Yolanda Sealy-Ruiz with Elizabeth Bishop: Learning Through Dialogue

Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz

Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz

Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, Ph.D. is Associate Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University where the courses she teaches include The Teaching of English in Diverse Social/Cultural Contexts, Participatory Action Research Methods, and The Teaching of Writing. Her research interests include racial literacy development in urban teacher education, critical English Education with Black and Latino male high school students, culturally responsive pedagogy, and the narratives of African American college reentry women. Her work has appeared in several refereed journals including Journal of Curriculum & Pedagogy, Urban Review, English Quarterly, Journal of Negro Education, Teachers College Record, Urban Education, and Adult Education Quarterly. At Teachers College, she is founder and faculty sponsor of the Racial Literacy Roundtables Series where for eight years Doctoral and Master’s students, and scholars in the field of education facilitate informal conversations around issues of race and diversity for the Teachers College community. Sealey-Ruiz is also a 2012 recipient of the Teachers College Elaine Brantley Memorial Award for Community & Civility, a 2013 Ford Foundation Diversity Fellow, and the recipient of the 2016 AERA Mid-career award in Teacher and Teacher Education.

Dr. Elizabeth Bishop

Dr. Elizabeth Bishop

Dr. Elizabeth Bishop is Assistant Professor of English and Education and affiliate faculty in Women’s and Gender Studies at Ithaca College. Dr. Bishop holds a Ph.D. in Language, Literacy and Culture from the University of Pittsburgh School of Education and her research explores the intersections of literacy, civic engagement, urban education, global studies, cultural theory and youth organizing. Her first book, Becoming Activist: Critical Literacy and Youth Organizing is now available from Peter Lang Publishing. Bishop has been published in a variety of journals and edited collections including the Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, Theory in Action, and the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy. Bishop began her career as a classroom teacher and has taught global history, literature, writing and media studies in New York City public schools as well as serving as a supervisor of student teachers in the greater NYC, Pittsburgh and Ithaca areas. She has also worked for leading youth development organizations across NYC, including Global Kids, CAMBA, and Columbia’s Double Discovery Center and has held positions at Teachers College and Columbia Law School. She directs the Drop Knowledge Project where she conducts ongoing research at the intersection of literacy and organizing.

In this conversation, they discuss their thoughts on academia, research, and teaching as a disruptive act of love.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

So we can try to use these questions to guide us.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Are you asking me?

ELIZABETH BISHOP

I wrote these for you.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

I want it to be a conversation. I want to interview you too.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

You, off the cuff, will do that. So I’m going to ask you these questions, and by asking them I will start to talk to you about my research too, and we will just flow.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Yeah, let’s just flow.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

And it will be good. Talk loudly. So the first thing I wrote was can you describe for me your research trajectory. Where have you been and where are you going?

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

It’s a good question. I think that the research trajectory has come out of, certainly, my lived experiences. And my experiences from schooling. So of course it immediately takes me back to the South Bronx. And thinking about who was in certain classes and who was not. And so I distinctly remember the young men not being – I was always in the “gifted” classes, and they were just not there. And thinking about my neighborhood, and the young men in the neighborhood. And so, when I decided to go into teaching, I think it was natural for me to begin to ask some questions about where the boys are, right? And as a girl, how am I allowed – I wasn’t framing it in terms of gender and race and all of those things, but I definitely noticed that there was a distinction. So I think then, my years of teaching and seeing what happened in an alternative school where the boys, again, were the ones who were either in special education or – there were issues. Alternative education was a little bit different because we looked at all of them as special, we looked at all of them as coming from situations that jeopardized them getting, at this point, the high school diploma. So I think the alternative setting was a little bit different, more human. But the boys still seemed to be not fitting in with school, more so than the girls always. And I think from that, going to NYU and working with Pedro Noguera, and having contracts that looked at disproportionality, again the boys came up. Why are boys in special education? I think, from the South Bronx to NYU, that shaped why I am looking specifically at boys but also why I care about curriculum and what kind of curriculum they interact with. Does that make sense?

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Yes. Where do the contracts come from? Who dictates the terms of the contract?

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

The school districts. So, a lot of times, NYU would have relationships with a vocational arm of the state department (VESID). There were school districts, that were cited for disproportionality, and MetroCenter was just one of the vendor service providers. They could have chosen Rutgers, they could have chosen whatever. But I think this is where Pedro Noguera’s name had a big influence at NYU. The more prominent the school, the more prominent the Executive Director, they feel they may know more about this, so we are going to use our contract dollars with them. So a lot of it is that they got money from the state to try to correct the disproportionality issue in their district, and they chose the provider that would give them the professional development. So that’s where the contracts came from. Does that make sense?

