Christopher Emdin with Emily Bailin

Emdin

Dr. Chris Emdin

Dr. Christopher Emdin is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he also serves as Director of Science Education at the Center for Health Equity and Urban Science Education. He is also a Caperton Fellow and Hip-Hop Archive Fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University. Here in conversation with Emily Bailin, a doctoral student in the Communication and Education department at Teachers College, the two discuss everything from Dr. Emdin’s most recent work, to the music he is listening to, his relationship with the Twitter-sphere, and the role of multimodal representations of knowledge in academia (video and transcript below).

EMILY BAILIN

So you were just away for a year in Boston, at Harvard, on sabbatical—

CHRISTOPHER EMDIN

—I was on a kind of sabbatical. Sabbatical is supposed to be a rest and it wasn’t quite a rest but part of it was a bit of an intellectual awakening, not having to do the every day and just sit and sink in your own thoughts, was really super helpful.

EMILY BAILIN

So tell me a little more specifically, or give a few more details about what you were doing there.

CHRISTOPHER EMDIN

Yeah, so I was out there at the Du Bois Institute. I was a Caperton Fellow, and Hip Hop Archive Fellow. The Caperton Fellowship is given to folks who are doing innovative work in education. And the Hip Hop Archive fellows are folks who are doing work in Hip Hop. I am in many ways at the intersection of Hip Hop and education, and so I got this fellowship. The education piece was that I was supposed to be taking time out to work on my new book—which I got a chance to do, it should be out in the spring. And the Hip Hop Archive piece was to help bring a certain level of energy to the work that’s being done at the archive because they’re expanding from a hip hop archive to a hip hop archive and research institute, and so I did a lot of educational research and sharing ideas. Other than that, it was just what I described earlier – getting a chance to swim in my own thoughts, using the resources that were there to do that, meeting a bunch of scholars that I’ve always wanted to meet and hang out with, and then meeting a different group of students than my students here. Towards the end of it, it kind of turned out to be less of a sabbatical and more like what it’s like here. I’d be hanging out with students a lot, they would show up at my office hours, and we’d bounce ideas about theory and research around. For the first piece of the sabbatical, I got to sneak away a little bit and be alone in my thoughts about education and hip hop and how they come together and about using new theoretical frameworks to explore work with hip hop youth. All of those ideas were sort of coming together more concretely than they were before. So that was my year.

EMILY BAILIN

You just said you had this awakening, and time to swim in your thoughts, but what are some of the things that you learned about yourself personally, or as an academic?

CHRISTOPHER EMDIN

I don’t’ think it was necessarily a discovery of new things. It was a rediscovery of old things – a sort of going back to my roots in many ways. It’s so funny to use the word awakening to describe the process. Maxine Greene’s “wide awakeness” is a framework that I use to view the necessary work of educators. To get to the point when you are mindful, wide-awake, to possibilities and connections that you might have lost. I really had a chance to go back to my roots, my commitment to critical pedagogy, like just swimming back in the work of Paolo—I keep using the term swimming, but it really was like I was in water, immersed in all of it, reading again. Sometimes as an academic, and as a scholar, when you are seen as a producer of knowledge, your main task becomes producing knowledge. So you’re writing blogs, you’re writing articles, you’re giving speeches—you’re sharing your knowledge and we oftentimes forget that the extent of the knowledge we give to people is a reflection of the knowledge we have received, that the body and our experiences become the filter through which we make sense of existing work we have consumed. You can’t have the powerful stuff filter through you without reading it. So I got the chance to just read again. Like, fall back in love with Joe Kincheloe’s work, with Maxine Greene’s early work, like go back and read my early musings on education. Seeing if I am true to who I said I was going to be, going into this work in higher education and this academic space. And that’s what I got a chance to do, and in doing so it helped me to think about what I wanted to put together in this book. I wanted to write something that an educator could pick up and say, “Wow, I can do what’s on page 15, I can do what’s on page 20, I can do what’s on page 46,” and at the same time give them something that will make them think more deeply about their role in urban spaces as an educator.

