More Mourning: On Patrick Lyoya, Co-Conspiratorship, and Support for Black Faculty, Staff, and Students

Note: This statement was originally written by Drs. Natasha Jones and Denise Troutman and shared with the listserv of the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at Michigan State University. We share this statement widely with the ATTW community in support of our colleagues and to also encourage departments across the country to take action to redress anti-Black racism in their classrooms, institutions, and communities. We urge all teachers of technical writing to read and share the actionable steps presented below, and to take direct action in supporting our Black students, colleagues, and community members, now and always.

More Mourning: On Patrick Lyoya, Co-Conspiratorship, and Support for Black Faculty, Staff, and Students

We write this note with heavy hearts. Again, we see in the news the unnecessary and heartbreaking state-sanctioned murder of a Black man at the hands of the police. As many of us learn of and mourn the murder of Patrick Lyoya, a first-generation international student, we are faced again with conversations and debates about the usefulness of police versus the harm and terror experienced by marginalized communities at the hands of law enforcement. This brings up a number of concerns that seem to be debated endlessly, including: the role of police presence on our campus and in our communities; the role of surveillance of Black and Brown communities; and the way we talk about and engage in liberatory pedagogies in our classrooms.

Moreover, Lyoya’s murder happened in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a stone’s throw away from Michigan State University’s own campus. Many of our students (as well as staff and faculty) are directly or indirectly impacted by yet another example of violence and oppression inflicted upon our communities. Many of our students are also already overwhelmed by the end of the semester and the continuing impact of the pandemic (which is STILL disproportionately impacting Black and Brown communities, with Black communities disproportionately represented in hospitalizations and mortality. Black communities are currently experiencing 14.3% of all deaths and experiencing hospitalization rates at 3.8 times that of white communities). The continued cycle of endless violence against marginalized communities and police violence and extrajudicial punishments meted out by police takes a serious toll.

As two Black women scholars, we are tired and emotionally drained from seeing our community targeted over and over again. While we don’t have the capacity and can’t address all the times and the myriad ways that Black folx and other marginalized communities are continually impacted by anti-Black racism and police violence, we can’t stay silent either. We are all impacted! When we travel, we do so carefully. We check our tags and our registration. We use our signals when we change lanes. When we send our family members out, we pray, and wish, and hope that they return. When we send our children to campus (yes, including Michigan State University’s campus) or other public places, we hope that police and security officers don’t look too hard in their direction. Yet, we still show up and do our work in an institution that does not fully value us. As scholars, we work hard to do our work. We also work hard to support our students. It is important that all members of our faculty join in and do the same. Our students need us RIGHT NOW. They need to hear you care. They need you to reach out. They need you to show up.

There are a number of organizations across this campus, and across the country, doing work to take care of our students. If you are at a loss for how to support your students, here are a few suggestions that we’d like to make:

      • Send your classes a note to check in and let them know you are aware of what is going on.
      • Be gracious with due dates and deadlines (yes, even at the end of the semester).
      • Assume your students ARE impacted in some way by the repeated police violence that they witness (on social media, news channels, in their communities, and families).
      • Make yourself available to chat with your students.
      • Familiarize yourself with resources offered to students on and off campus.
      • Do your homework about how injustice and oppression (specifically regarding police violence) takes a mental and physical toll on marginalized communities.
      • Be a co-conspirator, as defined by Dr. Bettina Love in her book, We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and The Pursuit of Educational Freedom (Love, 2019). That means you don’t just offer verbal support; you use your privilege [in various ways that it manifests] to take risks on behalf of the marginalized.

“Allyship is focused on having knowledge and inclusion—it’s more of a theoretical commitment to equity and antiracism. Co-conspiracy, on the other hand, shares the burden of active antiracism work—it’s a commitment to take action towards abolition, to working with folks from marginalized communities and backgrounds in ways that take on some of the risk of fighting for equity against powerful and sometimes ambiguous agents.” (

We need co-conspirators. Our students need co-conspirators.  

