[Non-Fiction] Excerpt from the Annotated Syllabus
Text: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Spiegel & Grau, 2015.
You’re surprised, but that’s your privilege showing.
You’re surprised, for one that students feel brave enough to post racist responses to what you think of as a beautiful, angry, impassioned call for love stemming from understanding, for ears that have long not listened to listen, for real, immediate, whole change.
When your surprise changes to something else, to something that you feel you now must own to, is the second after the racist comments get support, are lauded.
It is difficult to keep up this week. To continue to dismantle these rhetorics with your own.
The first email lodging a complaint arrives: [this, not in her words]: I cannot participate in this course if you will not allow me to say exactly what I think and give me full points for these thoughts, even if they do not meet the conditions of the rubric, even if they do not meet the conditions for critical thought, even if they do not meet the conditions for basic humanity.
This is the first email. There will be others.
And, when one apology arrives, you are surprised again. You are filled with the weight of your own privilege again. You expected more apologies. You would have apologized.
But, this lonely attempt to say amends—not make amends, for those are different actions—even this likely has more to do with grades and much less with learning.
You can’t be sure about this fact, or really about anything at all, when human decency is only something extended under the umbrella when no one of difference is listening, when that umbrella is small and getting smaller, when—and this is what you wrestle with this first week and every week after—when the umbrella is a metaphor and metaphors are beyond hope, wind-ravaged and lost in this civilization of closed rooms.
Jenny Ferguson is Métis, an activist, a feminist, an auntie, and an accomplice with a PhD. She believes writing and teaching are political acts. BORDER MARKERS, her collection of linked flash fiction narratives, is available from NeWest Press. She teaches at Missouri Southern State University and in the Opt-Res MFA Program at the University of British Columbia.