< Performance & Pedagogy Series >

“This is a Performance about Voice”: A Pledge for Racialized Pedagogies
by Elena Esquibel, Cornelius C. Fair, David Hanley-Tejeda & Richie Neil Hao

[audio performance: runtime, 0:31:01. Or download]

artists' statement


< response >

The Calculus of Erasure
by Jennifer Tuder

[audio response: runtime, 0:12:27. Or download]

text of response
< artists' statement>

From our collective experiences, speaking from our bodies, this is a performance about voice. As critical performance scholars and teachers of color we no longer accept voice as a mere metaphor of agency, rather we literarily use our voices in their full resonances to speak as bodies of color in the classroom about being bodies of color in the classroom. If voice already was constitutive of identity, an act emanation from within reaching out, when we speak from our racially embedded registers to comment back on issues of race in the classroom, we embody a critical performativity that must form the core of a critical performance pedagogy (Pineau). When we speak from our color-marked bodies about color in the classroom we demystify the notion of color-blind classrooms, revealing like layers of paint a multiplicity of issues that mark each of our differently racialized bodies. We were always there; thick coats that only valued white ways of valuing, being, and sounding hid us. Whiteness derives its power in erasure and silence to our collective violence, through white discursive denial that would hush our collective cries. When we speak color, we reveal the ways that we always already see color.

From our collective experiences, speaking from our bodies, as a female Latina, a Black male, an Asian male, and biracial Latino-white male, this is a performance about voice. Peter McLaren’s notion of enfleshment, or how ideology is inculcated in the body, is paramount to how our voices resound ideology through classroom practices like the morning pledge. How many of us were taught each morning to swear allegiance to a flag in a country where the teacher literally could not see us? Where the cultural script was prefigured, repeated, and disciplined into each of our particular bodies? McLaren’s enfleshment explains how our bodies in the classroom resonate in and through discourse. Like Butler’s performativity where the body is subject to social norms, enfleshment through the pledge of allegiance to the nation state of the United States of America demands the voice of the one giving the pledge be subservient to dominant (White, heterosexual, middle class) ideology. Every morning young students in all their brilliant racial, gender, sexual and class particularities are synchronically ritualized through a ritual that asks them to stand and give voice to the macro-institutional power of whiteness. This performance ritual summons the mundane micro bodies of our young diverse student populations that are marked by continuums of power and disparity based on those very demographics. Between the socially disciplining structures and the physical and physiological reality of our lived bodies, there is enfleshment: “the mutually constitutive enfolding of social structure and desire; [. . .] it is the dialectical relationship between the material organization of interiority and the cultural modes of materiality we inhabit subjectively” (McLaren 273-274). The danger of enfleshment through the pledge of allegiance lies in its potential to erase our bodies.

As we stand together, as a collective of racially-marked bodies, forming a choral core, this is a performance about voice. Our voices comprise the course texture of the medium. Voice is race, sex, class, and gender. Here we can hear our collective voices vibrate. The particle-wave of sound echoes through our own distinct, yet socially coded, registers. Here, we utilize audio recordings, and testify in our own timbres about our status as people of color in the classroom, sharing the sound of racial narratives from class that are as real and as resonant as the sound of our voices. The politics of invisibility were always laden with politics of incommensurability. Hear our voices stand together to make sense—differently from other print-only narratives. We share our narratives that resound, and re-enflesh, a counter-pledge for critical race performative pedagogy. In the air between the words and possibilities about race in the classroom, something like hope lingers, the Latina who sits in the back of the class knows.

Speaking collectively—sometimes separately, sometimes together—as racialized bodies, this is a performance about voice. From our collective cores—this is a performance about our dual-voices as students of color who have become teachers of color. Our voices chart the turn from our experiential identities as students behind the desk to critical teachers among the front of the class. The histories of our racialized bodies as students of color inform our pedagogy at every turn as we navigate voice with survival, in predominately white halls everyday. We are the teachers who would look back and see ourselves—Elena, Cornelius, David, and Richie—students and teachers, striving to call on something different, hearing ourselves there, so we can see our students here. Listening to praise something different, someone different, using our voices to name what we historically haven’t been able to say, finding our students there, where we used to sit.

In Memoriam: A Pledge to John. T. Warren

We developed this performance as a group of students in Dr. John Warren’s “Teaching as Performance” class in the spring of 2008. This performance serves as an embodiment of his supportive pedagogy, as he encouraged us to take this performance to the Central States Communication Association Conference in St. Louis in the spring of 2009, and then to submit the piece to Liminalities. This performance would not be present here if it were not for John’s constant, continual, and unwavering support of us as scholars of color.

John taught us to examine the material affects of racial performatives constituted in mundane everyday acts. Always, keen to race as more of a peformative accomplishment than an essential or natural category, John challenged our thinking. In an email about the project, John questioned how "the use of ‘cores’ and the notion of enfleshment/performativity—work together? [H]ow does one get constituted-as while also having some core that is the premise from one's speaking, one's voice[?]” [1]. John was calling on us to see the implications of both: the material and the performative. The racialized body—namely, skin color—is certainly symbolic, constructed, constituted through history and context. But John also understood that race has a material facticity with very real lived and felt implications. John was committed to teaching us to see the real material affects of racial performativity on our differently color-coded bodies. As the only four students of color in the course “Teaching as Performance,” John noted the absence of a “troubled” whiteness in our narratives as we performed for our white peers:
The notion of pledging is interesting to me and has many connotations. You pledge money to a telethon, pledge a frat or sorority, pledge allegiance, or pledge support. I’m also thinking that the movement to the pledge (which many of us may have a troubled relationship to) can, in some ways, equalize you all from us, causing me to wonder if whiteness is troubled here—that is, while you discuss your own locations, I’m wondering if you feel that we were implicated enough? [2]
John’s questions linger with us—the conversation continues here as we are left contemplating the implications of race and power on our pedagogical pledges.


[1]. Personal email from Dr. Warren to the authors received Oct. 10, 2010.

[2]. From performance feedback written by John. T. Warren, Teaching as Performance, Spring 2008.

Works Cited

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1999. Print.

McLaren, Peter. Schooling as a Ritual Performance: Towards a Political Economy of Educational Symbols and Gestures. New York: Routledge, 1999. Print.

Pineau, Elyse, L. “Critical Performative Pedagogy.” Teaching Performance Studies. Eds. Nathan Stucky and Cynthia Wimmer. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 41-54. Print.

Warren, John T. “Re: Liminalities Artist Satement.” Message to David Hanley-Tejeda. 10 Oct. 2010. Email.

Warren, John T. Written Performance Feedback. Spring 2008. Print.

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