So the year allowed me to figure out all those things. I come back to TC energetic, with the passion rekindled. Sometimes on the path to tenure you’re just doing—like part of it is just doing good work and not thinking about it, but at the same time considering the pressures. The political pressure, what it means to have tenure, or not have tenure. The pressure of who’s writing your external letters, who isn’t. Is the Provost okay with this brand of work that I’m doing? You can spend so much time second guessing yourself that you don’t move with the urgency that the work requires, and now with this year away and that hurdle behind me, I get to reposition myself and do work that I believe in more fervently. That’s where I am now.

EMILY BAILIN

So, when I’m picturing the Hip Hop archive, I’m picturing it underground, dusting off records—

CHRISTOPHER EMDIN

Yeah, it’s kind of that and not. It’s kind of glossier, and it’s Harvard and there’s a lot that comes with that. But the Hip Hop Archive is a dope place. So, Professor Morgan – and that’s one of the great things that has happened to me this year, like, I met Professor Morgan – she has turned into a mentor. It’s like a place where you walk in there and it just looks hip hop. There’s a great graffiti piece, there’s a black board where the kids can walk in and tag up, there are two turntables, there’s vinyl all over the place, there are showcases of books that have been done on hip hop—mostly Hip Hop studies stuff, not as much education – there’s a TV screen that’s constantly playing Hip Hop videos, there’s sneakers dangling. It’s all done in a way that’s aesthetically pleasing and polished, but it’s raw at the same time.

One thing I thought is that it should be replicated in so many other places. I know Cornell has a Hip Hop archive that Africa Bambaataa is affiliated with, and my work is trying to work to create those Hip Hop-ish places in the Bronx, which is the birthplace of Hip Hop. So, like, I’m working on some things now to bring actual physical structures within the borough that bring forth its actual Hip Hop roots with the idea that if kids see something real and tangible that they can touch and feel and be in and walk in, that it will reawaken their Hip Hop sensibilities that get dulled in commercialized Hip Hop and media saturated images that are sold and marketed as Hip Hop, but are so not Hip Hop. In order for you to awaken who you are, sometimes you need to be in a space that allows you to call forth who you are, and that’s a piece of my work that has re-emerged this last year too. Really delving deeply into knowledge of self and what does that mean, and how does knowledge of self in Hip Hop, as a fifth element in Hip Hop and identity, play into and against slave narratives and indigenous notions of self. How do the role identities that we play out because of media saturated images of what Hip Hop should be, how do they shade over the core identities? It’s almost like something covering over and putting pressure over our core. What are the things that we have to be awakened, and young people have to allow to be awakened, to be their true authentic selves in light of the scripts that are being written about them? I think part of that work is to create the spaces that call forth this genetic and spiritual connection to authentic indigenous representations of Hip Hop. That piece requires understanding knowledge of self, that spirituality piece is calling me now and I’m reframing my work through that lens.

EMILY BAILIN

And is that related to your work in Black churches and barbershops?

CHRISTOPHER EMDIN

Yeah, the Pentecostal pedagogy?

EMILY BAILIN

Yes, the barbershops are these spaces that have so much tradition, so much history in the Black community, that are these places of awakening and reawakening in the community.

