This is the second of a two-part series by Dr. Tahtzee Nico on Peripeteia. The first, “Peripeteia: A Poem,” may be found here.
by Dr. Tahtzee Nico
Educational activism in a liberatory framework exists on a spectrum. Educational activism could be creating space for communities to voice their needs, performing walkouts, using subversiveness and insurgency of policy implementation, or refusing and rerouting pedagogical purpose and curricular or theoretical imaginings. What is considered activism or revolutionary to some may not seem as impactful to others. Herein lies the nuance of activism and role delineation. Who leads, who follows, who knows themselves to be versatile? Thus, it is important to focus on what constitutes action and what its collective desired outcome is for those who exist in its interplay.
When I speak of the “we,” the “us,” and the “our,” I speak of the marginalized—Indigenous peoples of color that have been coercively migrated and impacted by genocidal efforts of imperialism and colonization. To whom are we making our curriculum relevant to, responsive to, sustainable for and how? When we teach, build analysis, critique, mutually support each other, mobilize—it is an art of fluid curvatures—a bodice of consistent contortion and metamorphosis out of necessity, things hoped for and things yet imagined that knows how to move as independent parts collectively and in consultation with each other from the epigenetic marrow of oppressed peoples.
Education without liberation coerces us into the cosplay of capitalism, extraction, and exploitation for assimilative purposes within the political economy; bludgeoned with reminders of what our roles are. In contrast, educational activism gives us the ability to create abundance, to adapt and thrive in an ecosystem designed to be barren for those of us whose tongues have been cut out, from those of us who have been torn and whipped and hanged by imperialism. We dance, and our strategies are choreographies that are proactive, organic, relevant, responsive, sustainable, and augmentable. Our dance is an interpretive one, coded with a self-determined validation, confidence, and resolve in diaphragm, dialect, and syntax within song. Our bodies know the way. Trust these movements that flow from our bodies like honey—slow and deliberate.
Our work in pursuit of justice may be interrupted at times. Nevertheless, the responses of oppressive hegemony are predictable when we pursue new ecosystemic, human, and spatial geographic shifts that seek interdependence, health, and prosperity. Oppressive hegemony responses to pursuits of liberation are always anticipated and predictable. In this, we find ways through educational activism to maneuver how knowledge—new and old—can be disseminated to those who wish to come to a place where our construction of post-humanity is biomorphic.
Educational activism exists as a design that intends to encapsulate the shapes, growth, and movement of new non-oppressive ways of being, but it dares not to have an image of an unbendable mold in mind. Needs change and conditions necessary for that growth do as well. Post-humanity prepares itself for what it has already witnessed as an exclusionary failure. Post-humanity breathes its understanding of its own dedication and fallibility. In reference to that flexibility and dismissal of exclusion, post-humanity construction catalyzed by educational activism’s breadth is an expanded version of what E. Patrick Johnson conceptualizes as “quare.” The quare, as a politic, dismantles the continued exclusion of racialized intersections by rejecting the existence of a sole lived experience. In this, Johnson states:
‘‘Quare,’’ on the other hand, not only speaks across identities, it articulates identities as well. ‘‘Quare’’ offers a way to critique stable notions of identity and, at the same time, to locate racialized and class knowledges. My project is one of recapitulation and recuperation. I want to maintain the inclusivity and playful spirit of ‘‘queer’’ that animates much of queer theory, but I also want to jettison its homogenizing tendencies…”
Oppression, broadly, doesn’t want the quare(ing) of things. Our purpose as marginalized peoples under oppression is an existence where we are expected to capitulate to and absorb pain; to be too occupied with surviving that we can do nothing else. In addition, oppressive education uses its authoritative normalization to pursue goals of intergenerational indoctrination, infantilization, and dehumanization that thrives off of banalization. This banalization manifests in creating pain, dismissing it, and deeming our reactions to it, ones of hysteria. In the face of this, the oppressed must dance, shake, agitate, reject, be the iconoclast of the traditions of whiteness that do not serve us, gather our memories and plant new ones in fields of pain, ambivalence, and joy. Make oppressive indoctrination consternate, resist and let us use our magnetic spirits to move our bodies to find each other beyond bondage of trauma by using what Moraga and Anzaldua coined as Theories in the Flesh. To expand, E. Patrick Johnson states that, “Theories in the flesh also conjoin theory and practice…through an embodied politics of resistance. This politics of resistance is manifest in vernacular traditions such as performance, folklore, literature, and verbal art.”
For some time, I have attempted to understand why society makes monsters out of those who solely seek their liberation. My reflection led to the conclusion that it is because oppression needs those in which it oppresses to exist and exist under its power, guise, and gaze. To hate and brutalize who one needs to feel valued. To be infuriated when the othered start getting free. To make us feel ugly, incompetent, worthless—whose ethnocentric mirrors, books and wallets? We rebuke it all.
If education is what creates societies—changing the curriculum and the pedagogy seems appropriate. A curriculum should not misappropriate our time by spending it on convincing others of a hegemonically defined humanity we were never meant to be able to embody. In this, we need curriculum and action beyond critical inquiry. How do we manifest that roadmap of curriculum that deconstructs oppression’s dynamic? Maybe, we dismantle the obsession with fundamentalist solutions so that we could have the ability to reconcile and course correct our mistakes. To practice and model that reconciliatory and corrective behavior in ways that are recherché and that have rarely been seen or valued before. We make use of the lacuna—our theoretical and pragmatic gaps—for un/learning, meaning making, space creation and as a measurement of work yet to be done.
