The Black Feminist Road Trip Project

Black Feminist Theory 2017 (8)

The Inaugural Black Feminist Road Trip Class During Block 8 2017 (Clockwise from Top: Michaela Kahn, Alejandra Hernandez, Jade Pearl Frost, Ryan Garcia, me, Cheanna Gavin, Samantha Gilbert, Mariana Young, Lyric Jackson, and Salem Tewelde) at the “Beyond Mammy, Jezebel, & Sapphire: Reclaiming Images of Black Women Exhibit” in front of my favorite piece: Kara Walker’s “Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated): Exodus of Confederates from Atlanta,” edition 21/35, 2005 offset lithography and screenprint, 39 x 53 in. [Photo Credit: Briget Heidmous]

I taught Black Feminist Theory for the first time when I was serving as a Riley Scholar-in-Residence in Feminist & Gender Studies (FGS) at Colorado College during Block 3 2010.

Black feminist theory, developed within and outside the academy, addresses the ways race, gender, class, and other social, cultural, and political markers are interconnected, focusing especially on the ways Black communities throughout the African Diaspora are particularly oppressed systemically and systematically. Along these lines, the term intersectionality was introduced when Kimberlé Crenshaw published “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics” in The University of Chicago Legal Forum in 1989. Here, Crenshaw examines “a problematic consequence of the tendency to treat race and gender as mutually exclusive categories of experience and analysis [which was and still is] dominant in antidiscrimination policy and that is also reflected in feminist theory and antiracist politics.” Relying primarily on this guiding principle, then, we study Black feminist examinations of Black women’s relationships with Black men, motherhood, Black queer communities, work inside and outside of the home, religion and spirituality, and other concerns.

Further, by the end of the course, students learn the importance of the following objectives, as well as the skills required to perform them at an advanced level:

  • examining, synthesizing, and responding to Black feminist theory developed within and outside the academy;
  • examining, synthesizing, and responding to Black feminist theories that seriously consider what has now come to be known as intersectionality;
  • examining and responding to Black feminist examinations of Black women’s relationships with Black men, motherhood, Black queer communities, work inside and outside of the home, religion and spirituality, and other concerns;
  • and conversing with Black feminist theory in all coursework.

Prior to FGS hiring Professor Nadia Guessous, I had only been able to teach the course three times over the course of five years because of my obligation to teach core courses in the program, as well as my desire to teach other courses in my areas of expertise. Hence, by the time I was able to teach the course again this past spring (Block 8 2017), I had already become steeped in creative pedagogy: assigning the first video essay project in FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies in Block 5 2012, the first feminist magazine project in FG200 Feminist Theory in Block 8 2012, the first media project in FG212 Critical Media Studies in Block 2 2012, the first blog essay in FG214 Hidden Spaces, Hidden Narratives: Intersectionality Studies in Berlin during the 2014 summer session, and various other creative final projects, like debates, in my other courses. So, I knew I wanted to do something creative in this course, and I wanted to do something we could share with the world through FemGeniuses.

I also knew that I wanted my students’ creative projects to do some storytelling. My commitment to the study of storytelling and counter-storytelling relies, in large part, on the work of Critical Race scholars like Daniel G. Solorzano and Tara J. Yosso, who define the latter as “a method of telling the stories of those people whose experiences are not often told.” Along these lines, my interest in the study of stories and their relationships to space and place was developed a great deal in FG214, especially inspired by the many walking tours the #FemGeniusesInBerlin take in order to study the histories of marginalized peoples: Jewish History & Culture w/ Carolyn Gammon, Berlin from Below: Dark Worlds w/ Berliner Unterwelten, Africa in Wedding w/ Josephine Apraku, Queer Berlin w/ Original Berlin Walks, the Student Movement of 1968 w/ Nadav Gablinger, the Women’s Perspective Tour w/ Pen Hassmann, the Alternative City Tour w/ New Berlin Tours, Little Istanbul w/ Intissar Nassar, and Women in the Center of Berlin w/ Iris Wachsmuth. During these tours, we walk through various parts of Berlin and listen to stories that are closely connected to the spaces and places we visit. And since storytelling and counter-storytelling are also a significant Black feminist politics, the Black Feminist Road Trip project was born:

In 1851, Sojourner Truth delivered her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech at a women’s convention in Akron, OH. In 1863, Harriet Tubman planned an action at the Combahee River in South Carolina that freed over 750 slaves. In 1967, Assata Shakur and approximately 100 students were arrested at the Borough of Manhattan Community College for protesting the lack of Black Studies and Black faculty. From 1986-1995, Toni Cade Bambara taught documentary planning and script writing workshops at Scribe Video Center in Philadelphia. In 1991, June Jordan founded the Poetry for the People Program at the University of California at Berkeley. Starting this block, I will be developing a virtual road trip project that allows internet users worldwide to learn why these and other spaces matter through a Black feminist lens. Additionally, users will eventually be able to plot trips to various spaces for specified amounts of time—for instance, if a user has only one weekend and is confined to no more than 100 miles outside of Cleveland, OH, they will be able to find out which spaces are available and how long it will take to make the trip(s) they select. My students will contribute to this project by creating a 10 to 15-minute aesthetically-intriguing video essays in small teams that communicate the significance of one space of their choice. 

Even though student contributions will be published continuously, I likely won’t unveil the map for 3-5 years so that there are enough spaces for our audiences to visit virtually and in-person. In the meantime, I’ll update the space index below when each contribution is completed even after the road trip map is created and published:

Stay tuned!