CHRISTOPHER EMDIN

I think I now have the language to describe what I always knew made sense. So I’ve been trying to write about this—about the barbershop as a site for transformative pedagogy and the power of Pentecostal pedagogy, and how the church and the barbershop awaken something in young people that can be brought into schools. I didn’t quite have the language to describe what was happening, but I kept doing research on barbershops and literally, every Sunday, going to Black churches. And what it is, is those spaces awaken the inner person, the core identity—it even predates Hip Hop, but Hip Hop is the only word that we have to describe the process—so it awakens the inner Hip Hop, although it’s deeper than being just rooted in Hip Hop. It’s something that has existed before we could use the phrase or term Hip Hop—but good teaching awakens that thing. There is something about the barbershop and the Black church. Those spaces that call forth the self—they allow you to develop a knowledge of self, in a way that’s not going out to acquiring knowledge and fill yourself with information, but being in the space to be vulnerable and comfortable enough to allow the knowledge to soak into you. I think the idea of going out to acquire knowledge, that’s a very Anglo way to describe knowledge. That model privileges the accumulation of information. I think knowledge is something that you have within you that gets awakened by experiences. The barbershop and the church are spaces of awakening because they create the context that allows that to happen. They open up spaces for knowledges to be able to spring forth from you. When you’re into those spaces that call forth these spiritual dimensions of learning, this spiritual history, and also this genetic history or memory. I’m playing with this idea also, of the possibilities of a genetic cultural history and memory, like what do new ideas from evolutionary biology have to do with these powerful sites for teaching and learning like the barbershop. What are those things that we perceive to be cultural phenomena that are deeper than that? Can it be possible that saying something was passed down by oral tradition or family history is a superficial rendering of the complexities of, perhaps, those things that may be cultural and genetic? What if the response to oral traditions and story for certain populations is a genetic disposition? What if the way that a bass line and rhythm moves someone is not a response to an external stimuli, but rather a genetic response that calls you to be attuned to those kinds of things, and awakens you? So I’m just playing with all those concepts and using them to expand the work of Hip Hop pedagogy.

In addition to my work, I am also the biggest fan of Hip Hop education. Anything that’s remotely close to Hip Hop education I consume and love and embrace. At the same time, I understand that the field can’t move forward until there’s another level and another layer. I think we’ve come to the point where there’s an over-saturation with the superficial with this kind of work because it’s still new. People get excited with the first layer of the work so we could just play with the idea of “Oh my gosh, you can rhyme in classrooms, Oh my gosh, b-boying is important.” I think now we’re at a juncture where now we’re able to advance the scholarship and pedagogy beyond that first layer. I think the Hip Hop studies folks have done this more than we have as educators. To advance Hip Hop pedagogy we have to advance the lenses through which we view the work, and engage deeper theoretical frameworks when we explain or describe the work. We need to draw from frameworks that go beyond the notion of what frameworks are, but use our own lenses. The idea of the five elements of Hip-Hop as a theoretical framework for studying Hip-Hop needs to be explored. This idea of genetic dispositions and cultural memory and responses to rhythm and cadence and new locations as the sites of and models of teaching and learning need to be explored. We need to explore those kinds of things. I get goose bumps thinking about it because it’s powerful. It’s a powerful way to re-look at your own work, and at yourself. Turning an internal mirror on yourself. Asking self, like maybe I haven’t done the Hip Hop Ed movement justice by presenting only superficial aspects of the work for the purpose of making it palatable to others. I have to check myself too. It’s the work. All of this is the work.

EMILY BAILIN

It’s a process. I was thinking about multiple lenses. You’re repositioning yourself because this was so new, so let’s play with it, let’s explore. Now, it’s layering on top of each other and still trying to clarify and have whatever you’re looking at come into focus.

CHRISTOPHER EMDIN

That was beautiful. That’s exactly what it is. As we evolve and we become more critical of self and the work, we become more critical about how we describe it, and all of us who do this work benefit from it. I say this all the time. We have not even scratched the surface, I mean that’s even an understatement with the potential of the field of Hip hop education and its study in classrooms. People are getting excited about what’s happened in the past couple of years, and decade, and we haven’t even gone anywhere yet. Were still describing it. We haven’t even started deconstructing it yet. It’s like a big rock and we’re still marveling at the surface of it, not even understanding that there’s layers and if you chip away at a piece of it and see these striations—pardon these scientific metaphor—but it’s so layered, so in depth. I’m so honored to have the privilege to be a scholar doing this work at this time in this field of study. It’s the most amazing opportunity to have. I’m so humbled to be able to be doing this work for the culture. It’s an enormous responsibility, and it’s an enormous honor to be one of the folks to do this work, and I never take that for granted. Every time I sit and have a conversation like this, that always re-emerges, like, man, how lucky and blessed and humbled and honored can you be to be in this place and time doing this work. It’s crazy. It’s like dangerous times in many ways because of how the work is being coopted, but at the other spectrum, the level of brilliance of scholarship that’s happening is crazy. Right now there’s the superficial academic work, and then there are the folks in the trenches who were doing crazy stuff, then there are academics who are giving the public the simple stuff they want, but when you talk with them they know what’s happening. It’s just such an amazing time to do this work.