ELIZABETH BISHOP

It makes sense. Where do you see it going in the future? You’ve got a lot, Youth, Media, and Educational Justice, all this other stuff going on. It could go a lot of directions, and research does go in a lot of directions. I am excited about your trajectory, it doesn’t have to go in any one direction.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

But I want to hear what you think about this too because I sometimes wonder about research. I understand – it is powerful. I’m thinking, not tiny studies, but holistically speaking, if we think about research that has been done around women or Blacks or all of this kind of stuff, I think that collectively research tells a story that allows us to either shape policy or refute policy, right? But you know, sometimes I am wondering, especially around black and Latino males, I am finding that a lot of people are “getting rich,” if you will, off the backs of poor young men.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Off the research?

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Yeah.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Kid Ink, one of my favorite rappers who is pretty conscious with his lyricism, he’s got a line that says “So many PhDs seeing everything clear through my red eyes.”

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Holla!

ELIZABETH BISHOP

And I think that is a good indication of what does happen, speaking on behalf of others. And it doesn’t matter how much of a critical pedagogue you are, it’s not necessarily about how evolved you are in your thinking about pluralism or social dynamics or diversity. At the end of the day, the question that keeps me as a public intellectual and not necessarily always inside of an institution is: who’s your audience? Because if you are doing research about people and they cannot read your research, I don’t know how much respect I have for that. I get that it has policy implications, and that there are people who have power and hold power, that will make decisions about their lives with implications for funding and schooling –

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Right, right –

ELIZABETH BISHOP

I get the policy side of it, but it’s frustrating to think that researchers only write for each other.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Thank you.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Which is why I termed academentia. When I coined that term so long ago.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Put that in bold in print. Bishop, you just put a pin in it.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Because – here’s why. And I’m not trying to speak anything except for love for my experience studying Cultural Studies at Carnegie Mellon, but I worked with a Foucault professor who wouldn’t answer the questions that the students asked sometimes. He would say, “read my book.” And there was this sense of gatekeeping, that if you didn’t already understand what Raymond Williams was saying, too bad for you. And if you couldn’t read Foucault yourself and understand what “The Order of Things” was about or the “Archaeology of Knowledge” was about, which are both incredibly difficult texts – if you didn’t get it, too bad for you.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

But you know how I see it? What a missed opportunity. Because when we think about teaching and the purpose of teaching, it’s such a social interaction right? It’s a give and take. You know, even in this conversation right now, as you’re teaching me the names of texts or points of view or understandings, if you’re shutting people down who are inquiring and saying ‘I want to know more,’ then you push it toward the sale of your book and all the implications that go with that, that’s a missed opportunity.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

And check it. How is it Foucault? How are you talking about power?

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

I was about to say that (laughs). I was about to say that. No, I’ll let you finish –

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Just that. So I spoke a lot in that class. And I was one of only three people who spoke, out of twenty. There was a dope, brilliant Canadian rhetorician who was a friend of mine, who liked to talk about tropes and I used to tell him that many people didn’t know what tropes were (laughs). My friend who you met, Regina Anderson, who spoke frequently about race, about power, about economics, just brought it to a very practical – she’s like a non-profit guru making theory walk. And me, and I continued to exist in a very philosophical, cultural theory world, I really problematized to him, how are you exercising your power/knowledge talking to me about power/knowledge? What are you doing?

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

How did he respond?

ELIZABETH BISHOP

He didn’t. He would point to ‘good thinking.’ What’s the word for it – patronizing?

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Wow, wow.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

But it taught me so much. And now that I have my doctorate and all this experience, it’s all good?

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Yeah, you’re in the club, you’re in the club.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

But forever was I the outlier. So in the fall term I did the studies I had to do, but in the spring I took advantage of my flexibility to go in on a Deleuze and Guattari seminar with Melissa Ragona and the MFA art students, so I became part of the College of Fine Arts in those moments, which I was way more interested in because it gave me the freedom to look more expansively at questions like ‘what is scholarship?’ ‘How does scholarship operate?’ And in these contexts, I met Deleuze and Guattari, in print.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Beautiful.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

A Thousand Plateaus. Everywhere an entry point. A book meant to be read as a record. And you play the chapters you want on repeat. It’s not about a metanarrative.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

What if we saw education in that way? You know what I was thinking as you were saying this is that a lot of times, and speaking of being on a tenure-track – I think people believe that you put all of your effort, all of your energy into your research and teaching is secondary, and service is just something that you do.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Because of money?