This semester, in Natasha’s WRA 441: Social Justice as Rhetorical Practice Course, her students studied and learned about abolition, mass incarceration, and the prison industrial system. Students came to understand that what they were learning in class is not theoretical. It has impacts on people’s DAILY lives (including Drs. Jones and Troutman’s daily lives). The WRA 441 students had conversations that were about the freedom of ALL communities in this nation (and across the globe) to not just survive, but thrive–without fear of harm from those that “protect and serve.” In our courses and in our work as faculty members, we understand that institutions don’t recognize our wholeness (our humanness and our humane/ness). We raise questions about human-centeredness, anti-racist, (anti)(de)colonial commitments of our institutions as we are intensely aware of the impact of institutional expectations on us as scholars. We work toward, seek, and ask questions about social justice and equity in all aspects of our faculty life and in how we interact with our students. The reason that we approach our work in this way is emphasized in times like these, when we see systems and institutions consistently harm, marginalize, and oppress. We need co-conspirators.

We urge you all to contribute to and continue the conversations that we have been having in classrooms and research and service work in order to TAKE ACTION to progress toward the liberation of all even in (and especially in) our work as researchers and teachers.

Love, B. (2019). We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and The Pursuit of Educational Freedom. Beacon Press.

2020 Michele Simmons and Patricia Sullivan

Citation for Michele Simmons
Elevated to ATTW Fellow, March 2020
by Jeffrey T. Grabill

On behalf of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing Fellows Nominating Committee, the Executive Committee of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing, and the membership at large, I write to congratulate you on your elevation to Fellow of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing (ATTW).

To be a Fellow of ATTW means that you have made significant long-term contributions to technical communication, that you have an established national reputation based on your teaching, scholarship, or academic administration. Being named a Fellow, in other words, is a recognition of your intellectual leadership and collegiality.

Your research has opened new areas of study in technical and professional communication. You are a leading voice—arguably the leading voice—arguing for connections between the traditional, civic concerns of rhetoric and the more contemporary affordances of technical and professional communication. We owe our current understanding of risk communication and public rhetoric to your innovative work on public participation. This is most evident in your excellent book, Participation and Power: A Rhetoric for Civic Discourse in Environmental Policy, and visible as well in your contributions to Lean Technical Communication: Toward Sustainable Program Innovation.

For this work, you have earned a number of accolades. Lean Technical Communication won the 2020 CCCC Research Impact Award. And twice you have won the Nell Ann Pickett Award for Best Article in Technical Communication Quarterly, first for “Toward a Critical Rhetoric of Risk Communication: Producing Citizens and the Role of Technical Communicators” and then again for “Productive Usability: Fostering Civic Engagement in Online Spaces.”

About your work, Meredith Johnson writes:

Michele is nationally recognized for her groundbreaking work on high-stakes research sites: a nuclear waste depot housing more than 1,000 tons of deadly VX nerve agent, a Midwestern steel plant that emits eight million pounds of soot into the air, a uranium enrichment plant in Oakridge, Tennessee. She has also brought her careful attention to everyday territory: annual activity reports, websites that help citizens manage invasive weeds and, of course, the writing classroom. What unites this influential work is Michele’s profound respect for the communities she studies and for the wisdom of their members. Michele’s research honors local, tacit knowledges and makes them visible. This commitment carries over to her classroom as well; she frequently teaches service-learning projects that benefit local community partners as much as her students.

Timothy Amidon continues:

Michele demonstrates what it means to work in earnest toward justice, equity, and emancipation, as her work has not only challenged our field to interrogate whose voices and bodies are absent from and marginalized in contexts where technical and professional communication unfolds, but she has also offered concrete tools and practices that members of our scholarly community might deploy in order to carefully, respectfully, and purposefully construct more just, sustainable, and inclusive futures.

