By Dr. Kaye Whitehead,
Special to the AFRO
Like many of you, the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) has been alarmed, angered and frustrated by the legislative efforts of the Republican party to limit our academic freedom, censor the teaching of African-American, gender and queer studies. They place us in an untenable situation where we are unable to adequately defend ourselves and our livelihood.
The attack is personal.
It is rooted in anti-Black racism, patriarchy, transphobia, Whiteness and xenophobia, and it is a propagandistic argument designed to Whitewash our collective history. We are clearly under attack.
In the recent months, states across the country have either introduced or passed legislation similar to Florida’s House Bill 999, designed to ban “the use of pedagogical methodology associated with Critical Theory, including, but not limited to, Critical Race Theory (CRT), Critical Race Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies, Radical Feminist Theory, Radical Gender Theory, Queer Theory, Critical Social Justice or Intersectionality.”
We have also noticed that some of these bills are so vague and wide-reaching that they are laying the foundation for future legislative attacks against any academic work, person or group that critiques the U.S. and supports racial justice and gender equality. We do understand that they will not stop unless we stop them.
The attacks against critical race theory and intersectionality, coupled with the intentional campaign to reframe the term “wokeness” as a veiled slur against Black, Brown and other marginalized people, are reminders that in this country, as Bell Hooks taught us, the classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy.
As educators and activists, we understand why this is happening and why it is vital to raise our collective voices to speak in this moment. It is not simply a debate about curriculum– it is a fight about the direction of this country.
It is also important to note that this is not a new fight– it did not start with Ron DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” bill or his anti-woke campaign; it did not start with Donald Trump’s memo labeling CRT as “divisive” while issuing an executive order banning racial justice training; it did not even start with the groundbreaking work of the 1619 project. This is an old battle that has its roots in the anti-literacy laws that were passed in Confederate states from 1740 to 1834.It has its roots in the Roberts v. City of Boston case, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Plessy v. Ferguson and in Roe v. Wade– just to name a few. It has its roots in anti-LGBTQ discrimination. This movement has roots in White supremacy and the pursuit of manifest White destiny.
NWSA is the nation’s largest network of feminist scholars, educators and activists. One of our primary objectives is to promote and support the production and dissemination of knowledge about women and gender through teaching, learning, research, and service in academic and other settings. We actively draw on feminist scholarship and stand squarely in support of intersectionality as a guiding methodology. We are more than just an academic association. We are activists. We are freedom fighters. We are feminists. We are scholars. We understand that there are times when we must speak up because our silence will never protect us, and if we are not careful, our silence will always appear to be a sign of silent approval.
The members of NWSA have never chosen and will never choose to stand with oppressors. We will never request the master’s tools to dismantle his house. Instead, we will shape and craft our own tools to burn it down, so that something better can be created. We will never eat their crumbs just because they have tried to convince us that we are hungry. We will continue to stand on the side of justice and against those seeking—either because of their fear or their need to control and silence us—to tear down the racial, social and gender justice work that has been done in this country.
What comes next
We are now less than ten days away from the Freedom to Learn National Day of Action scheduled for May 3. We are excited to share that NWSA is working in partnership with the African American Policy Forum, the “Big Eight” civil rights organizations, the Divine Nine, ASALH, Ms. in the Classroom, the AFRO, the Karson Institute for Race, Peace and Social Justice and local academic and activist associations.
As you know, the National Day of Action began with the release of an Open Letter on Fighting “Anti-Woke” Censorship of Intersectionality and Black Feminism which was co-written by NWSA’s former president, Beverly Guy Sheftall, and signed by thousands of academics, artists, advocates, policy-makers and concerned persons. The letter outlined how state and local governments and agencies nationwide have targeted, attacked and worked to systematically disrupt the teaching of intersectionality, critical race theory, Black feminism, queer theory and any frameworks that address structural inequality, mass incarceration and White supremacy.
They have threatened to fire or arrest teachers and professors who teach or discuss these issues, banned books that cover these issues, defunded public libraries and worked to create and maintain a climate of fear.
These are not new tactics; indeed, this is how they fight. They want us to be afraid. They want us to feel overwhelmed. And they want us to think that we are alone. We are not. We must remember that we may come as one, but we stand as ten thousand. When they want us to move, we shall plant our feet and whisper, “We shall not be moved.” When they try to destroy what our ancestors died to build, we will hold up the columns and do it with one hand holding the beam and the other holding fast to each other. When they try to erase us from the curriculum, we will find ways to teach and share our stories. When they believe they have won the battle, we will regroup and stay focused on winning the war. When they come for us (and they will keep coming), we will always be ready for them.
This is an exciting moment for NWSA because this is what we are built for, who we are, and what we do. We fight. We stand. We plan, and we move. As you know, NWSA is organizing a Nationwide Teach-In, and we need your help.
NWSA has prepared multiple lesson plans and gathered resources that can be used with students from preschool to 12th grade classrooms and on college campuses. They are now available on the NWSA website, NWSA.org. We are asking that everyone does something on May 3 – even if it is something small. We need to show that we are a collective, as there is power in the numbers. Additionally, given that we are based in Baltimore, we are also planning local activities on the campuses of Loyola University Maryland, Johns Hopkins University, Morgan State University and at local high school and middle school classrooms.
The Baltimore planning team includes Kaye Wise Whitehead, Shawntay Stocks, Jasmine Blanks Jones, Ashley Daniels and Minkah Makalani. If you are interested in joining the planning team, send us an email at NWSA@NWSA.org. During these meetings, we will have an opportunity to hear from Kimberlé Crenshaw and her team and get an overview of what is happening across the country.
If you are planning an activity on your campus or in your city, reach out to us to add it to our joint Google document. The hope is that you will connect with someone in your area who is also planning an activity (we are, as you know, stronger together).
The goals for the National Day of Action are to coordinate collective action on as many campuses and in as many public places, domestically and internationally as possible, and coordinate activities in as many state capitals as possible, especially states where anti-trans legislations and/or anti-CRT and DEI laws have been passed, and legislation around voter suppression, abortion elimination, or the rejection of the AP African American Studies course is being proposed.
Please visit AFRO.com or NWSA.org to review NWSA organized activities and access the lesson plans, exclusively published by the AFRO- American Newspaper.