05.21.2022 Double Agency by Dr. joy Barnes-Johnson | #31DaysIBPOC
This word AGENCY takes on brand new meaning when paired with DOUBLE. It leaps beyond the mundane and into the supernatural…it takes a girl with a “$30 dress and $2 suitcase” from a place of ‘out of excuses’ into the world of being seen (Thank you Ms. Davis…for giving me more words to explain who I am in your memoir Finding Me). What double does for and to a word or idea is magnificent and makes me wonder…maybe wander…through etymologies and epistemologies…philosophies and sociological imaginations.
- Double entendre
- Double jeopardy
- Double trouble
- Double minded
- Double sided
- Double consciousness
It evokes so much that is parallel and lopsided at the same time. It pulls me back toward a history in spite of the intensity of the present moment, so this post will share some of me and a lot of that–history.
Following the models from art and science and literature and dance, my life has always been double agentic…it has always been a type of choreopoem peppered with stories of joy and struggle and spiritual strivings but I love who I am and what I am becoming…as I admire the literate ones who celebrate words and wax poetic through books and essays, while I languish in emotions, stirring ideas in a pot or a beaker that I am not
make a difference.
I am both art and science, teacher and servant, follower and leader, like so many who have come before me.
I say I am an EqSTrEAM educator, in the margins and not–bounded by extremes but free–a science teacher but I really am a double agent. Like the pedagogues in our collected and unreconciled memory, historically and in recent times, we are fugitives, fugitive pedagogues, running from and to the systems that we want, need and challenge. We believe in education but are making our own maps to freedom because the old ones just
[seem to] work.
Our memories of stony roads and bitter chastening
Won’t keep us from returning to post-pandemic classrooms with broken windows,
mirrors and sliding glass doors…this blog is for us.
Schools are racialized organizations “that enhance or diminish the agency of racial groups” (Ray, 2019. American Sociological Review, 84(1), 26-53). Teachers, especially those of us who identify as IBPOC, are double agents with agencies we hold close to our chest like the S in sound, and super, and stressed…on the verge of breaking, we retreat to the pages written by a league of heroes, with gratitude.
I often talk about being EqSTrEAM as a humanities-loving science teacher. Pronounced /ɪkˈstrim/, who I am is extreme, as in, ‘in the margins’, so my position outside of center makes total sense to me. It amplifies the human as it elevates the other. But it is the “r-factor” that has meant so much over the course of my thinking about who I am and what I do. Telling myself ‘Whatever it is:
- must be relevant
- REPRESENTATION (in a hip-hop kind of way) and re-presentation
- Reflective of the people and reflexive in its goals’
- It is righting the narratives that erase or appropriate…but, #31DaysIBPOC reminds me that it is more than that.
Starting on day 1, Dr. Kim Parker provided REASONS to perform (although that’s not quite the best word) when our students no longer experience joy
even when they “win”…
…because the pressured voices ringing in their mind “to try harder”
steal accomplishment from them and call themselves underachievement…
It is our RESERVATIONS and REPRIEVE SPACES (insights courtesy of Erica Pernell) that cause us to take pause…
When we feel questioned by students whose book learnin’ turned into the nouveaux machine variety
we can only remember in a distant recollection of self…
the mental tricks and shortcuts we owned and created at 16 sit now on a dusty shelf in the recesses of our decades older mind, unconnected from real things that our adult selves use frequently…or…that (like them) can only be re-membered long enough to connect dots on a test, created by a curriculum that was disconnected all along…
It is our RIGHTING as we write. Filling in gaps about our greatness and unhiding who we are and stepping into the light, even though shade (in all its coolness) feels necessary more than comfortable.
It is my RESPONSE…to the brutality we suffer in grocery stores, on streets, in churches, in schools…feeling shame and regret not for something we have done but because of who we are…and yet, somehow, too many children, are unable to identify this or any moment where their life matters less…could it be because they don’t know their history and are becoming so numb to their present that a dissonant future not based in myth is beyond their
understanding acceptance? Searching for answers like other teachers in this moment, I looked to intellectual ancestors for answers.