Your service to the field and to ATTW in particular has been nothing short of extraordinary. You have served in formal leadership roles for fifteen years, including member at large on the executive committee, conference program chair, Vice President, President, and now as the organization’s Immediate Past President. As president, you implemented the Graduate Research Award to support students presenting their research at the conference. Adding to your impact, you co-founded Women in Technical Communication, which has been a transformative educational and mentoring project in the field. For that work, you and your colleagues won the 2015 SIGDOC Diana Award for extraordinary contribution to the field of Communication Design.

Your leadership roles in ATTW have been marked by persistent efforts to create space for others. This has been true across your career. As your colleague Caroline Dadas writes:

Michele has served as a mentor to many students at the M.A. and Ph.D. level, helping to move the field toward a sustained focus on effective digital communication, participation in civic processes, and robust methodologies for studying online public spheres. As one of her PhD students, I can attest to Michele’s seemingly-endless patience and thoughtful intellectual collaboration with her students. She continues to shape technical communication in meaningful ways.

This same sentiment is echoed again by Timothy Amidon:

I am humbled by and owe much to Michele—she is a generous mentor, collaborator, and advocate to so many members of our field. What stands out most about Michele as both researcher and mentor—a characteristic that I admire and seek to emulate in my own practice—is that she has a special knack for listening with care and respect. It’s a tenet that is unmistakably centered within Michele’s scholarship and practice, and it’s among the lessons our organization and field stand to benefit from most as we continue to mature.

The words of your colleagues reflect well your value to the field. We thank you for your exemplary engagement with this community of scholars, practitioners, and teachers.

For these reasons, the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing is proud to elevate you to Fellow. We are humbled by your example and proud to call you a colleague.

Citation for Patricia Sullivan
Elevated to ATTW Fellow, March 2020
by Jeffrey T. Grabill

On behalf of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing Fellows Nominating Committee, the Executive Committee of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing, and the membership at large, I write to congratulate you on your elevation to Fellow of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing (ATTW).

To be a Fellow of ATTW means that you have made significant long-term contributions to technical communication, that you have an established national reputation based on your teaching, scholarship, or academic administration. Being named a Fellow, in other words, is a recognition of your intellectual leadership and collegiality.

Your career is one of the most distinguished in our field. Your intellectual and leadership presence at Purdue since 1985 helped establish it as one of the leading graduate programs in the discipline. During your time at Purdue, you directed Technical Writing and later were instrumental in starting the B.A. in Professional Writing, which became one of the leading undergraduate programs in the field. You also helped establish areas of study at the Ph.D. level in Technical and Professional Writing and in Rhetoric, Technology and Digital Writing. Students in these programs have gone on to distinguished careers in industry and the academy.

Your expertise as a researcher is extraordinary and has been field-changing. You have distinguished yourself as an early and consistent feminist voice in technical and professional communication and as one of our most creative, thoughtful, and strongest methodologists. Your books have been field-changing. In Electronic Literacies in the Workplace (co-edited with Jennie Dautermann), you provided one of the first looks into the impact of digital technologies on workplace writing. It is a book that grounded the work of scholars for years to come. Opening Spaces (co-authored with James Porter) remains one of the best books on research methodology in the field. It is a book that has literally opened space for research and to researchers exploring new ways to understand the world. You and your colleagues published one of the first digital textbooks in the field (Professional Writing Online). In both Labor, Technology, and Literacy in the Twenty-first Century (co-edited with Pamela Takayoshi) and Lean Technical Communication: Toward Sustainable Program Innovation (with Meredith Johnson and Michele Simmons), you continued a career-long commitment to innovative work, opening room for necessary conversations about the relationships between writing, technology, and design. Significantly, the entirety of your body of work is grounded in a commitment to equity and justice.