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Because of money. And you know, it’s all about people trying to secure a job for themselves. And I’m not opposed to job security, if that even exists anymore. But the point I’m making is that people are so concerned about themselves, and the most important thing for me, is being in an academic institution, is the exchange of ideas.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Right. Definitely.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

So, if the teaching becomes secondary or tertiary, then I think the question is – what really are we doing? What is the tenure really about? Is it just you securing lifetime job security? Or what? I think people get caught up in securing their own crumbs, that they are not even thinking about ‘what am I not doing’ –

ELIZABETH BISHOP

And for whom –

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

And for whom, and what opportunities am I missing just because I am just trying to get my golden handcuffs. And I think for me –

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Yo, golden handcuffs, that phrase is like –

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

(hits the table) Damn!

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Right?

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

And I think for me, Bishop, it’s the opposite. I see teaching and service first. And not because I don’t see research as important, but I think the service that you do and the teaching that you do, the research should flow out of that, and not go into a community and onto something, and say ‘let me research this.’ And maybe that’s why I put more emphasis on teaching and service. And it makes sense that the “service” that I do, with the young men, that’s my research. So when you asked about the trajectory, I’d like to believe that I’m kind of living it, lived it and living it in the professional and the personal, where the lines really blur for me. And that to me, is what it means to be a professor, or a thinker, or someone in the academy trying to do something.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Which I think takes us nicely into next question I was going to ask you, because you talk about where you came from. And I’m thinking about myself as I wrote this, and I am thinking about you as someone who is a mentor and a colleague and all of these ill things in my life –

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Vice versa.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Always! So what is one of the most lasting lessons you have learned from your mentors? And I mean in the academic space more than the corporate or other work spaces that you’ve been in, although…

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Sure, sure. Love your students, from Suzanne Carothers.  Treat everyone as you wish to be treated, from Suzanne Carothers. And Lee Roy Bailor, who happened to be in corporate. And respect the profession. Like, teaching is one of the disrespected professions but is so worthy of respect. So, loving people. Respecting the profession that you chose and treating people the way you want to be treated. And that really undergirds – when I’m talking about love, love, love. You know, I really respect Suzanne and I’m just trying to carry forward what she’s been doing for 40 years in teaching. So that is the lasting lesson, and I think that if I operate from that Bishop, I could teach anything. I could teach the alphabet and people would just be happy to learn.

It’s that connectedness. It’s about connecting with people in a real way. And you know when it’s fake and you know when it’s real. So I try to have as many real connections, whatever that means for the other person and me, but the phoniness in education just makes me sick. Even when someone says, “How are you?” Don’t ask unless you want to know. They might be feeling horrible. So be ready to hear that they’re not doing well.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

The truth.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

The truth. And it’s the same thing with education for me. I don’t know if that makes sense.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

It does, it does. And the next question I was going to ask, I think you have already answered it with the word love. But I wrote ‘you and I talk a lot about how the work is never done.’ (YSR laughs). And I wrote, ‘what keeps you so motivated?’

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Because as long as there is inequality, as long as there are folks being locked up in prison and kids being suspended and people can’t have food on their table, as long as we see the things that we see that are ills of the world, then Bishop we can’t get comfortable. And even if we sit from a place of privilege, even this conversation, this is a place of privilege, but I think – always remembering those who don’t have, I think to me that is what education is. And I think that’s why I don’t try to badger people when I talk about race and stuff like that. I want people to really experience themselves, to ask ‘what does it mean that I have sat in this position of privilege, and that I have the power to deconstruct it, to flip it, to invite others, to critique it, and to hopefully change minds and raise consciousness. It’s like the most powerful thing you could ever do. And the way that people prostitute it or pimp it, not that prostitution is negative, I’m not making a comment on that, but the way people negatively treat it, for me is a problem. Does that answer the question?