EMILY BAILIN

Also, it’s not only something in your path – it’s in your core. You’re from the Bronx and Brooklyn, you are Hip Hop, born and raised… so it’s the depth of the investment…

CHRISTOPHER EMDIN

Crazy. That’s a piece of it. This is why folks who do this brand of work end up privileging qualitative research because for me, for example, there are no quantitative measures I can think of to describe what it feels like to be 12 living in Brooklyn in the era I did. That informs everything about this work. It’s so crazy because it positions and frames you in a way within this thing called Hip Hop. You know, everybody comes at Hip Hop from different lenses, you know, somebody could be Hip Hop and come to the culture yesterday—except I feel like I have had 30+ years learning, breathing, researching. You know, the stuff I was doing when I was 13 with Hip Hop that I’m doing now as part of my research. When I was 13, I would hear a song on the radio, you know Hot 97 which is still around, or not, depends on who you ask. I’d record songs from the radio and play them back and try to write down and analyze the lyrics. Well, now, 2014 that’s what I do for a living! So I’ve kind of found a way to hone my craft, just peel away the layers of Hip-Hop text; I’ve done that my whole entire life. This is part of why I feel so privileged to do work that I’ve been called to do. It’s like my skill set as a researcher and my lived experience are one and the same—it’s the same thing—living and being from the Bronx, it’s all a part of the whole thing. My family moved to the Bronx from Brooklyn when I was 12. Just by walking every day to school, I was preparing for my life’s work. When I taught for the first time, the school was on 3rd Avenue in the Bronx. On my way to work, I was walking past the same places that the original b boys and MCs walked. Today, I can walk through those places with ease because it’s my home. I can identify a crevice in a wall or a graffiti piece that didn’t get covered up yet that has been there since ‘79. Just knowing the Bronx that intimately as a fan of the culture, a product of the culture, a writer of the culture, everything – it allows you to have such a respect for it, and also a sense of responsibility. I really feel a sense of responsibility. I know it sounds crazy, but I feel responsible for doing Hip Hop education justice because I’ve seen it. I mean, I remember Hip Hop ed when it wasn’t a movement. It was a thing I did in my classroom and saw on the street corners. I lived it. I saw it on the basketball courts, OGs (Original gangsters) holding court, schooling the youngins, and interacting with them in ways that I ask teachers to do—I saw teaching as powerful because OGs were doing it. As a student, I would listen to that dude cuz his sneakers were fresh. Those kind of things are the things that we want teachers to be able to understand. The power of the aesthetic, the visual, the look. The being able to be Hip Hop even in a suit and tie. All of those things I learned by being in it, and seeing it, and studying it. Now, studying it from a different angle, or from a different institution or location, from a more privileged position in many ways, but still doing the same kind of stuff. It’s dope.

EMILY BAILIN

I was thinking about #hiphoped Twitter chat on Tuesday. For you (@chrisemdin), what role does twitter play in your life and your work. What place does it have…

CHRISTOPHER EMDIN

It’s amazing. It’s Hip Hop. The idea that people from different places can come together under one banner to be able to have conversations about a topic that is important to them, is Hip Hop. Like, “One Nation Under the Groove”? The idea of “One Nation Under the Groove,” is that people in all places would come together under the groove, that funk, that brings them all together. What social media does is it allows folks from different geographical places to come together to inhabit space together. And in that space your authentic self can be revealed, whereas in geographic place there are different versions of self that play themselves out or that you have to play out. So that’s why I love Twitter. It’s helped us to brand #HipHopEd as a thing, as an entity, and we’re still in the early phases of that because that’s also inherently Hip Hop; you gotta brand it, you gotta have hoodies and snapbacks and all that. We’re lacking a little bit in the branding aspect right now because we’re doing the intellectual work, but the intellectual work allows us to push forth the brand of #HipHopEd and that’s important because if we can brand #HipHopEd, it allows us to open the door to find out what it’s about when its in the hands of the people. Twitter allows us to do promotion, but also to put out that call to likeminded souls and spirits around the globe to build fellowship and have a virtual cypher every Tuesday at 9PM. It’s also about being able to give a voice back against existent narratives about us. You know, the BET awards play out, but we’re able to give—you know, this was dope about it, but that was suspect—“hey teachers, when you go to class tomorrow you have to have a conversation with your students about this part of the BET awards, we have the analysis. We can help you open spaces in your classroom to have critical conversations about it.”