When we seek action through the medium of education, we must attend to how education is defined. It is not solely formal or informal, though there are specific purposes and useful strategies to both in breaking down structural oppression and building up something new. With this, the dance of navigating space and the notion of safety become specific to context. How do we use dance as defense, of eloquent offense, and how do we ultimately choreograph dance that takes power away from oppressive hegemony by refusing to participate in its game?
This game—a game designed by oppressors—is one of polemics and subjugation. A game whose ultimate goal is a coerced soul-sucking shuffle for the marginalized. Oppression dances with us, takes our hands… strategically slides neoliberal capitalism to a few of us into our pockets—slyly—with a pirouette of subterfuge in manipulative hopes of generating relative deprivation. Oppression slips just enough into our pockets as we comingle with it for survival within this system, to ponder composing and proselytize a song of libertarian bootstrap proof and praise. It is the dance of manipulation—the long intergenerational con. Through educational activism, we study its movement. We take care to not replicate its steps while creating our own dance of new liberatory political economies. This dance is intertwined with imagination and innovation that uses metacognition and all senses, including our sixth, in its co-construction and constitution. Educational activism’s role is to make learning spaces our place to ponder how to manifest our imaginations and elude authoritarianism. An authoritarianism that seeks to create barriers to economic, physical, systemic, post-human geographic, spatial, psychological, and physiological liberation. By using our malleable and augmentable dances, we breathe the air of the intangible and exhale possibilities that crystalize manifestations of that liberation. This is no Sisyphean endeavor.
The nature of an educational activist dance is not one that stays etched in time forever on slates of one dimensional dogmatic proclamations. It is subversive, insurgent, insurrectionary. Explicit, implied, encrypted. It is a lesson, a legacy, a memory. It is ephemeral, a gossamer and a goosebumps. Educational activism is a tiptoe of metamorphosing collective symphonies that gyrate and twerk the corybantic body into liberation that thwarts oppression into dissolution. This is no time for limitations, but instead is a time for collective liminality. We dance for a spiritual evocation and acknowledge liberation’s purpose when it arrives temporarily or as an enduring force. When our bodies twist, they give off the effervescence of what liberation can taste like: reaching, arms wide and souls open to ways of being in the past and present progressive construction of futures.
Those who cannot and do not feel safe to act are empowered by community and are not to be left behind. Sometimes we have to dance with treble alone to find our own rhythm and tempo before we move into collective jubilee with bass. Sometimes the music… just ain’t right. Sometimes we are the drummers instead of the dancers, sometimes we interchange. Sometimes we just need to still ourselves. And in this, self and cultural work is realized to be work of action and inaction.
In educational activism, we bump into each other as we heave what we have internalized. We dance as a heartbeat—untying the knots of our trauma. Through this, we see the beauty and the harm in some of the entanglements we weave and have woven. We move to create elegantly blended salves to place on each other’s wounds, to work, to heal, and to educate on healing and transformation. With the welts, seen and unseen, with the internal and epithelial cartography of scars—we tell stories and we embody formidable fortitude. We tell stories that we dance to, stories that teach us that fable and folklore are derived from flesh. We look to build curriculum and be the pedagogues that teach each other how to refrain from reproducing debilitating hurt. These things are the prosperous and germinating seedlings of the marginalized. We seek not to be trivial adornments of achievements or static shelf pieces—we seek liberation over soulless applause. Our true reverberating applause is the cadence of our footsteps, our voices, as well as our rising, falling, and swaying hips and limbs that cannot be caught or captured by onomatopoeia. Limbs and hips, our hearts and synapses with respective roles harmonize, flow, and coalesce in tandem despite variance in levels of contextual precision and techniques. Do not look at your watch/ do not keep time, this dance to educate and act is not one that has an end. Its vicissitudes are wearisome, but worthy of breath. Save energy for that fire, that life breath, and sway away from controverting with advocates of the devil. Harness ecstatic dispositions, use intuition as fuel as we hold adamantly to our duty to one another.
Be boisterous—bang on pots and pans and drums and strum chords that stir one’s soul—for it is pivotal and prosperous as we move. This dance is black eyed peas, cornbread and collard greens. Dismiss the notion that your movement is trivial or Lilliputian. Educational activism is engrained with what Aída Hurtado frames as the endarkened epistemology. Endarkened epistemology is defined as the ways in which the racialized have used their ways of knowing to build analysis and language that includes and validates our experiences, problematizes and rejects the literary, semiotic, structural and verbal implications of lights’ goodness—of whiteness—and challenges the proliferated narrative of darkness and its cross-contextual sinister nature.
Therefore, with these endarkened epistemologies we use educational activism as a cultural movement; multiple alchemic dances. The dance of educational activisms assist us in reaching the areas of liberation that were once considered unreachable and ensures that the marginalized of the marginalized are never forgotten because—they are the ones who invite us to dance.
Tahtzee Nico identifies as Black, queer, trans non-binary and from the south (Montgomery, Alabama). Tahtzee has obtained a B.S. in Interpersonal and Public Communication, an M.A. in Urban Affairs and an EdD with a focus on liberatory pedagogy, processes and ecosystemic productions. Tahtzee has worked in womxn and gender studies within higher education, racial justice program development and management in non-profit, equity health research and educational policy implementation within the government sector. Tahtzee Nico currently resides in Portland, Oregon where they are currently working towards developing a publishing company for queer and trans POC narratives.