ELIZABETH BISHOP

For sure.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

What about for you? I mean like, if you think about it – what keeps you going? What keeps you motivated? Because you have a choice, I have a choice. I could keep saying that I’m making whatever salary I’m making I’m cool. Why? I don’t need to do this. But I wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t do it. What keeps you going? That’s a damn good question.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

So, everything I have seen. Not in my own schooling experience, I’m not going to analyze that right now initially. Everything I’ve seen as a teacher has been – there have been tons of moments of beauty, clarity, intellectual forthrightness, incredible learning – but I have seen so much bullshit happen to kids. I have seen, experienced, been privy to, lived through incredible inequity toward teachers. I saw really bright kids treated really unfairly and given no chance to succeed despite how bright they were. I saw that happen so many times. And when I was an advocate in those spaces, I was silenced, censured, put in a ton of professional danger. So much trouble. So many things happened to me for being a youth advocate that I was furious about it, you know? And I was lucky to be able to go into youth development and into non-profit community-based spaces, but fundamentally it’s not even about education.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Yes.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

I think it’s path to liberation, I think it’s a path to freedom, but so much of it to me is this inauthentic, superficial, inscribed upon us narrative of history that says that certain folks – let’s talk about suffrage. Women weren’t free, now they’re good.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

All good. Pass a couple laws, all good.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Right. People of color weren’t cool, then Martin Luther King came on the scene, now we’re all good. And now people are talking about how gay marriage is the next frontier of civil rights and I think that is a gross over-exaggeration. I think that is just buying into this traditional conception.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

The way they script things. Because it’s easy to digest, it’s easy to put in a box.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Right. So, what is always compelling to me is how fearful folks are to talk about some stuff and how willing they are to still judge despite that. So people are afraid to talk about race in America. They are not as afraid to be homophobic. They find power, still.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Can we underline and bold that?

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Yeah. And I wrote about this. I applied to be a TED Global Fellow. And they asked you for a tiny narrative that explains, or would illustrate to them a little more what your values are. I may have told you this story before.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

No, you didn’t.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

I’ll tell it briefly. So when the New York State Assembly rushed the vote on the Dream Act and it didn’t pass by two votes, there was a protest at City Hall and I am definitely connected to some Dreamers, to New York City Dreamers and am down with many undocumented students.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

I have somebody to introduce you to.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

A lot of the people involved in my research, the Drop Knowledge Project, are very deep in the undocumented student mobilization. So, I went to that and it was disturbing to me to see the policing. The rain came down super hard, it was cold, those young people didn’t care at all. So the barricades, all these white Irish cops bring the barricades out. And I’m a white Irish person, speaking.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Are you Irish? Get out of here. I didn’t know that.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

So they put up all the barricades, and barricaded all of these undocumented people of color in while they are trying to organize and protest to get access to higher education. That’s what they are trying to do. So they start to bring the barricades in. And I had another obligation that evening, so I’m about to try to leave. So, but I was afraid to touch the barrier. I thought if I touched the barricade, they were going to arrest me. I was afraid. And I’m coming from a place of white privilege, and I was afraid. And so I asked the cop if I could touch it and he laughed at me, as though I should know I was allowed to touch it. And I’m thinking, no, you could arrest me just as much as anyone else, I might look like a crazy queer anarchist to you. You can do whatever you want to me. But he let me out no problem, and then they shut the barrier.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Wow.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Like it became closed, much like it was on the Brooklyn Bridge during the May Day protest, when a lot of undocumented people did not know that they were going to get barricaded in and it became, like deportations followed. And, but so here is the end of that story. So I get back on the train to go to Brooklyn, and I’m feeling so full of love and respect for these young people –

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

For what you just came from.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Who, despite all of these things –

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

They put themselves on the line –

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Because they want access to higher education. Because that is what it is about for them, they want to go to college.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

They believe in the power of it. And then they get to the academy, and they meet at least some people who do not give a damn.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Who may have never had any interest in what their narrative is or where they came from. So I’m on this train, and I’m standing in the doors because I’m fairly close to my stop. And then two older Latin American men, who looked like day laborers with tools and construction clothes, they get on down the train and they come to stand right in front of me. And one has a cane, he is probably like early 60s but still working manual labor, working probably every day all day, and he stands right in front of me, and I kind of look at him and both of them like – you know there was plenty of space on this train –

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Why are you standing in my face?

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Why are you standing right in front of me? There’s a ton of space, there are seats everywhere – and he just said, “What are you gay?” It was the only thing he said to me in English. And then he started talking all this shit in Spanish, for sure, to his friend. And then he picked up his cane, and he shook it at me, and he said “cabeza.” Like he was going to hit me, right? And I told him, and sometimes I am not gentle, sometimes I will spark off, but because I had just come from this powerful experience, I said to him, straight up, “I’m not mad at you. I don’t have any hatred for you. I got a lot of love. I’m sorry you feel this way.” But that was because of the experience that I had just come from.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

But how did that make you feel?

