Featured Artist: Derek Fenner, Post Two

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RACE & TRAUMA ACCORDION BOOK

This 21-page accordion book came out of nowhere. It happened over the course of about 7 hours while in a seminar with Dr. Kenneth V. Hardy at the Psychotherapy Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, in May of this year.

Surrounded by therapists and mental health workers, myself, and my colleague, were the only two educators in the room. It was quite the experience. Information density was at peak levels and I was consumed by language and story as Dr. Hardy delivered punch after punch of relevant material for my work as an educator and human.

I think I carried this accordion book around for two months after making it. I could not be without it. I was referencing it constantly. At some point this summer I was tasked with composing my first column for the Caucus of Social Theory and Art Education for the National Art Education Association’s newsletter. Here is the text from that column, which I wrote almost entirely directly from my accordion book.

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Caucus of Social Theory and Art Education / Summer 2015

“They call us resilient to justify the harmful things they are doing to us, and to justify the past.”

This is a paraphrased quote from a classroom discussion this past year in an Arts-Based Research course that I have been leading with 15 high school bridge program youth. My students were having a dialogue around police brutality and their own lived experiences. It was a moment of profound learning for me; to have young people reflect and reject back resilience theory in this way, provided me with a translated view of adult discourse. In our course we spent a lot of time unpacking the theory of biopolitics, an intersectional field of study in social theory that denotes the social and political power over life (Foucault & Senellart, 2008). As a white educator in a setting of almost entirely black and brown youth, I treaded lightly while highlighting the theory. I wanted to offer space for these young people to be seen and heard as they discovered and named the ways that biopolitics, and more broadly, capitalism, controlled young bodies. I would have to lean on more than just my readings in social theory. It was important for me to move into a place where dialogues were co-constructed to move from “oppression analysis” into a more permeable space, one with a bit of hope.

Derek post 2 rage is something you have...

I wanted to find a way to make room for the anger over the extrajudicial killings of black men in our nation that would certainly surface as we investigated ideas of oppressive legacies in western expansion and colonialism. In an effort to become more trauma literate in my classroom, I attended a workshop with Dr. Kenneth V. Hardy, in Berkeley, California. Hardy’s workshop, entitled, “Race and Trauma in Contemporary Society,” was for psychotherapists, providing strategies for addressing race-related issues within relationships and community. I wasn’t prepared for how relevant these strategies would be for bringing social theory into the community.

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Hardy spent some time in his workshop building on examples of how voicelessness leads to rage and that rage is a byproduct of things that are done to a person. “Racial oppression is a traumatic form of interpersonal violence which can lacerate the spirit, scar the soul, and puncture the psyche” (Hardy, 2013). Hardy ended his lecture with a list of tasks for participants in order to have constructive conversations about race and social identity. I have found these tasks extremely helpful in leading my students in arts-based research around social theories and contemporary struggles, especially as a way to allow “rage” a place in the educational setting. “Rechanneled rage can be a powerful energy source helping youth of color to discover and cultivate what is great in and about them” (Hardy, 2013).

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In these types of dialogues, the tasks of the privileged include:

  • Focus on consequences of your actions rather than intentions.
  • Do not equalize the suffering of the subjugated by sharing experiences that could overwrite their experience.
  • Avoid what Hardy terms “Privempathy”, privileged empathy. This step means that 99% of what you should be doing is listening, rather than inserting your own experience.
  • Develop a thick skin. Don’t take it personally when your privilege is highlighted.

Tasks for the subjugated include:

  • Overcome voicelessness. Tell your story.
  • Develop a relationship with rage and learn to channel it.
  • Stop taking care of the privileged.

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References

Foucault, M., & Senellart, M. (2008). The birth of biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-79. Basingstoke [England: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hardy, K. (2013). Healing the Hidden Wounds of Racial Trauma. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 22(1), 24-28.

 

’til soon,

Derek

One thought on “Featured Artist: Derek Fenner, Post Two

  1. Dear Derek,
    I really appreciate you sharing the writing that has emerged from your accordion book. A couple of things jump out to me. 1. How this practice of accordion book making is so connected to you as an educator, activist, researcher and student and the threads it builds between a seminar on psychotherapy, a class on race and trauma, your own teaching with students on Arts Based Research and ultimately a piece of writing you put out into the world. I would love to hear more about the strategies that you have for yourself or teach your students as you construct these connected threads.
    2. The particular quote “They call us resilient to justify the harmful things they are doing to us, and to justify the past.” This is so true of marginalised communities across the world. The terms “resilience” and “creativity” are used in such non-authentic ways as justification for survival. I am interested to see how your youth theorise this is a non-dichotomous way and the terms they would like to use to define their strengths.
    Thanks again so much for sharing,
    Arzu

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