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RIP Jim Crow

Fighting Racism through Higher Education Policy, Curriculum, and Cultural Interventions

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Edited By Virginia Stead

Together we can build enough momentum to see Jim Crow lying silent and still in his grave.
This book shouts out ways that we can and must respond to the sickening accumulation of racially inspired and systemically sanctioned deaths. Today, we remember the passing of young, Black Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. In responding to this event, we are determined to dismantle the alexithymia (indifference to the suffering of others) that pervades our campuses. It is nothing less than a by-product of racism protected by the illusion of democracy.
RIP Jim Crow contains three sections: (1) Antiracist Theory and Policy; (2) Antiracist Administration, Curriculum, and Pedagogy; and (3) Antiracist Cultural Interventions.
Each of the 31 chapters contributes to the normalization of anti-racist policy within academic institutions, antiracist discourse within academic cultures, and institutional praxis that upholds speaking out against racist activity. The hope is that this book will also reduce racism in the broader world through academic relationships with community partners.
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Chapter Twenty-One: “I Can’t Breathe!” Learning to Respect and Respond to Subtle and Acute Distress Calls

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CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

“I Can’t Breathe!”

Learning to Respect and Respond to Subtle and Acute Distress Calls

MONA M. ABO-ZENA



“I can’t breathe.” It is a sign of distress that was not heeded in time for Eric Garner. Before that, there were many others distress calls. Rodney King and Amadou Diallo also signalled their suffering. Years later, headlines indicate that yet another unarmed Black man has been shot dead by police. The details of the stories vary, and get blurred together. But there were earlier distress calls about a subtler type of violence, less acute but equally profound. Ralph Ellison introduced us to the Invisible Man, whose issues related to his race and how he could not (or would not) be seen by others with privilege (Ellison, 1952). Richard Wright helped us question whether someone with Black skin could be considered a native son (Wright, 1940). Over a century ago (1903), W. E. B. Du Bois asked, “How does it feel to be a problem?”

Within and beyond higher educational contexts, we have difficulty having powerful conversations about power. In a way, we are not to blame. We have been socialized not to talk about sensitive topics like religion or politics. These implicit messages get internalized in ways that that make us less aware of power, and thus unable to name problems associated with it, even when power is enacted inequitably within educational contexts. Blind spots are a natural...

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