So #HipHopEd on Twitter has opened up spaces for online professional development; it’s a space for likeminded souls and spirits; it’s a promotional tool; it’s education. Who says that education has to only exist between the confines of four walls with a blackboard or a smartboard. Who says? Whose definition of education do we have to ascribe to? It’s not law. I’ve had #HipHopEd sessions on a Tuesday night that I’ve learned more from that than from my classes when I was in grad school. I’ve had #HipHopEd sessions that have allowed me to look at my research differently. We have a ninth grader on there, a parent on there, a professor on there, a grad student on there, and a public advocate on there, all having conversations on a topic. Through them, I get keen insight on different people’s perspectives. Last night’s Twitter chat! There was a kid on there, I think he was from DC, who’s like the reason why kids keep drinking—it’s not about the alcohol per se, kids just want to be liked—so I get to have access to a 16-year-old to ask what is it that makes that the thing that makes you liked. The platform gives me the opportunity to make personal connections. It gives me deeper insight into my work.

Any of these tools can be used to do whatever. You know, people can use Twitter to spread hate. People do use Twitter to spread hate. Or, you can use Twitter as a space to build collective transformation and build solidarity, and make connections, and go deeper into research, and spread love. I’m playing with this idea of looking at #HipHopEd as digital ethnography, you know, because we have all the Twitter chats from three years ago curated with everyone’s tweets and growth and development and contributions. Through this platform, we have new ways of looking at, and engaging with people and have new ways of capturing their experiences. Twitter is also how we got this new #HipHopEd book going. Tim Jones (@tdj6899) and I put out a call for proposals, got a bunch of my grad students, a couple of professors and a bunch of folks from #HipHopEd on Twitter. Having contributors from different places and fields allows us to deconstruct hierarchies that only privilege academics and that’s key. Just because Chris Emdin is a professor at Teachers College at Columbia doesn’t mean he has more to say than a 13 year old middle school student from DC. We can all share together and the #HipHopEd book is a reflection of that. It should be out next summer. Tim and I got these amazing chapters from everyone from PhD’s to high school dropouts who all have a lot to say about Hip Hop and education. We wouldn’t have gotten that wide range of contributors unless we had Twitter. It’s a dope tool, I’m a fan of it. It’s helped the field of Hip Hop Education immensely. We haven’t fully explored the academic scholarship on it yet, but I think that comes. We’ve done the hood scholarship. That’s what’s most important. Everything else will come later.

EMILY BAILIN

What are you listening to right now?

CHRISTOPHER EMDIN

Oh, man. No albums, just a bunch of singles. I put a playlist together on Spotify. A bunch of new tracks on it, like Kendrick’s “I Love Myself,” I love that track.

It came out and I was just imagining things off the song. I don’t know if you saw my Facebook post, I was just like imagining—cuz Kendrick has this popular appeal, so you know the kids are listening to him, and so for him to be singing the track where the hook is “I love myself,” when we know that the chief reason why we have underachievement in schools and youth engaging in activities that lead to violence is because of the lack of self-love and the lack of schools that help kids to replenish broken spirits, and so I just imagine these broken spirits singing Kendrick and shouting out daily this mantra of “I love myself.” Can you imagine the effect that that has on the psyche, and the self? I love the idea of the song itself, the idea of an empowerment anthem that people are consuming daily and will shout out and know the lyrics to. I was imagining a concert and seeing hundreds and thousands of young people shouting and yelling, “I love myself!” What does that do to who they are? So, Kendrick, that dude is tops in my books so I’ve got that on there. I can’t even say what other heat I got, but I got some unreleased heat from the big homie GZA that will be out soon. I can’t wait for that album to drop it’s going to be so crazy. I can’t. So that’s in my deck. On that playlist I also got Jay Rock, who’s a dope MC. I got Isaiah Rashad. That whole TDE camp. Isaiah Rashad is a beast. Isaiah Rashad is down with TDE, and he’s a beast. It’s Top Dawg Entertainment, which is Kendrick’s label, and they’re all otherworldly, but Isaiah Rashad is dope. They also have a girl SZA, Chance the Rapper put a new track on sound cloud that’s brilliant. What else? …

