It’s been a rough semester. Between COVID, insurrections, the cop’s apparent inability to stop killing Black people, even while one of them is being convicted for killing a Black person, I’ve been mentally exhausted. But, I’m here. I’ve got one class meeting, two papers to write, and that will be it for coursework in my Master’s degree. It’s surreal to think about, really. I never thought I’d be here. And now that I’m here, it’s very different than I thought it would be. The past decade or so, I have come to love and appreciate myself as a Black person. I look back and realize that I internalized a lot of anti-blackness. This is no surprise. Society is built this way. It is impossible to escape white supremacist ideology unscathed.
Coming into my MA, I knew that I was tired of reading white men. I completed an entire degree in Literature and read white men almost exclusively. I wanted to connect with a literary heritage from people who looked like me. I think back and wonder how any Literature program could let a student graduate without reading Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, or Zora Neale Hurston. I wonder why I had to find authors like Colson Whitehead, Ta Nehisi Coates, NK Jemesin, Octavia Butler, Kimberle Crenshaw, June Jordan, Audre Lord, bell hooks, etc. I mean, I know why. It just shouldn’t happen. Of course, it was impossible to avoid reading white men while doing my MA, but I made sure to approach everything through a racial lens. Wherever possible I brought in Black authors, particularly Black women (#citeblackwomen), to contribute to my knowledge and the conversation. In my first year, I thought my thesis would be about how Straight White Men dominate the literary canon, or how few authors of color there are in the topic of rhetoric. The Faculty at CSU Pueblo have been outstanding and supportive. My topics were valid, accepted, and even though most of them are white men, they gave me resources and scholars talking about the same things I was. I’m going to add a reading list for my MA here soon. Both assigned and things I’m researching and reading on my own.
Anyway, as I dug deeper into the readings, I saw that everything I wanted to talk about was…already talked. Extensively. With like, research and data and shit. And so I started to think about where I could find my own topic within this conversation. I took thesis credits dedicated to this. But then, last Fall, I took a creative writing class. Through my education, I’ve internalized the belief that genre fiction was somehow less than “literary.” But, as Felicia Rose Chavez says in her book The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop, “‘Literary,’ in sum, means gatekeeper.” The teachers I’ve had, some on purpose, and others through the same pedagogy designed to uphold white supremacist ideology, ingrained in me this belief. It is in the past few years that I’ve managed to see outside of what I’ve been taught, been able to begin unlearning this dogma. And so, in this creative writing class I tasked myself with writing five stories in five different genres. And I wrote them all with Black characters. Something I have previously been unable to do until recently, because even in my mind, whiteness was the default. But getting over this gave me a creative freedom I didn’t know was missing. The stories, I think, were all pretty good, but one in particular was great. Some days when I go run, it’s hard, and I run out of breath really quick and I have to push through just to get my miles in. But some days, it’s easy, and I feel like I could run for miles. That’s what this story was like. When I finished it, I felt a sensation I’ve rarely felt with my fiction.
It was a story titled, “After the Accident,” and because of that feeling, and this sense of finally discovering my voice, I chose to pursue a creative thesis. I’ll be writing a collection of short stories this summer and a framework that I feel is aimed at Black students in English programs.
Tomorrow is the very last class of coursework for my Master’s Degree. This summer, I’m going to write and read, and write and read. But right now, I’m taking a breath to acknowledge how far I’ve come and what tomorrow’s class means. I never thought I’d be in the position I’m in now: Graduate school, teaching, and exploring my connection to and legacy of Black literary figures. But I am. And I think with the prospect of my death as a Black man in the news daily, I think these moments of respite are both earned and necessary.
I have grading to do and two papers to write, but that’s easy stuff at this point. Tonight I’m gonna chill and watch TV, and revel in the fact that, after tomorrow, this portion of my academic journey reaches its conclusion.