This post is a love letter to Leila Amos Pendleton, a woman who wrote books, curated poems and penned letters to remind and inspire us to look back/retrieve our histories, our stories, in order to better understand our present and our future. In 1912 she wrote a history book called A Narrative of the Negro which was published by her husband. After thanking almost fifty people (for what I am sure were political reasons) she explains on page 3:
In this little volume contains, in story form, a brief outline of the history of the Negro...In presenting this narrative, as a sort of “family story” to the colored children of America, it is my fervent hope that they may hereby acquire such an earnest desire for greater information as shall compellingly lead them, in maturer years, to the many comprehensive and erudite volumes which have been written upon this subject.Pendleton, L. A. (1912). A Narrative of the Negro (21st, 1998 ed.). Press of R.L. Pendleton. https://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/pendleton/pendle.html
Chapter 1 (A talk with the children) gives vibes of the opening scene of the Black Panther (or maybe the 1619 Project). The telling of our origin story and the reminder to always capitalize the first letter of whatever we choose to call ourselves (p. 5): embodying the idea of KUJICHAGALIA (self-determination). In one paragraph, the text hugs the psyche like a quilt stitched to protect against insecurity. Through the next 20 chapters, Mrs. Pendleton holds up history like a magnifying glass for us to see our Diaspora unobstructed by racist hate scribbled on pages but through a lens of love and truth…
We were ‘born on the water’ and she helps us to fully see it without shame. She introduces us to patriots, artists, spiritual leaders and other heroes with African roots–reminding us that we have a stake to hold in this country. She describes the inner-workings of and names some of the lesser known conductors on the Underground Railroad (pp. 118 – 150). The conductors–abolitionists–were celebrated with the familiar and yet lesser known ‘John Brown‘s men’ (p. 156) as she named names, as if she knew them. She lauds the establishment of Black institutions of higher learning and the many people and visionaries of the time who believed in Black folks…
But at the beginning of Chapter XXI, she describes where we were in the 1910s, just as if she were writing about where and who we are now…projecting and predicting this moment with acuity, warning us of this moment and probably hoping that this knowing would keep us from this living.
…there arose the two great schools of Negro thought, which, for want of more exact terms, have come to be known as the Conservative and the Radical. Briefly stated, the Conservative school of thinkers lays most stress upon the opportunities and privileges which Negroes enjoy in this country, while the Radicals insist upon the rights of which we are deprived. Each side is most intensely in earnest and both seek the highest good of the Negro. The difference seems to lie in opinion as to how this highest good is to be secured (p. 189).
The struggle of two knights—both are right.
Leila Amos Pendleton (1860 – 1938)
Echoing an idea posed by mathematician and sociologist Kelly Miller (another double agent) only a few years before in his essay “Radicals and Conservatives”, we are in the same place 5-½ generations removed from that moment. Chapter XXI is an ode to the political nature of the Black teacher.
I once argued that schooling does not have to be political…it could be objective...that was before I really knew who I was as a teacher...or what my ‘assignment’ to teach in mostly White schools meant.
I get it now–after more than 20 years–I am there for all students but especially for the Black and Brown (Bb) students who need to see teachers who know a thing or two about history…and the stories that history tells. Thinking about @GraceKChoi in her thread about showing up…being a double agent.
Double agents are individuals willing to carry the load of responsibility…for others…
Double agents are connected to that which moves outside of them selves…
Double agency is a responsibility.
Being a double agent is:
RIGHTING while we write and
Representing while we re–present the various selves we are to others and our own beings.
Those who identify as IBPOC are always somewhere educating and leading,
with and without titles
with towels and tools…
in light and love…
So what is the end of the narrative you wonder? What comes in Chapter 22? Pendleton concludes the family story with a list of names and biographical sketches that explain how the “light is diffused”.
There would be just too many to name if we were to celebrate every education double agent that possesses the “r-factor” so I will simply encourage you to look around for the ones who are busy doing the work and building collectives like this one.
Thirty-one days in May never seems quite long enough to get to know all the heroes in our
multiverse multicultural universe but for now I will take it, with gratitude.
This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Series, a month-long movement to feature the voices of Indigenous, Black and other People of color who live as teachers, artists, writers and scholars. Please read yesterday’s blog post, Pinoy Ako by Leah Werther (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog series).