A lot of people say there is no good Hip Hop out there. There is so much good, solid Hip Hop out! And I’m always listening to the classics, but there’s new heat to consume all the time. House Slippers is crazy, lyrically. Joelle Ortiz’s new album… sick. Quadir Lateef. There’s so much good Hip Hop to listen to. Chance the Rapper, have you ever listened to anything from this kid? It’s like lyricism, but he brings in the jazz traditions and the music is melodic and listenable, and he doesn’t always follow the 16-bars, hook, 16-bars, hook, formula, and it’s pure Hip Hop. His first mixtape, and it’s a few years old now, he actually made when he was suspended from school. So, he was suspended from school and then he had nothing to do, so he gets some equipment and creates this masterpiece. Every couple of months he’ll put something on sound cloud that’s just brilliant. So there’s so much heat. So much heat.

EMILY BAILIN

There are two questions that I really want to ask, so I’m going to ask them both and then you can pick which one you –

CHRISTOPHER EMDIN

Go ahead!

EMILY BAILIN

I feel like I know which one you’re going to want to answer. So my one question, and maybe we can do this in private to follow up at some point, but you know the work that I do – and in the early stages of dissertation planning – but being communication and media and thinking about the relationship that exists between education and media making and production and young people making things, I’ve been thinking about this notion of media as scholarship, so you know, not only methodologies that include or comprise multimodal components, but also developing and producing and putting out academic work that is multimodal, that is media.

CHRISTOPHER EMDIN

Yes!

EMILY BAILIN

I feel like we’ve touched on it before, but you and I haven’t really had that out, so maybe that’s a longer conversation for another time. So that’s one question: what your thoughts are on that. And the other one was, I was thinking about Sydney, your baby, and thinking about how as a new dad and the work that you do and being Hip Hop and having it be-I don’t mean to gender it, but I do, like having Hip Hop be so male-centric and male-dominated, but having a daughter who is growing but still a baby, I was just curious about how your relationship with Hip Hop has changed in the time since Sydney came around.

CHRISTOPHER EMDIN

Both are just such brilliant questions, I want to answer them both, but I hear Sydney and I jump at her first. Um, Sydney is Hip Hop. She was born into it. On the drive home from the hospital, when we put her in the car, we listened to Black Star’s album as we drove home. That’s the first music that she heard – was “Brown Skin Lady,” by Mos Def and Talib Kweli,  it’s the only thing that I could think of to play on the ride home that for me captured the beauty of that moment.

