better look and learn how to destroy us. I think often about Gloria Anzaldúa’s words: “Ahogados, escupimos el oscuro. Peleando con nuestra propia sombra el silencio nos sepulta.” In English, it’s something like “Drowning, we spit out darkness. Fighting against our own shadow silence entombs us.” Yeah, this is pretty dark, but I’d be lying if I didn’t make it clear that marginalized folks must live with it every moment of every day. For Black women, Indigenous women, trans women, disabled women silence can be deadly. Water protectors are being silenced, some of them still behind bars for fighting against the black snake that has now leaked as promised. The media suddenly forgot that people in Puerto Rico are still waiting for that aid that was supposed to be coming. We aren’t really seeing the Indigenous people of Bolivia gathered in the streets protesting a US-backed right-wing coup, or reading about the Zapatista communities of Chiapas, Mexico gearing up to protect their lands against the national Maya Train project even though these events connect directly to US interests. Across this nation, communities of color are being terrorized by ICE, with Black, brown, and Asian im/migrants facing increased rates of local and administrative violence. Quite frankly, publishing seems like such a little thing compared to the direct violence my communities and our relatives face on the daily, but something I learned in the DIY scene is that if you say it the way people want to hear it, sometimes people listen. Starting a new venue was me “screaming” as loud as I could in the borrowed tongue of the academic, because some of us aren’t careerists—we just build up cultural capital so we can make use of it when it’s needed. Lesson 4: if you have the mic, people will pay attention.
As so, as the editor of JOMR, I dedicate my time to promoting publishing practices that center marginalized perspectives. That doesn’t always manifest in typical ways. It’s not enough to speak at conferences or publish essays. The thing is to do, and that always and necessarily happens on the ground. Through one-on-one conversations, through movidas as my friend Cruz would say, by being a squeaky wheel where others might get shut down, by being a safe space where people can vent their rage, by pointing out how racial and class divisions might determine what kind of assistance authors may need, and quite frankly, by teaching others how to make that punk tee look like a tweed jacket if and when it has to.