The use of the word “innovative” to describe your intellectual contributions is quite deliberate. Indeed, it may not be strong enough. Your student and colleague Bill Hart- Davidson calls your work “visionary.” He notes that four years before Nielsen’s Usability Engineering was published and about the same time that Donald Norman was writing The Design of Everyday Things, you wrote “Beyond a Narrow Conception of Usability Testing,” an article that provides – yet today – a blueprint for the vibrant, multidisciplinary area of work we have since come to call User Experience (UX). You were among the first writers to frame UX as an endeavor grounded in inquiry, in research, and you named a variety of possible uses to which the results of that inquiry could be put at a time when your ideas were uncommon.

For your scholarly work, you have earned many awards, including the 1999 Best Book in Technical or Scientific Communication from NCTE, the 2001 Richard Braddock Award for Best Publication in College Composition and Communication, another six best article awards, and another five awards for teaching and mentoring. This is a partial list. The full list would take the remainder of this page.

The list of accomplishments to this point is remarkable. Those who know you best, however, know that you are perhaps proudest of your work with students and see these relationships and the work your students have produced as your most significant contribution to the field. The list of your PhD students reads like a roster of leaders, leading scholars, and distinguished educators. You have chaired more than 60 dissertations. Roughly 20% of those dissertation projects were published as books. 15 of those projects won national awards, fellowships, or prestigious postdocs.

Your students and colleagues have been effusive in their praise for you and communicate a deep respect for your mentoring and collegiality. They note how your contributions to the field have been influential, visionary (there is that word again), and useful for enabling the work of others. They note that you have continuously made space for the agency of technical communicators, the educators who prepare them, and the scholars who seek to understand how it all works. Mark Hannah notes correctly that you have “touched the lives of many,” and he goes on to note that he is “honored to have [you] as my teacher, mentor, and friend. [Your] commitment to my family, my well-being, and my work as a scholar and teacher is something for which I am forever grateful.” Mark captures beautifully what others have shared and the love so many have for you. Those fortunate to be able to call you “teacher” know that there is no more affectionate, respectful, or truer word for you.

For these reasons, the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing is proud to elevate you to Fellow. We are humbled by your example and proud to call you a colleague.

Selecting Editorial Board Members for Technical Communication Quarterly

At the 2021 SIGDOC editors roundtable, a question was posed by Dr. Lauren E. Cagle, regarding editorial board procedures, specifically the process of becoming a journal editorial board member. With the goal of greater transparency, Technical Communication Quarterly (TCQ) editor-in-chief Dr. Rebecca Walton and managing editor Hannah Stevens are answering this question more thoroughly by explaining the TCQ process for choosing editorial board members in this blog post.

As far as the big-picture process, potential members of the editorial board are proposed by the TCQ editor to the ATTW executive committee for approval. But this explanation raises the question of how potential editorial board members are selected in the first place.

First, a bit of context. Regarding inclusion and equity in academic publishing, research has identified tremendous gender disparities in the publication process including citation gaps (Dworkin et al., 2020; King, 2017; Maliniak, Powers, & Walter, 2013; Pells, 2018), first author disparities (Larivière et al., 2013; West et al., 2013), and fewer women serving on editorial boards and participating in the peer-review process (Cho, et al., 2014; Lerback & Hanson, 2017; Makunga, 2017). Similar disparities exist in terms of racial imbalances in the publication process: e.g., patterns of white authors being cited more frequently, including in scholarship about racial issues (Krayden, 2017; Ray, 2018; Roberts et al., 2020); repeated desk rejections of publishable work (Williams, 2020); and gatekeeping regarding what constitutes academic research (Buchanan, 2019; Delgado, 1984). For journal editors in technical communication, these patterns raise the question, “How might we dismantle the existing exclusionary and oppressive philosophies and practices of reviewing in the field of technical and professional communication and replace them with philosophies and practices that are explicitly anti-racist and inclusive?” (Anti-racist scholarly reviewing practices: A heuristic for editors, reviewers, and authors, 2021).