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Well, that’s the point. So here’s where I’m getting with this. It is why I still do the work that I do. I do it because he doesn’t know that I was advocating, possibly, for his children or his grandchildren or other people in his life or in his community who he wants equal opportunity for but he doesn’t want to provide that to me. And this is the reason that I do the work on ethical intersubjectivity. Because I have those experiences. I told the Fellows, when you weren’t even there one day recently, that I had some gender-policing hate speech spoken to me from a faculty member at TC. And we can get into that later, but there are things that, if I was to tell you that as a black woman you are not allowed to do, if I said these things publicly, I would be on the front page of the Daily News.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

You better believe it. I see what you’re saying.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

But if you tell me that as a queer person I’m in the wrong place or not welcome, I’m supposed to swallow that. So for me, that’s why I do the work that I do. It is a queer theory of ethical activism. Until we can get to a place where the love translates-

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

To everyone –

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Across these multiple identity spaces, then it is not cool and we are not safe. And I want people to, I think about the young people I know who have been victims – or who have received violence based on any of these identifiers, and I am not going to stop until that stops.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

You need to do a TED Talk.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Well hopefully, that is what that will become.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

That’s it. That’s the story. But how does it make you feel? I mean, setting aside the work, the emotional.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

I mean, it makes me angry, makes me sad for him –

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Me too, me too.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

It makes me feel strong, that I can handle it. It makes me see all the work that needs to happen.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

A reminder.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Yeah, so, you know. I’ve been fighting this battle for as long as I’ve been alive.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

And you will for the rest of your life.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Yeah.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

As I will.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

And there are spaces I do not feel safe in. And there are countries I cannot travel to. Or where I have traveled to and it has been so egregiously dangerous for me that I wouldn’t go there again. And, until – so, my one friend who worked at Global Kids, she and I always talk about how we are bodhisattvas. We talk about it all the time. Like the Buddha, achieving enlightenment is a final location. Like enlightenment, it’s all good. Bodhisattvas, they build up the world. They know it is broken. They know they can’t fix it with permanence. They build it up anyway.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

That one Fellow talked about that. That’s her religion. That is what she was talking about, and the analogy she used – you were there, right? – about being broken, but put together stronger.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

A healing artwork. Yes, we’ve got to put that into this conversation.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Yes, let’s put it into this conversation and that is what was resonating with so many people when she shared that.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

And that’s the thing. What’s hard for me to see – that’s why I use queer theory. I don’t use it in the way that people misconstrue it, as some kind of LGBT politicking.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

People are reductionist in their thinking.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

And Madhavi Menon, who is my favorite Shakespearean queer theorist, says that they’re lazy.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Ah.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Straight up lazy. They don’t want to think about what we are talking about because they could be indicted. So I say to people that the whole world is queer. And that is not about sexual practices. It is about the fact that there are “norms” and you are skewed from the norm.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

That’s right. Thank you.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

So for me, until we reach a space where we have recognized who and how the norms have been created –

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Thank you.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

The mainstream, that’s not even a real thing. The center doesn’t hold.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

But you know what is so tough and rough about this work? I mean exhilarating, but rough? As soon as we identify what needs to be done, the way that we have spoken about this, there are so many more, and more in power who are fighting against it. And so, even as we come out, whether it be movements or an ideology, there is always that counter that is trying to shut it down. And they often-times have the most money and the most political power. And I was thinking about that, just in terms of education. And why can’t we, since 1954, why can’t we figure this out? Because folks don’t want to do it. It’s intentional. It is an intentional refusal. The status quo, the structure benefits folks and they will protect it at all costs. And so, that is why sometimes we feel we are saying the same thing, we are writing the same articles, we are giving the same speeches, because the resistance is there and if not stronger. And that is why change does not always happen.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Right. So we give similar talks, sometimes people say, that’s all rhetoric. I’ve heard this rhetoric before.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

When are we gonna get to action?

ELIZABETH BISHOP

And also, what they are not saying, the rhetoric which is creating the situation in which one gives this rhetoric, why aren’t we looking at that? The xenophobic, sexist, racist, homophobic – whatever that rhetoric is – folks aren’t pointing that out. They’re pointing out our call to arms against it and saying “This is what I’ve heard since the sixties.”