So, she’s born into it. And being born into hip-hop is almost like being born into America. You’re gonna inherit the awful pieces of it, the complexity of it, the pieces of it that you hate, the pieces that make you proud, the pieces that you want to be better. One thing that I hope to do with her is to help her to be a critical consumer and listener of the music, to be able to differentiate between what she hears and what she feels, what is real and what isn’t, what’s fantasy and what’s reality, and always be a self-actualized person within Hip Hop. She’s Hip Hop. One of the first books that we got her was When the Beat was Born, which is a kiddie hip hop book. Like I said, the first music she heard was Mos Def and Talib Kweli. She was beat boxing when she was three months old. I want to raise her to be Hip Hop and love her culture, and just be a good person. I think if you are a good person, and a sound person, you’re able to counter whatever messages get pushed–not just in Hip Hop but in the world. Hip Hop is a microcosm of the world, man. If you really are concerned with misogyny, and violence and sexism and homophobia in hip hop, take a look at how that shit plays out in politics, take a look at how that shit plays out in the street every single day. And so, I want to be able to teach her to be able to be a person who can critique, and still be authentic to who she is despite the fact that who is being sold to her oftentimes is not a full representation of who she is. So, yeah, my relationship to Hip Hop has not changed. Hip Hop is still the love of my life, it’s my life blood. I love the idea of being able to raise a Hip Hop baby who gets it, you know what I mean? There’s songs she likes now. There’s songs she asks me to play now. We play her Hip Hop lullabies. And she knows popular songs too. She’s 17 months old now. She loves that Makonnen and Drake song “Tuesday.” The lyrics in that are problematic in many ways, but I know that the minute that she has the ability to process and use words, she and I are going to have a conversation about what that song is and what it means and what’s problematic and what she likes and what she doesn’t. I hope to be able to raise a person who’s able to do that. I want to raise her to be like my students. You know, I’m not a new dad. I’ve been a dad so many times over with youth with different age ranges. I would want her to have the same access to me and have the same relationship to Hip Hop that they do. I just get to keep this child longer; I get to have this one from the beginning. But she has tons of brothers and sisters. The first time I brought Sydney here to TC was when we were doing Science Genius. And the Science Genius kids are rapping and she’s sitting there are watching and they’re holding her hand.

The second question though, that is something I’ve fought from the minute I’ve been doing academic research. I was at the Graduate Center with my big video camera saying, “I don’t want to write it, I want to show it!” And they’re like this is not a feature documentary film program, this is an education program. See, the privileging of the pen, of the written word, is an Anglo phenomenon, and we’re sitting in institutions that privilege that because that’s the way the institutions are. It’s so funny that when we talk about inclusiveness, and equity, and all of these issues that play out and that we fight for or against, we don’t realize that the privileging of certain ways of knowing, being, and producing academic scholarship is in itself a biased form of representing knowledge. There are certain people who are brilliant in the spoken word, and their brilliance in the spoken word can match or surpass anything that people write down. If we privilege only what is written, and we devalue other ways of expressing knowledge, we are saying that those who only express their scholarship without writing it are not as intelligent as the writers. This is why I love your work and I’ve always loved you since we met because this idea of understanding that allowing youth to have different platforms to express their knowledges is not only about doing things different, it’s about giving them different platforms to showcase their brilliance. We should get to the point where at some juncture someone should be able to get tenure at an academic institution without having to write a sentence down, because the words that come out of their mouth, and their spirit, allows folks to see and bear witness to their scholarship. The artifacts that they create that aren’t written but are visual and artistic representations, can speak so much more than anything we can write. I want us all to progress and become so enlightened that we can welcome that. And our inability to fully welcome that is a reflection of our inadequacies as scholars at institutions of higher education.

It’s the same thing as the Hip Hop stuff. I got a kid spitting bars about science, killing that shit. Are you gonna tell me that kid is not a scientist? Are you gonna tell me that because that kid hasn’t written it down (and many have written it down), that fact means that they are less than? And this world that we live in today, we have the technology where I can say it and it’s written for me, so why then do I need those archaic forms and description of work to be able to validate my intellectual value, or intelligence, or brilliance? So that’s a piece of Hip Hop scholarship work too. It’s like, look, you’ve got to get to the point where you privilege anything that has been devalued.—this is why I love when Gloria Ladson Billings—it was 2007 or 2008—it was the first time I heard her speak, and she talked about moving beyond the achievement gaps and educational debt and it spoke so much to my spirit. Like I sat in the back of that room at AERA weeping, because you owe them. You owe people who you have been historically pushed away and out an opportunity to be able to showcase who they are on their own terms. It’s not even a matter of equity anymore. We have to get to the point where we start privileging those other ways of expressing brilliance. This is why I love media work and media studies, I love art as scholarship, I love film as scholarship, spoken word as scholarship, I love this idea of being a public intellectual. It’s a necessary piece of affirming traditions that are not privileged in academia. To be able to engage with the public in an intimate way. So it’s the work. You know how I feel about that. I think it’s everything. It’s such a deeper conversation—

EMILY BAILIN

We have to do a part two (laughs)—

CHRISTOPHER EMDIN

Yeah, I’m just thinking now about histories and representation and it’s so layered. I mean, I can’t wait to read your dissertation when it’s done because I think we’ve got to get to the point where somebody transgresses, where somebody just says fuck it. And I’d like to be that dude, but maybe I’m not supposed to be that dude.