One answer (and many answers are needed!) is to be proactive about diversifying our editorial board. Some of the types of diversity we seek across the TCQ editorial board include

    • Underrepresented identity factors (e.g., person whose first language is not English, member of underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, person with a disability)
    • Areas of scholarly expertise (e.g., programmatic research, big data, critical theories)
    • Types of educational institution (e.g., land grant university, historically Black college or university (HBCU), religious university)

To develop a baseline understanding of the diversity of TCQ’s editorial board, in spring 2021 Rebecca and then-managing editor Cana Uluak Itchuaqiyaq developed a survey, the design of which was influenced by Itchuaqiyaq’s Multiply Marginalized or Underrepresented (MMU) Scholars List (Itchuaqiyaq, 2020). Rebecca sent this survey to editorial board members.

The results of this survey are supporting current managing editor Hannah Stevens and Rebecca in identifying “thin places” in the coverage of TCQ’s current editorial board (refer to Anti-Racist Scholarly Reviewing Practices #5F). In other words, the survey data helps us to recognize areas in which we need to build additional representation on the editorial board. Currently, based on the survey data, areas of strong representation include editorial board members who do not identify as cisgender men, editorial board members who work for research universities, and editorial board members with scholarly expertise in classroom research/service learning. Example thin places in our current board coverage include scholars who work for HBCUs, scholars who work for religious institutions, scholars with expertise in the history of the field, and scholars with expertise in queer or trans rhetorics.

The survey data is one key factor informing the selection of scholars proposed to the ATTW executive committee, but it’s not the only factor. Some other aspects that we consider when choosing editorial board members are

    • Excellent reviews: If a scholar who’s not on the editorial board produces particularly specific, knowledgeable, and kind review feedback (Alexander, Cheek, Itchuaqiyaq, Shirley, & Walton, 2019), that suggests they could really enrich TCQ’s editorial board.
    • Rotation of board members: If someone has served on the board for an extended time, it might make sense to rotate them off the board for a well-deserved break.
    • Other editorial boards: To diffuse representation across the field and avoid overburdening particular scholars, we tend to invite new members who don’t already serve on editorial boards for other technical communication journals.
    • Capacity to review: TCQ asks editorial board members to commit to reviewing two unique manuscripts (including any revised versions of those manuscripts) per year.

It is important moving forward that academic publishing perform within its power to limit the gatekeeping of the publication process, and the TCQ editorial team recognizes transparency as one such move in the direction of both generally inclusive and specifically anti-racist scholarly publication practices. As Angela Haas states in the ATTW President’s Call to Action, “Witnessing in horror is not enough. Acknowledging our white and light-skinned privilege is not enough. Reading and teaching Black authors is not enough. Being non-racist is not enough” (Haas, 2020). Assessing how we can make change and embracing anti-racist publication practices are the ways that we begin to redress exclusionary and oppressive publication practices.

The factors informing the selection of potential TCQ board members are complex, but we wanted to share this complexity in an effort to be more transparent. In October 2020, Rebecca participated (along with many other technical communication editors) in two listening sessions to invite feedback on ways to make academic publishing more inclusive. One of the main things we learned was the importance of transparency in the work of inclusion. So when a SIGDOC 2021 participant raised the question of how editorial board members are selected and whether this selection process is publicly documented, it revealed to us the need for more transparency. We thank Dr. Cagle for posing the question which led to this blog post.

 By Hannah Stevens (TCQ Managing Editor) and Rebecca Walton (TCQ Editor)


Alexander, J., Cheek, R., Itchuaqiyaq, C. U., Shirley, B., & Walton, R. (2019, March). Specific, knowledgeable, and kind: A heuristic for the journal publication process. Presented at ATTW, Pittsburgh, PA. 

Anti-racist scholarly reviewing practices: A heuristic for editors, reviewers, and authors. (2021). Retrieved from

 Buchanan, N.T. (2019). Researching while Black (and female). Women & Therapy, 43(1-2), 91-111.