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

That’s what is deep about it. When we talk about colorblind, it is like we are kind of sleep walking. That’s what is crazy about it. People are not recognizing the nuances and the ways that is shifts and that you have to be able to shift with it so they’re just ready to say I’ve heard this before. I was at this event at the Schomburg for Research in Black Culture in New York City. Ta-Nehisi Coates and Khalil Muhammad were in conversation . Then this woman got up, she said she was 75, clearly had been beleaguered by the struggle, and was like “I’ve been hearing about this, talking about this, talking about this, when are we going to have action?” And I think Ta-Nehisi  gave a beautiful, beautiful answer that can kind of be applied across multiple struggles. He said, you know, in all due respect, thank you for what you have done in the struggle and I’m sorry you feel like this, if you think about it – slavery was around 250 years and there was a lot of talking within that 250 years. And then there was Jim Crow for 100 years. And there was a lot of talking and a lot of rewriting and resaying of the same things because a new generation came and you had to reeducate them. And that is really what it is about. Part of the struggle is the education and reeducation. And along that spectrum, we have made some changes but we still have a long way to go. And I felt that it was both respectful of her as him being younger –

ELIZABETH BISHOP

And her experience –

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Yeah, and her experience, but it’s true. But I think about the Abolitionists, or you think in terms of queer theory. Think about LGBTQ rights, whether it be Stonewall or these kind of major moments, where there are major figures like Harvey Milk – you think of these moments in time on this timeline and it has made a difference. Do we still have work to do? Hell yes. But can you think about it – Harvey Milk and some of those folks said the same stuff over and over and over. And only a few people get it. And so you have to continue the education and reeducation. There are always folks pushing against whatever progress is being made. So you also have to re-up all over again.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Yeah. That’s why I think about and talk about anti-oppressive education so much. That’s the reason. I talk about it with teachers, but actually the most powerful thing for me in terms of finding – like people will ask me how do you relate to kids in the city? How do you relate?

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

What does that mean?

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Well, that they see me as a white middle class woman from Connecticut and sometimes folks think that means you cannot relate to anybody who is not white middle class from Connecticut.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

And how narrow minded is that right there? That because I’m black I can relate to every black person?

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Right, but the truth of the matter is that kids are skeptical too. So, when I started teaching in the Bronx, it was a matter of being willing to go into, in comfortable ways initially right because you can’t force people to engage in dialogue initially always in uncomfortable ways –

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

It’s a journey Boo.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Right? So what you gotta do, or what I did rather, was – you know we started to talk and the Puerto Rican and Dominican kids were fighting about whose culture was better sometimes –

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Of course. And color. And hair.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Right. Fighting about if you are light-skinned or dark-skinned and what was better, all of that. So we started to go into talking about the ways in which those things were just and unjust framings, or oppressive or anti-oppressive. And so, to be able to make, as the educator in the room with ten years on them, be able to have a wider vision when saying – how does this or does it not parallel a feminist argument? And then you get some of the young women in the room who maybe didn’t feel like that was their conversation, this was their conversation. And then some young queer folks in the room, they felt like their conversation hasn’t happened yet. And so those conversations happen. And, you could call it a confrontation, it is an intellectual confrontation with values and position-taking. And so maybe you have a hetero Jamaican girl who has been raised to believe that all queer folks are bad, talking to a queer man who is Dominican about feminism. And that is where intersubjectivity comes in for me.  Like, how are these struggles not the same? And they both are and are not. Like, all struggle is the same but the struggle is different too. I hold the post-structuralist dualistic belief that it is both and neither with me always.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

I love that.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Because the struggle is not the same. My white privilege and queerness is not the same as somebody else’s struggle.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

And that’s what you are saying, that to equate it to the civil rights movement is like, in some ways, you are minimizing what the struggle is. You aren’t seeing it for what it is because when you make a comparison, you put it in a box and ask people to treat everything the same. It is a struggle, but it is not the same struggle. I get that.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

And it doesn’t have to be the same struggle to be valid.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Right.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

So for me, it is the fact that it doesn’t have to be the same struggle to still be struggle. And in that way, it doesn’t matter where people come down on things with the exception of – I care that it is non-violent and I seek peaceable co-existence.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Yes!