EMILY BAILIN

Maybe you’re supposed to mentor that.

CHRISTOPHER EMDIN

Maybe I’m supposed to mentor it. It’s like that Tupac line, I may not change the world but I guarantee you that I touched the mind of the person that will.

EMILY BAILIN

I just watched that interview.

CHRISTOPHER EMDIN

Yeah, mind-boggling. And I know I butchered his quote, but it’s just that—it’s like, somebody at some point is going to be like, “My dissertation is a movie. My dissertation is a bunch of videos. Watch it. The videos will tell you all you need to know. I don’t need a theoretical framework, I don’t need a methodology.” You have to understand it, but in many ways also… do you? What’s the purpose of this work? What’s the purpose of infiltrating these academic spaces? We have to ask ourselves these larger questions sometimes. I go in crisis mode sometimes. This is why I needed that year. I really needed that year to think about, so why am I here? Why am I sitting here in this office with a view of the Columbia campus? What is the purpose of that? Is the purpose for me to be able to say, “Oh look at this dude from Brooklyn and the Bronx and he done made it to be in this space”? And what the fuck does that mean in the larger scope of things? What does individual success mean if the collective is downtrodden? You know, what does it mean where individual success is only limited in the scope of what individual success is when folks are able to have different brands of it? Why are we satisfied with having a crumb, and celebrated for having that crumb, for the sake of us all not wanting more than that crumb? Um, you got to ask yourself those questions sometimes. What do you use this platform to do? What the fuck do you do with that PhD? What does that PhD really mean? It has to mean activism, it has to mean teaching a next generation of people to do the things that you’ve not been able to do. Empowering the next generation, giving voice to different people. It has to be teaching people to do the work. People always look at me like I’m silly, or what is he talking about now, but what I’m doing when I use that phrase, and what it means to me, is that anything you do that’s in the interest of giving voice to the voiceless is the work, and if you view that as collective work, because you have to get up every day and work—if you view that as what you have to get up everyday to do–we’re all so much better for it. If you just do the work, and work doesn’t have to be labor, like Hannah Arendt talks about the difference between labor and work – but it doesn’t have to be laborious, it can be an exercise in moving towards something, just a piece at a time, so just do the work. You know what I mean? The thing about doing the work is that folks who get it know when they’re doing the work. You don’t have to… It could be like, oh man, I was chillin’ at a school in Brooklyn, or I was giving a speech to these folks in different places… and you know what, different audiences, different contexts, but I know that it’s the work. There’s something about the not having a tight definition to what it is, but knowing that you’re doing the work because you know that what you’re doing in that moment is for the greater interest of people who are beyond you and that space.

EMILY BAILIN

I always capitalize it… capital T, capital W… when I know that that is what’s happening. When I’m able to identify it on Facebook, on Twitter, when I’m engaging a community. You know that it’s an understood phrase for the people who know what the work means. It’s this exchange that’s really powerful. But I capitalize it because it’s a thing, it’s something that merits discourse-wise.

CHRISTOPHER EMDIN

That makes me think that I should do the same. It’s a powerful construct.

EMILY BAILIN

I have this phrase from you, but I capitalize it because I think it is a thing. A formal, named thing. And with that, I think I need to cut this—

CHRISTOPHER EMDIN

Yeah, go ahead. Cut it. Keep doing The Work.

Emily Bailin

Emily Bailin

Emily Bailin is currently a doctoral student at Teachers College at Columbia University studying in the Ed.D. program for Education and Communication. She holds a masters in Education, Culture & Society at University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, which she received in 2010. Her research interests include critical media literacy, multimodal storytelling, and culturally relevant pedagogies.

 

 
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