 Cho, A.H., Johnson, S.A., Schuman, C.E., Adler, J.M., Gonzalez, O., Graves, S.J., Huebner, J.R., Marchant, D.B., Rifai, S.W., Skinner, I., & Bruna, E.M. (2014). Women are underrepresented on editorial boards of journals in environmental biology and natural resource management, Peer J, 2, doi: 10.7717/peerj.542

 Delgado, R. (1984). The imperial scholar: Reflections on a review of civil rights literature. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 132(3), 561-578.

 Dworkin, J.D., Linn, K.A., Teich, E.G., Zurn, P., Shinohara, R.T., & Bassett, D.S. (2020). The extent and drivers of gender imbalance in neuroscience reference lists. Nat Neuroscience, 23, 918–926

 Hanson, B., & Lerback, J. (2017). Journals invite too few women to referee. Nature, 541, 455- 457.

 Haas, A. (2 June, 2020). ATTW president’s call to action to redress Anti-Blackness and white supremacy.

Itchuaqiyaq, C.U. (7 June, 2021). MMU scholar list. Retrieved from

 King, M.M., Bergstrom, C.T., Correll, S.J., Jacquet, J., & West, D.J. (2017). Men set their own cites high: Gender and self-citation across fields and over time. Socius,

 Larivière, V., Ni, C., Gingras, Y. Blaise, C., & Sugimoto, C.R. (2013) Bibliometrics: Global gender disparities in science. Nature 504, 211–213,

 Makunga, N. (2017). Women scientists lag in academic publishing, and it matters. The C Conversation, 82521#:~:text=The%20gender%20imbalance%20is%20changing%2C%20but%20men%         20still,for%20example%2C%20has%20a%20prominent%20gender%20advancement%20project.

 Maliniak, D., Powers, R., & Walter, B.F. (2013). The gender citation gap in international relations. International Organization, 67(4), 889-992,   

 Pells, R. (2018). Understanding the extent of gender gap in citation. Inside Higher Ed,

 Ray, V. (2018). The racial politics of citation. Inside Higher Ed,

 West J.D., Jacquet J., King M.M., Correll S.J., Bergstrom C.T. (2013). The Role of gender in scholarly authorship. PLoS ONE 8(7).

 Williams, M.T. (2020). Racism in academic publishing. Psychology Today, 

ATTW Statement Against Anti-Asian Racism and Call to Action

On Tuesday, March 16, 2021, eight people were fatally shot in Georgia, including six Asian women who were targeted because of their race, ethnicity, and gender. The Executive Committee of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing bears witness to the white terrorism1 and anti-Asian racism and misogyny that led to the senseless mass murders of Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Paul Andre Michels, Soon Chung Park, Xiaojie Tan, Delaina Ashley Yaun, and Yong Ae Yue. We invoke their names as an acknowledgment of their lives and legacies.

These deaths came on the same day that Stop AAPI Hate2 released its 2020-2021 report3 that covers 3,795 incidents of hate received by the Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center. Though the number of hate incidents against the Asian community is underreported, this and other studies show a steep incline. According to California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, data reveals an increase of 149% in hate crimes against Asian Americans in 2020 compared to 2019, with Asian American women twice as likely to be targeted. 

Despite this spike, Anti-Asian racism is not new in the U.S., nor is the trauma that results. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, forced displacement and migration due to U.S.-led military conflicts in Asia, post-9/11 U.S. surveillance targeting Muslim and South East Asian communities, ICE raids on Asian-owned businesses, and more have influenced present-day anti-Asian rhetoric and hate crimes. A lack of awareness about the historical and contemporary oppression against Asian communities only contributes to the intergenerational trauma Asians experience and the anti-Asian rhetoric others are taught and reproduce. 

Make no mistake: language matters, and how we talk about people matters. We condemn anti-Asian racism. It puts our colleagues, our students, our friends, and our families at risk. Non-Asians have a duty to redress anti-Asian racism in our organizations, institutions, and communities. ATTW is committed to this work, and we understand that countering anti-Asian racism requires coalitional action and active, collective dismantling of the white supremacist structures and values that uphold and sponsor the hate that has been directed at Asian communities across our nation and across the globe.