ELIZABETH BISHOP

So that is what I educate for.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

It’s beautiful. The beautiful struggle.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

So the last two things I wrote here, and then we can take ourselves off the script or off the mic, are –

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

No, this has been amazing.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

I wrote, “What do you think is the role of the educator in the 21st century learning context?” but then the next question is “How can teacher education programs and coursework prepare folks to celebrate diversity and teach toward justice?” And I think those are connected, so –

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

They are very similar. I think the role of the—not to create binaries or categories—but I think about the work that I do and this only happened to me in the last year, having 65 students taught me a lot about the impact of what this work can do. But I would love for the role of the educator to be, at some point, an interrupter. And eventually an agitator. And of course, we expect change will happen from there. And I do think that change happens in small ways, I do. Like, Bishop, even you coming to my classes and introducing queer theory and the emails I got about you, that is creating change. Right? Like the trans panel yesterday–there are these moments that are always creating change. And then, over time, depending on the person, they might need multiple opportunities to interact before something switches and there is change. Right? But in that moment, every talk, every potential lesson, reading, discussion can be an interruption of sorts. And then you have enough of them and they can agitate people to hopefully make some change, even if they decide to maintain the status quo, I want them to be uncomfortable every moment of their lives.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Hell yes.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

That is what I want.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Like some reflection, self-mirroring.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

That is what I want. So for me, to beat them over the head and be on my soap box makes it about me. But asking them, what do you think? How do you reflect on this? What is your experience when you see this video of the black girl choosing the white doll? What does this mean? For me, I constantly want the interrogation of how am I thinking, how am I interacting with this, how am I helping them interrogate certain norms about the way they see things, whether it be related to race, gender, sexual orientation, class, whatever. So that is how I see myself. My role is an interrupter/agitator. And that is what I want for the students in my class.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

And maybe that is where we meet and why we became friends. We are both interrupters. We are interrupters of different discourses. And people see us, internally or externally, interrupting in different ways. The deconstructionist in me is super comfortable with the idea that interruption and deferral is endless. And that stresses people out so bad.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Because it increases things too. It says, there is no end. It is a flow of questions and consuming knowledge along the way.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Because the alternative is to say, a liberal education alternative is that you have gotten yourself to the place where you have evolved such that you are or can be part of our mainstream narrative now.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

That is exactly it. And you become the status quo.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

And as long as you are reifying a mainstream narrative, you are hurting so much along the way. So I really see my work, the anti-oppressive education work, as an explosion of the mainstream narrative to the extent that it is oppressive or violent.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

You really do make theory walk, Bishop. I have to tell you that I have read smatterings in my classes about post-structuralist thought, but you make it not just understandable but relatable. You live it. You make it walk.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Because it is about embodiment. How are you going to have a disembodied approach to feminism or queer theory? How can you disembody that? But it does happen. And it –

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

It does happen and it is valued when it happens because you are being objective.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Yeah, you’re being intellectually objective.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Yes, intellectually objective is valued in our society.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

And it’s interesting because the reason I became incredibly invested in deconstructivist reads is because of the performative nature of the writing of these experiences. Which is not just about what you say, but it is also about how you say what you mean. How to demonstrate, to reify. There are two layers. Deleuze calls it light and language. It is the visible and the articulable. He calls it a double articulation. At the same time are you are speaking it, you are showing it as it is being reflected back at you.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

How real. Even if it is only real in that moment.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

It’s the “Language to Infinity” yo.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

In that moment, that second is the struggle. That is how I interpret it.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Because you can say it all day, but it becomes about how are you saying it, who is your audience, to what end, what are you going to do with it? Because if all I do is talk about queer liberation to a room of folks who are most interested in talking about sexual harassment, you don’t go anywhere by missing the mark so widely. It doesn’t mean you don’t come back around to infuse the interconnections. But start in the real. And live it. Walk it. So for me it is a bit about destabilization as freedom in the Freirean sense that we are all oppressed. Yes, as the oppressor you are deeply oppressed. By your knowledge. And the operations of your oppression on others.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

And isn’t it energy that is passing? Because don’t the folks need to be – the folks or the audience – doesn’t it have to be reciprocal or engaged? You just popped my head there.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

So Foucault said that – and I don’t mean to always shout out these dead white guys from the continental tradition but –

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Yo if you put it down, put it down –

ELIZABETH BISHOP

But Foucault said –

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

– because if we can never become comfortable with a point of quoting the ones that we do know, as long as we also quote the women and the queers but if you put it down, put it down. If Foucault says it, if Maya says it –

ELIZABETH BISHOP

And one of the reasons I want to stay a public intellectual and not be in a dungeon, because I need time to read freely and I don’t want to lose that. You can lose that. I need to read more Spivak.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

You know, I was on a dissertation defense with her.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

How cool are you?