We call on ourselves, members, colleagues, and friends to: 

This list of pro-Asian tasks isn’t exhaustive. We invite those who desire to be considered allies and accomplices to Asian people and communities to do more research and acquire cultural literacies that will better position us to redress anti-Asian racism in our spheres of influence.

In solidarity,

Angela Haas, President
Natasha Jones, Vice President
Michelle Eble, Past President, Interim Treasurer
Laura Gonzales, Member at Large, ATTW 2021 Conference Program Co-chair
Ann Shivers-McNair, ATTW 2021 Conference Program Co-chair
Ann Blakeslee, ATTW Fellow, Past Treasurer
Michele Simmons, Past President
Han Yu, Member at Large
Kristen Moore, Member at Large
Bill Hart-Davidson, Secretary
Rebecca Walton, Technical Communication Quarterly Editor
Tharon Howard, ATTW Book Series Editor



 1. White terrorism is white supremacy that manifests as acts of terrorism against racial and ethnic minorities. Though often perpetrated by white people, these acts of hate can be committed by anyone who targets racial and ethnic minorities and their communities in white-dominated cultures. 
2. Stop AAPI Hate is a national coalition aimed at addressing anti-Asian discrimination amid the pandemic. It was founded by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON), Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA), and San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies Department.
3. Jeung, Yellow Horse, Popovic, & Lim. (2021). Stop AAPI Hate National Report, 3/19/20-2/28/21.

The Just Use of Imagination: A Call to Action

The Just Use of Imagination: A Call to Action
Natasha N. Jones, ATTW Vice President
Miriam F. Williams, ATTW Fellow

“We must reimagine justice.” — Michelle Alexander (June 8, 2020)

Black folk are nothing if not imaginative. We have always employed the use of our imagination as a means of joy, creativity, innovation–and as a way to survive. Despite centuries of oppressions, we have always imagined a better America. From enslavement when we imagined routes to freedom through coded songs and quilts to Juneteenth where we imagined the realization of emancipation; from Black Wall Street where we imagined new ways to do business, build wealth, and support our communities to HBCUs where we nurtured the minds of future generations of imagineers. We’ve imagined it all. We’ve imagined for generations–in gospel, blues, and jazz, and in the poetry and art of the Harlem Renaissance; to civil rights movements where change-makers like Fred Hampton, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Malcolm X shared their visions of a reimagined America forged in the kiln of countless protests and uprisings that were prayerful, peaceful, liberating, violent, terrifying and everything in between. We’ve imagined leaders–from the Black Panthers who developed ways to protect our people, feed our people, and educate our people to Hip Hop and R&B artists that screamed “Fuck the Police” and called for us to get in “Formation.” We’ve imagined and implemented, produced and designed, fought and fled–from Stonewall to Pose, from Ava Duvernay to Assata Shakur. We’ve learned to imagine because we’ve been taught by the brilliance of Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, and Nikki Giovanni and championed by the formidable intellects of Angela Davis, Patricia Hill Collins, and Michelle Obama, who once said, “For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback” and also affirmed, “I’ve always loved my country.” From the designers, innovators, from the intellectuals to the quilters and cooks, to the farmers and the Fire Next Time that James Baldwin promised. And, as a child, George Floyd imagined being a Supreme Court Justice, while Breonna Taylor imagined becoming a nurse and buying her first home. Black people have envisioned it all. We have willed worlds into existence with our words, our songs, and our images. We have always seen a better America. Imagine that.

Despite this imagining, while America perceives itself to be a nation of imaginative thinkers, often the imagining of Black folks is not productively acknowledged, properly amplified, or respectfully appreciated. And while white America tends to focus on the “progress” of this nation through racialized lenses, Black America has had to grapple with the terrors and tragedies that have come out of the white imagination. White Americans have used their imaginations to create illusions that frame genocide, slavery, and Jim Crow as acceptable in service of the myths of the Land of the Free, American exceptionalism, and a great modern democracy. White supremacy and racism is what Toni Morrison calls “a profound neurosis that nobody examines for what it is.” She said, “White people have a very, very serious problem and they should start thinking about what they can do about it. Take me out of it.”

That “it” is an imaginative American illusion that has led us to this moment. In this moment of a 50-state protest against police brutality, a world-wide pandemic, surging unemployment and food insecurity, attacks on our elections from inside and out, and industry’s unwillingness to produce basic supplies for health and safety, it is time for us, for you, to dismantle the illusion, to employ a just use of imagination.

Jacqueline Jones Royster and Gesa E. Kirsch, feminist scholars and rhetoricians, defined the term “critical imagination” as “an inquiring tool, a mechanism for seeing the noticed and the unnoticed, rethinking what is there and not there, and speculating about what could be there instead” (p. 20). In fact, engaging critical imagination as feminist rhetorical practice, Royster and Kirsch (2012) assert that “such inquiry strategies allow us to engender an ethos of humility, respect, and care (p. 21). In this historic moment, when yet again the collective Black community is called forth to proclaim that our lives matter, that Black Lives Matter, we extend this idea of critical imagination to calls for justice and equality. As such, we call for the just use of imagination.

The just use of imagination does not solely rebuild and reform. Instead, the just use of imagination simultaneously supports the deconstruction and abolishment of oppressive practices, systems, and institutions. A just use of imagination allows for a rejection of legal, economic, social, political structures that are founded on exploitation, colonization, disenfranchisement, and marginalization. A just use of imagination recognizes that redress and remedy must follow behind a refusal to adhere to the confines and constraints of the status quo and this requires an acknowledgement that oppressive systems and institutions are indeed not broken or faulty, rather that they are working purposefully as designed–in support of white supremacist and racist ideas and ideals. In this way, a just use of imagination is not destructive, even as it seeks to dismantle, because using imagination in this way also calls for the replacement of oppressive practices with systems that are founded on equality, access, and opportunity. What can you imagine? And, how does this use of imagination not only shift perspective, but work to ensure the realization of justice and equality?

The just use of imagination is not just conceptual. It must be enacted. Without this enactment, a re-envisioning is relegated to the realm of fiction and future. The just use of imagination is applicable (in that it must be applied) and employed in our current realities in service of justice and equality RIGHT NOW, not later. John Lennon’s “Imagine” is fine, but a just use of imagination is steeped in reality and action. It is not navel gazing and hand wringing. Remember, Dr. King had a dream, policy initiatives, and plans. It is not decision-making trees and moral reasoning and pretending we don’t know right from wrong. In this way, the just use of imagination is a tool, rather than an ideological stance because it requires active engagement. The just use of imagination is praxis, where theory meets practices in service of re-shaping the lived experiences of marginalized and oppressed peoples. The just use of imagination cannot take up static residence in the heads and hearts of allies and accomplices. The just use of imagination must be transformative.

To be clear, Black folks have been imagining justice for centuries: imagining our streets without police and police violence; imagining preventative healthcare that is available and affordable to all of us; imagining that gardens replace food deserts; imagining that sustainable consumption replaces consumerism; imagining that the goal of education is inspiration rather than institutionalization; imagining that art and creativity inform our philosophy of life, and imagining that our lived, collective experiences of oppression will be understood as profoundly human, and as such, deserving of liberation, protection, and dignity.

We are tired.

Dismantling white supremacy requires your work. How might you make a difference? Just use your imagination.

Alexander, M. (2020, June 8). America, this is your chance. New York Times.

Royster, J. J. & Kirsch, G. E. (2012). Feminist rhetorical practices: New horizons for rhetoric, composition, and literacy studies. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University