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Let me tell you. It was a learning moment like every moment. Every time she opened her mouth. Humble.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Because it is the deferral. This is the idea of ethics that don’t moralize. And it is my life’s pursuit. To find the space that defers the moralizing nature of saying you are wrong or right.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

And we create those spaces of ethics that don’t moralize.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

So Foucault said, the thing I was referencing is, he said: It is not that what I say is right, but when you tell me that I am wrong you cannot possibly be right. And, my favorite things from him are the interviews. His conversations with folks. His interview with Deleuze called “Intellectuals and Power” is the thing I hold most dearly.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

I will use that in my class. Thank you for that.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

About how there is no reason to totalize that which is already totalized on the side of power. And so instead, Deleuze talks about the necessity, the need to find the availability of tools. Not the same thing as the quintessential tool box. Like, do these things and fix your life. No. But rather, in any given context, what tools are available to you? Me, on the train with that guy, it was my words to move toward love. And it’s not always like that. Sometimes I would say ‘back up’ or “what did you say?”

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Yeah. I get it. I’m a buster when I have to be.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

And I have seen violence affect people. Not myself, I have been very fortunate to not – but I have seen violence hurt people in my life in destructive and deadly ways. I’m not going to perpetuate that.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

And why? What has made you choose love over violence? Especially when you – when people step to you in a violent way. Where does that come from?

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Because, what are you going to reify? If someone comes at me with homophobic hatred. And if I attack back with my words, then you know what happens – they say ‘You know what queer folks do? They do this.’ And a single moment of confrontation turns into a generalization that results in that person teaching their children some bullshit that is not true about some people. And I don’t think such groups even exist. When people talk to me about community, like “the” Black community, “the” LGBTQ community – what are you talking about? Leo Bersani wrote in his book “Homos” that, and I don’t know if this is true, the word ‘never’ –

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Yeah, that’s limiting.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

But never in the history of oppressed groups has any group simultaneously tried to be recognized and not recognized for their identity. So when it comes to race, I would argue, that it is possible that based on visibility in spaces… You talked about this when we talked about class and whiteness and blackness, that you are seen one way or another. And with queer folks, it doesn’t have to be that way. If you perform feminism as a woman, people don’t necessarily think you are gay or straight or whatever. So those spaces are not as visible as others. And so Bersani’s argument is that the LBGT struggle involves, at the same time, wanting to be recognized for this difference and wanting to be normalized to not wanting to be recognized for this difference. So for me, that is where the education comes in. So that when people have kids, they don’t say “miss you, gay?” but they say… Like, do people ask you, “miss, you black?”

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

They don’t. That must be tiring as hell.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

It’s exhausting.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

It’s got to be.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

So I have no choice but to take an inquiry-based stance. Why do you want to know? Where is this coming from? Because if it is coming from a place of hatred, I am not that inclined to share with you.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Did you notice that is what happened yesterday at the beginning of the Trans panel, she was like “People have the right to pass on questions.” Because people are on their own journeys on this. So people might ask a question that is deemed offensive, and some might be offensive. And some might be trying to understand something but be offensive. And I loved that introduction. Because then, you are not exactly attacking the questioner but you are saying the power is within the responder. I’m not saying your question was stupid, I’m not saying it was offensive, but I’m going to pass on that. That’s not a question I’m prepared to answer, I don’t want to answer. I was taking note of that. What do you think about that?

ELIZABETH BISHOP

Well, what I was thinking right now is that you and I, we come from different places, we have different experiences, we see different things and have different interactions on a daily basis, and we meet in a place of and around language.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

Which can be limiting.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

But also, you can be free. There are ways to dodge linguistic bullets. To say pass. And do it with the intellect. The best way to shake somebody out of a moralistic position is to reinterpret and boomerang back the question they ask. In a way that complicated what they just asked.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

And that is the true act of love, actually. The easy thing is to dismiss it. The true act of love is to do what you just did. Love or intellectual prowess or concern about understanding and shared knowledge. That’s the work.

ELIZABETH BISHOP

It’s Esteem for others and ourselves.

YOLANDA SEALEY-RUIZ

That’s the work.

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